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Netanyahu's downfall is nothing to celebrate

Netanyahu needs to go, but progressives are mistaken if they think that the end of his rule will halt Israel’s rightward march. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO)

The myriad corruption scandals engulfing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have, on a near daily basis, been growing and spreading like cracks in a windshield. True or not, the question of if King Bibi’s reign is coming to an end feels like it has officially been supplanted by predictions about when the house of cards will come crashing down.

Even more dizzying is how we are becoming privy to corruption, attempts to corrupt, and general malfeasance in nearly all of the institutions that comprise a democratic state as we know it.

In the past few weeks and months we have learned how politicians, regulators, and oligarchs conspired to shape the news we are fed by the biggest and most influential news outlets, confirming our worst fears about the state of journalism in Israel. The accusations range from negotiating favorable coverage in exchange for regulatory changes to the prime minister literally dictating the front-page headlines of Israel’s most-read newspaper.

We learned how, on top of attempts to defang the judiciary in Israel, the Netanyahu entourage allegedly tried to sell a shockingly corrupt quid pro quo to a judge shortlisted to be the next attorney general: agree to close a criminal case against the prime minister’s wife, and become attorney general. Even more astounding is that even after that judge told Israel’s now-chief justice of the Supreme Court about the indecent proposal, neither did anything about it.

We learned that someone hired private investigators to dig up dirt on the police detectives tasked with investigating Netanyahu and his cronies. When that news broke, likely leaked by Netanyahu himself, the prime minister put out a face-palm-inducing statement pondering whether investigators who believe the person they are investigating sent somebody to investigate them can be impartial in their investigation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony marking his appointment of Israel National Police Chief Roni Alsheikh, December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony marking his appointment of Israel National Police Chief Roni Alsheikh, December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The accusations go on and on, and the list is guaranteed to grow in the coming days and weeks as more and more suspects, some of whom have been in Netanyahu’s inner-most circles, turn state’s witnesses and give police even more to work with.

Casting aside Netanyahu’s uncanny political survival skills and recalling that his predecessor left office  to stand trial and ultimately spent time in prison, it’s no longer unfathomable that Israel’s second-longest-serving prime minister may never become its longest serving premier.

Many progressives in Israel, but particularly around the world, who have come to associate Netanyahu with everything they loathe about Israel — believing on some level that if only Netanyahu were to go away, it would be easier to unflinchingly support the Jewish state again — may even be celebrating what appears to be his impending downfall.

That would be a mistake.

We have already witnessed how, as the corruption scandals swell, the prime minister lowered the floodgates that once held back extreme right-wing legislation and policies, placating his right-wing base and coalition partners to ensure their support. That will likely get worse in the months to come. New settlements? Sure. Muffle the Muslim call to prayer? Why not. Deport tens of thousands of asylum seekers? Who’s going to stop it.

Yet there is an even scarier reason why progressives shouldn’t celebrate Netanyahu’s downfall. Once he is gone, it will become impossible to deny that despite his vain attempts to control everything we know and think of him, Benjamin Netanyahu is just a politician — a politician whose policies are more or less in line with the views and beliefs of most Israelis.

Support for a two-state solution is lower than it has been in years. Most Jewish Israelis support the deportation of African asylum seekers. Nobody else in government cares about religious pluralism enough to seriously challenge the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on Judaism in Israel. And the idea of a liberal democracy, of an Israel that belongs to all of its citizens, is supported by a grand total of nobody.

The leaders who could plausibly replace Netanyahu, should he be forced out of office, aren’t anybody to look forward to. Those who could replace him from within the Likud would have a hard time reigning in the annexationist fervor unleashed in recent years, even if they wanted to.

Head of the Zionist Union party Avi Gabbay with Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Head of the Zionist Union Avi Gabbay, alongside opposition leader Isaac Herzog. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The new head of the Labor Party doesn’t think that any settlements need to be removed in order to make peace with the Palestinians, not that he or anyone in his party is in a rush to do any such thing. He also supports the plan to deport African asylum seekers. Yair Lapid’s policies aren’t all that distinguishable from Labor leader Gabbay’s, or Netanyahu’s for that matter.

None of this is to say that Benjamin Netanyahu is the lesser evil, or the least worst alternative. Netanyahu needs to go. The future of Israeli democracy will require repairing the damage he and his cronies have wreaked on this country.

But the suggestion that Netanyahu’s brand of corruption is even in the same league as Israel’s 50-year military dictatorship over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians is simply detached from reality. Getting rid of Netanyahu isn’t going to bring us any closer to ending a half-century of undemocratic rule. It won’t change how the state treats its own Arab-Palestinian citizens — who comprise one in five Israelis — as less than equal, as if they don’t belong, as if their homeland doesn’t belong to them.

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    1. Ben

      It indeed would be a mistake to think that the corruption and criminality in internal Israeli affairs embodied by Netanyahu somehow is any different when it comes to the internal-external affair of the occupation. It is no different. The settlers and the Yesha Council and the Civil Administration and the army and the detention system and the politicians–that is the whole machinery of occupation and dispossession–are similarly imbued with this criminality and impunity. It is basically organized crime.

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin

        You are neither Israeli nor Jew. You hate the State of Israel. You do not understand anything in the Israeli politics.

        Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordin

        …. and please do not forget that for most Israeli Jews there is no occupation. The Judea and the Samaria are a part of the Jewish heritage. Members of the minorities who do not accept our sovereignty are free to leave. As Jews in an Arab country my parents have been wired by the government. It was very hard but they agreed and survived without the help of any UNWRA. One million Jews have been expelled from Arab countries in the 50 and 60s. So please keep your leftist blah blah for yourself and write for them..

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Halevy: You have no business telling me how Jewish or not I must be or how many and which of my relatives are Jewish. Or how interested in Israel-Palestine I am allowed to be. To inquire after my Jewishness as you do is to engage in the Jewish supremacist reverse of what the Aryan supremacists in 1933 engaged in. It is to arrogate to a class of people based on race and religion the right to rule over others and to decide how to do it. And to silence others. Implicit in your sniffing around after my Jewishness and my place of residence is the idea that Israeli Jews should be left alone to do whatever they want between the river and the sea, and that it is nobody else’s business. “Leave us alone, everything is alright.”

          That credo, Halevy, is the time worn credo of molesters, abusers, gangsters, and others who prey on the weak. “Everything’s fine, leave us alone, we can take care of it.” But I don’t recall Al Capone ever telling Elliot Ness “Why are you so interested in me, Ness, what’s wrong with you?”

          We are not going to leave you alone, Halevy. Get used to it. Nor is Robert Mueller going to leave Donald Trump alone no matter how manipulatively Trump moans and cries and schemes about it.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          “write for [the leftists]…”

          Halevy, I am writing in the pages of +972 Magazine. And what I wrote is essentially no different than what Michael Omer-Man writes. Why don’t you accost Michael and tell him he has no business publishing +972 Magazine and it should be shut down and he should be silenced? That would be more honest than attacking me and it would be in line with what you are telling me and it would be more honest than the whole effort to pretend Israel is a genuine liberal democracy with genuine free speech values when in fact it is increasingly now a Feiglinist state that locks up poets and persecutes Breaking the Silence and outlaws free speech and says sinister, Orwellian things like “Members of the minorities who do not accept our sovereignty are free to leave.”

          Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          @Itshak: I don’t accept any notion of “Jewish sovereignty” over “Judea and Samaria”.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      Aren’t you counting your chickens before your eggs have hatched ?
      Bibi has not been formally charged yet.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      Bret Stephens did it again, promulgating more Principled Except for Palestine ethics in his latest New York Times opinion piece. Stephens, former Jerusalem Post editor, Wall Street Journal writer, and now NYT columnist, is a noteworthy case.

      He says don’t count Bibi out because Bibi is “for Israelis, a pretty good prime minister” even if he has “flaws.” So right away we see who counts for Stephens as “Israelis” and it’s not non-Jewish ones. And we see what counts for Stephens in terms of moral standards and to whom they selectively apply.

      This is the same columnist who has hewed to a principled case (not hard to make) that Donald Trump is too corrupt and criminal to be tolerated as the American president, no matter his ‘achievements’ for the right wing. In other words, severely bad character and outright criminality in their leaders is unacceptable for Americans, but it’s OK for Israelis.

      This then is the right wing American Jewish double standard when it comes to Israel, as exemplified by Bret Stephens: It is morally permitted to lie, steal and cheat as an Israeli Prime Minister, but it not morally acceptable to commit the same crimes elsewhere.
      The two cases are highly comparable since Netanyahu and Trump are such similar characters with similar agendas. Only Netanyahu is actually close to indictment and trial while Robert Mueller is just getting started with Trump—so you’d think if anything, Stephens would come down harder on Netanyahu, but that is not the case.

      In making his case Stephens briefly mentions the settlements–in passing, as if they were a minor factor, a trifle. Thus parroting the propaganda of Mr. Netanyahu. And then he asserts that peace with the Palestinians is “impossible” any time soon, so, conveniently the occupation must continue—omitting the obvious: that a stable, lasting and productive peace with the Palestinians is indeed impossible on Israeli right wing extremist terms, but it is not at all impossible if the government stopped catering to fanatical settlers and worked out with the Palestinians a minimally just arrangement—something it has never done. But Bret Stephens’ assumptive world is built of such lazy assumptions, at least when it comes to Israel.

      Bottom line: Bret Stephens says that the criminal enterprises Bibi stands accused of, as well as the criminal enterprise that is the occupation,* are not so bad, are tolerable–for ‘Israelis’. But Americans are not given the same dispensation.
      That’s a double standard. That’s hypocrisy.

      * Both enterprises of Bibi and his cronies reflect the same criminal ethic, as we noted two days ago, though, as Michael Omer-Man rightly points out, “the suggestion that Netanyahu’s brand of corruption is even in the same league as Israel’s 50-year military dictatorship over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians is simply detached from reality.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Your equation: Bibi = Trump = Bibi is lame.

        Netanyahu was an IDF Captain and a special ops officer in an elite anti-terrorist unit. He saw action in the 1973 war and in the Sabena Hijacking incident. Netanyahu, who has an MBA from MIT, speaks 3 languages – 2 of them fluently. Bibi served Israel at the UN during the problematic 1980s.

        Trump was born with a silver mouth in his mouth and did none of the above.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben


          Go back and read what I said.

          “…similar characters with similar agendas…”

          I said nothing about accomplishments except political ones. Politically, both men are wildly popular with a certain population segment and loathed by another population segment. And found distasteful by most of their respective populations.

          My argument was moral, ethical. You missed that. That says a lot. But not about me.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Bibi does not have a similar character to Trump.
            Trump talks bullshit most of the time and has no political goals. Bibi is the opposite.
            That is why your comparison is lame.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            They are both narcissistic-antisocial personalities, on the face of it. They are both manipulative, populist, nativist demagogues. They both have prosecutors pursuing them for high crimes and misdemeanors and multi-faceted corruption. They both are at high risk for trying to start a war or something to distract people from that pursuit. And they both are malignant enough to do it. Bibi has better hair. And a better brain. The uncanny similarities remain.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Your description could apply to almost every politician in history.
            Narcistic, populist, manipulative, prosecutors chasing after them…
            That applies to Bill Clinton, Bush Junior, Obama etc etc.
            Ben, your losing your touch.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Lewis from Afula: That’s just nonsense. Or an application to all the rest of the world of your own right wing extremist Israeli standards. Which is called “projection.” This is especially transparent with the obvious fake item in the line up: Obama. You know Lewis, you can’t just make stuff up that is not plausible. Like “jordanian fakestinian no palestinian blah blah blah.” Or “it was a bicycle accident, you see….”

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            And one more thing. Personality traits vary in the population dimensionally, by continuous gradation, not categorically. Lots of politicians have traits, but Trump and Bibi are extreme outliers, 2+ standard deviations out from the mean. That’s why Bibi is universally disdained as an incorrigible liar and conniver who simply cannot be trusted. And Trump is thought all that but also qualifying as a moron.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            But their deeds are catching up with both of these characters. “A man’s character is his fate,” said Heraclitus.

            CNN reports:
            First, it emerged Tuesday that chief of staff John Kelly downgraded the top secret security clearance for the President’s son-in-law in a bid to clear up a scandal over whether top administration players are qualified to access the most sensitive intelligence.
            Then, The Washington Post published a bombshell report that at least four countries had discussed how to use Kushner’s sparse experience, financial troubles and intricate business arrangements to manipulate him.
            Hours later, CNN reported that special counsel Robert Mueller is asking questions about Trump’s business dealings with Russia before the President’s campaign, a potentially significant development in the investigation.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Among those four countries? Israel. That’s right. USA’s bestest bestest buddy, super BFF, no daylight ally.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            More fair, unbiased views from Ben.
            Ben likes to ignore the fact that under Bibi, Israel’s debt to GDP ratio has gone down from 80% tp 60%. Both inflation and unemployment are the lowest they’ve ever been (without changing how these parameters are measured). Ben doesn’t realize that under Bibi, Israel’s GDP per head now exceeds that of Japan, UK or France. THat’s why I voted and supported Bibi and hope he will continue to lead the country.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Notice how Lewis simply changed the subject rather than counter anything I said? No matter. Let’s examine the subject switched to, moving beyond superficialities, via Prof. Dan Ben-David, one of Israel’s most prominent economics researchers, and head of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research. As reported by Meirav Arlosoroff:

            “…What is short of perfect lies in Israel’s qualitative performance, rather than its quantitative one.

            The rate of poverty in Israel, after the states intervention, is the highest among the developed nations. The rate of poor families with two breadwinners doubled since 2002. Labor productivity has lagged behind the developed markets for 40 years and at this point, is 42% lower than Americas.

            As for that vaunted education, qualitatively, our achievements are positively shocking. In all international tests, Israeli students rate about 40th in the world. Israel has the biggest group of weak pupils among the developed nations. A third of Israeli children ranked in the lowest group in the international tests. The second-weakest was Hungary, with a 28% proportion of weak students. And remember that ultra-Orthodox pupils don’t even take the tests. If they had, they’d put Israel in a negative league of its own.

            The ensuing qualitative picture is that Israel has tons of uneducated poor workers with shockingly poor productivity.

            …The labor market is brimming with workers who have no ability or learning to improve their performance. Israel therefore cannot improve its productivity, economic growth or quality of life.

            Growing parts of the Israeli population are not given the tools or conditions to successfully contend in the modern, competitive economy, Ben-David writes. Since the recession of 2002-2003, Israel adopted a policy that succeeded in greatly reducing unemployment rates; but though it handled the quantitative problem, it almost completely ignored the qualitative one – worker quality.

            Here he and other researchers are in agreement: Israel has exhausted the quantitative advantages of its higher education system (the colleges revolution) and of its employment market (the employment miracle). Its crashing into the glass ceiling, not of sexism, but of the poor quality of its human capital.

            There are hordes of college graduates, which is good – but, for one thing, the poor education in high schools is already lowering the quality of college degrees. The colleges have no choice but to accept these inferior students and their quality is suffering.

            Some of the population belongs to startup nation, but productivity as a whole is among the lowest in the developed nations. Israel has got to stop thinking about quantity and start thinking about quality, Ben-David stresses.

            A key problem, he says, is the funnel feeding the higher education in Israel: the schools, which are lousy, especially the Arab and ultra-Orthodox schools. Some 15 years after leading the policy that created the employment miracle, Netanyahu, now as prime minister, is leading a policy that destroys any chance of improving the quality of education. Former Education Minister Shay Piron started forcing the ultra-Orthodox schools to provide core subjects too, like math and English; the Netanyahu government canceled those moves, and thus a historic opportunity to change ultra-Orthodox education was missed.

            Netanyahu has given the Arab community budgets, but far below what they need (and the money for the five-year Bedouin program hasn’t arrived at all). In any case, with messages like squealing “They’re coming in droves to the polling booths,” it’s hard to advance Israeli Arab society.

            Plans to improve education systems among vulnerable populations – such as the plan to transfer the vocational schools from the Economy and Industry Ministry to the Education Ministry, and the plan to reform the tech colleges – Netanyahu halted, because of some devious political deal with Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz.

            Netanyahu has poured budgets into the education system, but he isn’t moving on structural reforms in education – though clearly the problem in the education system is management, not money; and even though Netanyahu himself brayed about the need for management reform in education while he was himself in the opposition.

            Nor does Israel have worker retraining programs. Israel has the highest proportion of working poor in the OECD, but spends a quarter of the budgets compared with the other members of the organization.

            These failures are all Netanyahu’s personally, and they could well eradicate Israel’s economic growth. Israel could make a great leap forward if it improves the quality of its human capital. But he, who 15 years ago led Israel to great things, is leading it down the opposite road. “
            read more: https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-netanyahu-s-failures-that-could-eradicate-israel-s-economic-growth-1.5495743

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            If Israel’s productivity is so low how come GDP per head is higher than Japan, France or the UK?
            How come its sovereign debt to GDP is amongst the lowest of all Developed Countries. I believe only Switzerland is lower.
            If everything is so rubbish, why is unemployment & inflation the lowest they have been for ever ?
            Why is Israel experiencing a tourist boom – with the number of tourists expected in 2018 to be highest ever?
            Why are more Israelis returning home having lived abroad in the US, Germany, Canada for several years ?
            People tend to vote with their feet, after all.

            Ben’s writings are essentially leftist drivel generated from 1 semi-communist acadedmic called Ben David – whose fake position is propped up his fellow travellers in key poltical positions. By taking ultra-orthodox and beduin kids who do badly at tests and measuring various “averages” it is possible to prove anything with clever statistics. This is indeed what this neo-marxist academic has done.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            On the contrary, Lewis.

            1. “…remember that ultra-Orthodox pupils don’t even take the tests. If they had, they’d put Israel in a negative league of its own.”

            2. Israel’s GDP per capita is not higher than Japan, France or the UK:

            3. Far from being a “communist neo-Marxist,” or failing to give Netanyahu and others credit where credit is due, Ben-David has much more data-driven, interesting and nuanced things to say, about “quality versus quantity,” about both increasing GDP and “increasing GDP beyond the contribution by increases in physical inputs,” i.e., total factor productivity (TFP), the primary engine of economic growth.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            1. How do you define an “Ultra-orthodox Jew” ?
            The lack of categorial definition gives plenty of room to conduct misleading statistics.

            2. I stated GDP per head NOT GDP per head fudged for PPP !
            With your selected parameter, Ireland is wealthier than Germany while Brunei is more developed than Australia. This is not the case if you visit these countries.

            3. Another factor is that his paper was published in 2016 and his data finishes in 2015 while Bibi’s achievements have continued the last 2-3 years. This is confirmed in recent opinion polls where the right wing government is very popular for its economic policies.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @ Lewis: In my view, all three of your answers here are exercises in obscurantism.

            1. We should define Ultra-orthodox for our purposes simply as all those religious who do not take the test. Their numbers are substantial and their inclusion as test takers would have a substantial effect size. Please point to the flaw in Ben-David’s methodology and reasoning. Where does he mislead? Be specific.

            2. GDP per capita on a PPP basis accounts for the real differences in the cost of living in different countries, so that, as the page I link to states, “using a PPP basis is arguably more useful when comparing generalized differences in living standards between nations because PPP takes into account the relative cost of living and the inflation rates of the countries.” But remember, Ben-David’s argument is not about the economic growth already baked into the cake, he accounts for that and credits it. His argument is about the potential for economic growth in the future. His whole critique is about that.

            3. What power of extrapolation from 2015 to 2018 undermines Ben-David’s argument? I can’t see it. Please explain.

            I might add that the whole idea that you mainly like Netanyahu for his economics is surprising. Up to now you’re all about ethnic cleansing and mass population transfer, in the crudest terms. Suddenly you’re an economic policy wonk? Odd, that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            I like Bibi’s economic policies AND his resistance to PLO fascism. In the past, we had to suffer the horrible combination of appeasement and socialism. In the long term, mass expulsion of all the PLO Jordanian fascists back to the East Bank is the only fair solution.

            Reply to Comment
    4. MidaFo

      “The future of Israeli democracy will require repairing the damage he and his cronies have wreaked on this country.”
      Israel is not a democracy. It has always been a conspiracy.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Carl Zaisser

      I think everyone who cares about democracy and human rights already realizes that Netanyahu can’t compare to the right wing hardliners Bennett, Shaked and Lieberman when it comes to being an oppressive monster. So no such folks are optimistic. But the author’s bleakly accurate assessment of the ‘left’s’ candidates, and of the Israeli body politic’s attitudes in general, lead to only one conclusion. Things are on a downward spiral in Israel with all indications that they will only get worse, not better. It is often said that a drunk won’t really be able to reform until he hits the bottom of the barrel. But this metaphor is not to say that Israel is the drunk who will reform, but rather, the rest of the world, which up to now has been tolerating the absence of civilized values in Israel. At some point, this drunk world will wake up and then the squeeze will be on. This may well be how the one-state reality ultimately morphs the apartheid state into a tolerable democratic state for all: when the world grows completely nauseous of the downward spiral it is watching. Young Jews in the U.S. are already having their heads turned by Israel’s behavior. Of course, all this is based on the assumption that international law in place is a safety net that is indeed a reflection of what the people, and nations of the world want the world to be. The alternative would be an increasingly prevalent descent into depravity just about everywhere. In that case, the Bennetts, the Shakeds, and the Liebermans of the future can sleep soundly.

      Reply to Comment
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