While we Israelis wait to learn if a government is finally forming, or a third election is imminent, it’s timely to reflect on Netanyahu’s populism. Many Israelis vote for him blindly: “Only Bibi” is a constant Likud slogan.
It’s worth asking why he inspires unwavering loyalty, almost addiction. Israeli journalist Matti Friedman opined in The New York Times that Bibi’s success is largely based on the fact that the 1990s wave of Hamas suicide bombings stopped while he was in power:
“Whatever credit the prime minister really deserves for the change, for many voters it’s a good enough reason to keep him in power,” he writes. […] “The attacks, which killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, ended hopes for a negotiated peace and destroyed the left, which was in power when the wave began. Any sympathy that the Israeli majority had toward Palestinians evaporated.”
That viewpoint prevents Israel from weaning itself from its “landaholic” addiction to a settler-colonial reality, which can only end inexorably and lemming-like in full-scale apartheid (as defined in the UN Covenant to Eradicate the Crime of Apartheid), or a bi-national state without a Jewish majority.
Although easier to paint “the other” as the guilty party, it’s more painfully honest, especially for promoting healing of that trauma, to acknowledge at least partial Israeli responsibility for those suicide bombings. They took place in a climate of toxic right-wing incitement deliberately nurtured by Netanyahu, who participated in a notorious Zion Square rally, or Ra’anana Junction protest against the Oslo Accords where he marched under a coffin bearing the name of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. The protest preceded the murder of Rabin (z”l) by a right-wing fanatic, and Likud’s ascent to power.
Another fanatic, Dr Baruch Goldstein, almost two years earlier, on 25 February 1994, murdered 29 Palestinians at prayer during Ramadan, in one of the holiest of holies – the Ibrahimi Mosque or Cave of the Patriarchs, where our shared forefather, Abraham / Ibrahim, is buried.
As a doctor, Goldstein refused to treat Palestinians despite his Hippocratic Oath. Listed third on the Knesset list for Kach (Meir Kahane’s political party, banned in Israel as a terrorist group), and a resident of Kiryat Arba – a hard-line Hebron settlement – he determined to end the Oslo peace process, even at the cost of his own life. Yigal Amir, Rabin’s assassin, was similarly motivated, while Binyamin Netanyahu is on record proudly claiming to have deliberately terminated the Oslo Accords.
Goldstein was beaten to death by survivors. His widow would later affirm that he was not crazy, he knew exactly what he was doing: derailing the peace process. That trio of Goldstein, Amir and Bibi succeeded, using extremist, terrorist means, to prevent peace to this day.
Why is this relevant? Because if over the years the Israeli public had been more fully exposed to their subversion of peace, we might have learned what Dr Abdel Aziz Al-Rantisi, then Hamas’ deputy to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, told Chris Hedges, heading the New York Times Middle East bureau: Hamas was so outraged by the 1994 Hebron massacre that it changed its strategy. It started targeting Israeli civilians on a mass scale, within the Israeli side of the "Green Line".
“When Israel stops killing Palestinian civilians, we will stop killing Israeli civilians,” he told [Hedges]. “Look at the numbers. It is we who suffer most. But it is only by striking back, by making Israel feel what we feel, that we will have any hope of protecting our people.”
So in April 1994, Hamas started targeting civilians, just as Goldstein had. Was it a wise strategy? No. It espoused war crimes, which caused a traumatised deadening of Israeli empathy, making mainstream Israel even less willing to consider peace, co-existence or strategic sacrifice.
Having watched a bus I almost boarded go up in smoke with multiple deaths recorded, and witnessed at least two other lethal attacks first-hand, one is familiar with boarding a bus and not knowing if it will be the last one. Yet, until we Israelis shift from our comfort zone of blaming others (while claiming unique victimhood), or denial of our share of responsibility or blind faith in those who have subverted peace, we’ll continue to confuse the chicken with the egg.
Only by delving deeper, questioning that blind adulation of a leader who has led us into the wilderness, shall we better see why – contrary to populist theses – voting for Netanyahu does not herald peace, or even long-term quiet.
That demonic trio – Goldstein, Amir and Netanyahu, not the Palestinians – deliberately derailed peace, while Bibi continues to deny Israel and Palestine a viable, democratic future.
Netanyahu may well be indicted in the coming weeks for financial corruption. Yet his political corruption may be his historical legacy, if he continues to bring down The Third Temple that is Israel on all of us. That trajectory could continue a never-ending cycle of bloodshed and suffering, cultural genocide, land-grab, revenge attacks, de facto annexation and the ghettoisation of Gaza.
Angela Godfrey-Goldstein is an Israeli peace activist and directs Jahalin Solidarity, a non-profit which supports Jahalin Bedouin refugees
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