Netanyahu’s “I’m the aggrieved one” speech on May 24 in the Jerusalem District Court caused a wave of reactions ranging from “Bibi calls for civil war” to “Benjamin Netanyahu v. State of Israel.” The “anyone but Bibi” people resented the feeble reaction of his coalition partner Benny Gantz, feeling frustrated by the fact that Netanyahu continues to dominate political discourse, putting the judicial and political systems on the defensive to escape his legal turmoil. The fact that sitting in the dock beside him are tycoons Noni Mozes (owner of Yediot Aharonot) and Shaul Elovitch (Bezeq-Yes) has almost disappeared from view and certainly from public discourse.
Netanyahu’s play is intended to create the impression that he is a sole defendant facing political persecution, ignoring the fact that he has two partners in crime, media wizards and controllers of monopolies, with whom he negotiated to ensure positive coverage. In essence the indictment tells a story of capital relations – a rule that has no hint of political persecution, but places a limit on the intoxication with power of politicians, CEOs, and equity owners who feel immune to criticism because they control the media.
The trial takes place, however, against the background of the Covid-19 pandemic, in which a million citizens lost their jobs and the future remains unclear. This gives the trial a different look than anticipated. In addition, Netanyahu is facing a nightmare he had never imagined: an economic crisis that threatens to destroy the achievements that have earned him the popularity he depends on when he attacks the rule of law. The criminal charges against him stem from a time before the pandemic, and in spite of them, the people spoke in three elections, the people judged, and the people acquitted.
In the new reality of the Corona crisis, the same people who buoyed Bibi up three times are the most hurt of all. These are owners of hairdressing and barber shops, fast food and banquet halls, shopkeepers, taxi drivers and export industry workers who are suddenly without work or prospects of return. As long as the people of Israel enjoyed a high standard of living, expressed in the number of flights from Ben Gurion Airport and back, Bibi seemed the omnipotent magician, and no one cared how many gifts he received from Arnon Milchan, Sheldon Adelson, Shaul Elovitch or Noni Mozes. As long as the people had bread and circuses, the ultra-Orthodox their stipends and the settlers their pound of flesh, none were interested in rocking the boat. Live and let live had become a tacit understanding between the Likud and its voters. Then the pandemic hit and shook the boat until it almost capsized. In this situation, if Bibi wants life, he must return things to what they were. If he does not, the same people who carried his “only Bibi” banner will drop it without thinking twice.
Bibi’s problem is that he has no power to restore the economy, because economic reality is not set in Tel Aviv, but far in the space between China and the United States. Israel’s economic destiny depends on the fate of the global economy, which in turn depends on two very dubious personalities, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump. Xi is currently busy with the final conquest of Hong Kong. Trump, for his part, is preoccupied with opening the US economy in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, which has so far resulted in more than 100,000 dead and over 1.5 million infected. The superpower failed to cope with the virus through its private health system, which is built on the concept that the state shrugs off the poor, leaving millions of American citizens without health insurance. The economic figure that should worry Trump, as well as Netanyahu, is the 40 million unemployed who lost their health insurance, a significant number of whom also lost their homes, and who must now stand in long queues for food parcels.
This is why Trump’s chance to return to office remains a big question mark. Netanyahu linked his political fate to that of Trump, and now in addition to the problem of his trial and unemployment, a new trouble appears: Joe Biden, who will likely be the Democratic presidential candidate. In a public conversation with Jewish donors, Biden recently expressed reservations about Netanyahu’s intention to annex territories in the West Bank.
It’s worth mentioning that the Democratic Party initiated and even encouraged the unholy alliance between capital and government in the US, and it even paid full price for it when millions of disappointed and angry Americans chose Donald Trump to “drain the swamp” in Washington. But even today, when 40 million citizens are standing on bread lines, tech giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple and their subsidiaries are earning billions more from the crisis, leaving the Wall Street stock market to skyrocket as the real economy suffocates. This absurdity serves to illustrate the political mishap of Donald Trump: when national priorities are so detached from reality, it’s no wonder the economy rewards tycoons while throwing hard workers to the dogs.
The Democratic Party well understands that if it repeats the previous policies of Obama and Clinton, i.e. favoring Wall Street over citizens, pampering corporations, and creating a minimum-wage, food-dependent economy without universal health care, it will eventually destroy the democratic regime. This anarchy is already sprouting in the streets as angry and armed white citizens come out to protest closure orders imposed by governors to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.
[Note: While this article was being written, the United States went into turmoil in response to the murder of George Floyd by police. Trump’s reaction was divisive and provocative: taking a photo op in front of St. John’s Church in Washington D. C. and waving a Bible, he refused to sympathize with the Afro-American community and threatened to send the army to suppress the protests. It seems as if Trump is deliberately deepening the chaos and wants to benefit from it.]
The old politics, the same corrupt politics for which Netanyahu is on trial and his predecessor Ehud Olmert was sent to prison, has come to a standstill. The privatization and regulations that favor corporations and huge loans for tycoons have ended in social and economic disaster. Although the lesson from the 2008 economic crisis has not been learned, the situation is different today. The current crisis is intensified by Trump’s lack of leadership, while here in Israel, amid economic catastrophe, Netanyahu is preoccupied with a private war for his future.
The Corona crisis has relentlessly revealed the weakness of human society and the failing nature of political regimes. It was the dictatorial regime in China that hid the danger of the virus from the world when the pandemic began to spread, while Trump and Boris Johnson refused to acknowledge the severity of the virus, thereby causing disaster for themselves and the world. Italy, France and Spain have been shocked to discover how vulnerable their health care systems are. Like most of the world, Israel was caught unprepared. The world that cared about the growth and well-being of corporations left society behind until it discovered that the virus does not distinguish between rich and poor, between white and black, between Jew and Arab. As soon as a poor person is ill, the whole society is in danger and the economy collapses. It is an unprecedented illustration of the fact that the welfare of the citizen is the guarantee for the welfare of society as a whole, and that the gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent is forcing all of humankind to recalculate this trajectory.
Netanyahu’s relationship with big capitalists reflects an era that is sinking before our eyes. It was he who gave them the keys to the economy, privatized government corporations and turned them into billionaires overnight. It was only natural for them to return this favor. Therefore, his trial marks the end of the neoliberalism he advocated, and it is possible that the Coronavirus may also mark his political end. The economy must be returned to society as a whole, and corporations must once again pay their share of taxes to fund health, welfare, education and jobs for all. The piggyback era is over.
After the Corona epidemic, society must behave in a completely different way, prioritizing ecology, air quality and quality of life. Even before the outbreak of the Corona crisis, many countries and parties around the world adopted the Green New Deal, which advocates for alternative energy as a platform for collaborative economy building. The alienation between the citizen and the state has resulted in the Trump phenomenon. It is no coincidence that the latter received Netanyahu’s unqualified support. These two are fighting a war against the very democracy through which they came to power.