Netanyahu’s showing in Paris’ Unity March last week was as an odd one to say the least; some saw it as a PR disaster caused by a heartless sociopath, others as a cold, calculated moved by a seasoned politician. Regardless of your beliefs, you have to hand it to him, no matter what Bibi does, he seems to have a way of appealing to a significant number of Israelis.
A democracy is the best system of governance we have developed, but it is far from perfect. French political scientist Joseph-Marie de Maistre wrote “Every nation gets the government it deserves”, that follows well with my own thought – a democracy is doomed to its electorate. As Randal Munroe demonstrated in his XKCD comic, majority approval of any given subject can be on the wrong side of history, even in a first-world country. Such, I believe, is the case with Israel and its Prime Minster, who has been elected to the country’s highest seat three times already. Netanyahu is a hawkish man who doesn’t mince words or actions, and often speaks louder with airstrikes than his own voice. He has been known for ignoring international outrage at mass deaths of civilians (categorizing them as casualties of war, if acknowledging them at all), while even accelerating operations in such times. But he still has a way of getting away with it.
So, how does he do it? How does he operate on the mandate of a seeming monster, while winning accolades from a populace that considers itself largely liberal? By reusing the oldest tricks in the book of course! He lies, misdirects, victimizes, and censors. A quick and objective look at his tenure provides us with plenty of examples of each, but here are some of my personal favourites.
Suppression of Information and Censorship
To be succesful in political office is to be hypocritical. Last week Netanyahu stood in Paris and defended “freedom of speech” on principle and encouraged the publishing of political cartoons, even if they are offensive to any particular religion. But his principles seemed to flutter in a different direction when he himself was the butt of the joke. The political cartoon below was published in UK’s Sunday Times in 2013. It shows Netanyahu building a wall (of apartheid) with the blood and bodies of Palestinian civilians. All’s fair in journalistic freedom to criticize, correct? Well, not so much. After the cartoon was published, Reuven Rivlin, the Speaker of the Knesset wrote to his British counterpart demanding an apology while citing anti-semitism. The cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial day, and it was suggested that it was especially egregious of the Sunday Times to print the cartoon on that day.
The memory of the Holocaust is sacred for all Human Beings. Invoking it to earn pity points in order to gain political favour isn’t particularly noble. But then again, this wouldn’t be the first time the Israeli government would muddy the memory of a Genocide. In 2004, Yair Auron (professor at Israel Open University, frequent writer on Genocide, and author of The Banality of Indifference) “[found] incriminating evidence that the arms (plunder from the Yom Kippur War) left from the airport in Lod for Goma, [were] transferred directly to the murderous troops of the Rwandan army”. Under Israel’s Freedom of Information law, he filed a request with the Department of Defence for relevant documents to be discharged into the public sphere. His request was denied on the grounds that the release would “harm Israel’s state security and foreign relations”. What that means of course is that by admitting that Israel played a role in the prevalence of Genocide in Rwanda, the government would forfeit its right to self-victimization.
Demonizing and victimizing
To cite Noam Chomsky, selling an illegitimate war in a democracy requires one to manufacture consent. Palestine is a complex mixture of two de facto governments, several militant groups, and quite saliently civilians who are trapped in the mix, but reality is easier understood without nuance. Netanyahu knows this, and realizes that he can justify committing any and all atrocities as long as he can paint all Palestinians with the same broad brush stroke. He chose that of Hamas. For example, Operation Protective Edge was launched by the IDF in 2014 as a response to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The kidnappings were followed by international condemnation, and the question was raised, who was responsible? That didn’t really matter to Netanyahu as he saw this as an opportunity to pin it on his obvious target – “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay“.
It became clear over the days that followed that the Hamas leadership was not responsible, Netanyahu’s lie had outrun itself. But to justify Operation Brother’s Keeper, in which approximately 800 Palestinians were arrested without charge or trial, nine civilians were killed and about 1300 buildings were raided, and other atrocities, Netanyahu claimed that his attack was justified as Hamas had been breaching the ceasefire anyway by firing hundreds of rockets into Israel. It is indeed true that several rockets targeting innocent Israeli civilians had been fired from Gaza, but neither in the last seven months belonged to Hamas. But once again the truth was immaterial. Supposedly all Palestinian militant groups were Hamas, and they were all the personification of evil. Had Netanyahu acted in the true interest of peace, he would not have demonized the leadership of Hamas, which despite being a terrorist organization, had been stretching a friendly hand to find a peaceful solution. By discrediting this effort for peace, Netanyahu sent a message to the people of Palestine – it doesn’t matter whether you want peace of war, you’re going to get war.
In fact, it seems that Netanyahu never seems to miss an opportunity to demonize Hamas. In the span of last year, he has compared Hamas to:
– ISIS – After the murder of American journalist James Foley, Netanyahu’s Twitter account wouldn’t stop posting pictures of Foley minutes before the beheading and comparing ISIS’s actions to Hamas, much to the chagrin of Foley’s family.
Post-1947 Gaza has been a breeding ground for poverty, religious radicalism and militant groups. The three often go hand in hand, and mix together in a potent cocktail. Despite the attestations of the Israeli government, it is neither Islam, nor genetic “evil” that gives rise to these. War is hell, and a single campaign can set its victims back several decades in time. Dwight Eisenhower, who had seen the horrors of World War II from the frontlines, poignantly pointed this out to us in his famous The Chance for Peace speech.*
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
After several failed peace plans, hundreds of failed ceasefires, billions spent, and tens of thousands of dead, Palestine had recently launched a bid to be recognized as a state in the UN’s general assembly. Despite staunch opposition from Israel and its ally, the United States, Palestine was admitted as a ‘Non-Member Observer State’. The standard bureaucratese title might sound discouraging, but the status upgrade gave Palestine a chance to submit to the ICC for an investigation of crimes that would have been committed in the 2014 Gaza conflict. The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, reportedly a pedant of a woman, has accepted the case. The news and the events leading to it caused a tumult of lambastations from Israel and the US. In fact Israel went so far as to freeze critical tax revenue it owes to Palestine (something is has done before), as punishment for its actions. The official explanation as to why goes along the lines of “involving the ICC would derail the peace process”.
Without getting into why that is laughable (Israel is the only party that is not on the same page as the international community in the process), it seems obvious that Netanyahu’s government is fearful of findings by the ICC of the grave crimes its army has committed. This decision once again comes at a cost to the Israeli citizen, as any investigation by the ICC will actually NOT be partial to Palestine. By its own constitution, the ICC will discover and investigate crimes committed by both parties. While Fatah and Hamas seem ready to take flack on that front, Netanyahu’s government does not. Palestine is finally talking to Israel via an agent of international diplomacy and not with rockets, but Netanyahu just doesn’t seem to be ready to listen.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is perhaps one of the most complex political problems of our times. It has challenged several intellects, and roused many-a-debates, but still remains a saliently divise topic of conversation. It involves not only the primal human instincts of religion and national identity, but also those of modern political structures, like the UN and the ICC. It should be a triviality to say that there is not going to be an easy solution to it, or a single binary event that makes everything better. For peace to prevail (however you define it), generations will have to pass, and cultural barriers will have to be dismantled. A quick look at the history of our times shows us that peace virtually never occurs by accident or evolves by chance, but instead has to be carefully constructed, with intention and hard work.
Success stories of peace can be found in the works of Nelson Mandela (who after being release from prison could have taken revenge against his white oppressors, but instead forgave their crimes for the better of his country), or Germany after WWII (a country which went from being deeply nationalist and self-assured, to being the most self-reflective and peaceable in the world). These stories are built upon individuals and societies that performed deep-introspection and jumped figurative leaps in their thinking. The actions of Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are regressive, and show a wonton lack of interest in peace.
Contrary to the old precept, Peace in the middle-east is possible. It probably won’t be Mahmoud Abbas who oversees it for Palestine, but it more than certainly won’t be Benjamin Netanyahu who oversees it for Israel. March of this year is a legislative election in Israel; let’s hope Israelis will do away with this monster of a man, who has undone the work of some of his predecessors, and continues to operate to the detriment of Israelis, Palestinians and the rest of humanity.
* Wilfred Owen (who instead had seen the frontlines of World War I) also warned us of the dangers of war for nationalism in his most wonderful poem – Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.