In a Haaretz op-ed on Tuesday, Rami Livni, a young Israeli political activist, wrote a strong condemnation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His words were harsh, such as:
“What we will never forgive Netanyahu for is that it seems that he, more than any other leader, has succeeded in taking away from us our love of the homeland. We will always love our homeland, in spite of him, but we confess, without fear of the confusion of his calling us ‘sour,’ that Israel is becoming more difficult to love. Love of the homeland is not a luxury. When it exists, it can give a taste to life, while its absence is painful as a stump, which even after a while misses the missing limb.”
It is more poetic in the original Hebrew, but even in English these words pass on the sense of pain that a large part of this country feels today about what Israel has become in the Netanyahu era.
Netanyahu has been Israel’s prime minister for the past nine years, leading right-wing governments with a clear compass and strategy. We don’t need to guess what he is thinking or what he is trying to do. He has clearly succeeded in shaping Israel according to his worldview. He has also succeeded in developing a definite majority of Israelis behind him personally. It is not unusual in democracies for the incumbent to have a strong majority of support in between elections. In the case of Netanyahu, it seems to go beyond merely having the support of the masses. Backing and supporting Netanyahu has turned into a cult. Supporting or taking positions against Netanyahu has been shaped by the cult and its leader into being for or against Israel. The cult of Netanyahuism has brought with it deep divisions in society, with increasing numbers of his supporters insisting that those of us who are against Netanyahu have lost their legitimacy – even to voice their legitimate criticism. Criticism of Netanyahu has become equivalent to being anti-Israel.
I admit that it is difficult today for me to identify with Israel, to feel pride in Israel, to feel love for the homeland. There is a strong sense that Israel is heading in the wrong direction and that the divisiveness within the country is not incidental, but instigated and directed from above. There are many reasons for this feeling, including:
• The encouragement of the de-legitimation of the Palestinian citizens of Israel and increasing racism and discrimination against them.
• The recent demonstrations of “commitment to the Jewish identity” in Afula by the new mayor and municipal council there would be labeled as clear and blatant racism in any other democratic country.
• This is the direct result of a campaign of de-legitimation launched and orchestrated by Netanyahu for most of the last decade leading the passing of the “Nation-state law” and rejecting the principle of equality as written in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
• There is constant de-legitimation by the prime minister and his associates of human rights and civil society organizations working for peace and coexistence.
• The continual shrinking of free expression by the self-censorship of those who are now afraid to express their political opinions freely – including journalists, television personalities, artists, musicians and other people with a public profile.
• The legitimation of the closure of Israel’s borders to those who express dissent against the government’s positions.
• The continual barrage of legislation or attempts to legislate the withering away of democratic rights that were, until a few years ago taken for granted.
• The significantly growing dissociation of young Jews in the Diaspora from identification with the State of Israel.
• The abhorrence felt by people all around the world toward Israel, not because of antisemitism – most of them support Israel’s right to exist – but because of Israel’s policies and aggression toward the Palestinian people.
• The existence and dominance of a freebie newspaper “the Bibiton” Israel Today, which has changed the map of Israel’s news media and which is solely funded by an American billionaire of moral question who backs a white supremacist American president and Israel’s most right-wing prime minister.
All of these examples have at their root the unending occupation and continual entrenchment of Israel in the territories it occupied in June 1967, including the construction of development of Israeli settlements and the continual attempts of depopulation of Palestinians. There is a lack of any initiative for resuming a peace process with the Palestinians and there is continued de-legitimation of their leaders.
Israel under Netanyahu is facing an existential reality of its own making. The real threats to Israel are not Iran or Hezbollah, Hamas or Islamic Jihad. The real threats are not BDS or antisemitism in the West or in the Muslim world. The real threats to Israel come from the failure to determine a border in the east that leaves millions of Palestinians without citizenship and without democracy under Israel military control, more than one and half million Arab citizens of Israel who are increasingly feeling alienated from their state, and increasing numbers of Israeli Jewish citizens, like me, who are being pushed to dissociate ourselves from our homeland.
Netanyahu is bad for Israel. He is not Mr. Security. He is not keeping Israel safe. He is not making Israel great. Netanyahu is tearing Israel apart and it is time for Israel to pull itself away from the divisiveness that he has fostered. Elections will take place in 2019. Netanyahu must fall and we must move forward toward healing this country and building bridges between people, inside this country and between this country and the rest of the world.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
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