Evan Tucker

Brother Bibi

(written between 10/18 and 10/22)


For a quarter century, mention of his name would cause me a vague spine creep of nausea. From the 1996 election, days like last week were fate. Nobody has the excuse of saying they didn’t know the scum that is Bibi Netanyahu from the first time he ran for Prime Minister and he refused to condemn hundreds of rabbinical incitements for Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. An orthodox fanatic killed my political hero, Netanyahu faced a weaker candidate, and he became Prime Minister.

I liked Shimon Peres. Except for his suavity, everybody seemed to talk about him the way they talked about me. They mistrusted him for being too European, too Yiddish, having too much trust in words and too little practicality. He was the last of Israel’s founding fathers to leave the bimah, but everyone dismissed David Ben-Gurion’s personal assistant as ‘not a real Israeli.’ But if I liked Shimon Peres, then Yitzhak Rabin was my political hero.
When Yitzhak Rabin was 25, he was COO of the Palmach, the Jews’ elite special forces in the Israeli War of Independence, a war both the CIA and the British foreign ministry predicted Arab forces would win. Rabin had only joined the Palmach seven years earlier when he could neither shoot nor drive. Twenty years later he was commander-in-chief of the Israel Defense Forces in another war that was supposed to be lost yet took only six days to win. Later we learned that Rabin lead the army while personally on the edge of a nervous breakdown, yet he oversaw the whole thing. When he was Prime Minister the first time, he resigned at the first hint of a scandal rather than represent his constituents unfairly – his wife had $10,000 in an American bank account. When he was Defense Minister in the 80s, he ordered the IDF to retreat from the center of Lebanon to a line much nearer the Israeli border, and during the First Intifada got much criticism for ordering soldiers to beat Palestinians and shoot them with rubber bullets. Many critics thought he should have killed them.
Yitzhak Rabin was a statesman for the real world. Not a fighter for social justice but an actual fighter; in theaters of war where morality is compromised on every side, he used his soldier’s grit to move the moral needle inch by inch. When a literary man like Peres promised peace, no brilliant speech could make Israelis believe him. When one of Israel’s greatest generals promised it, the belief was real. When Peres shook Arafat’s hand, he was all smiles. When Rabin shook it, he looked as though he was about to run to the nearest bathroom to throw up. It’s Rabin who said what history might remember as the most necessary quote about peace of the 20th century: ‘you don’t make peace with your friends, you make it with very unsavory enemies.’
If history has one rule, it’s that our beliefs are wrong. Even if the right believes otherwise, there was a moment when peace between Israel and Palestine was possible. Even if the left believes otherwise, it was never going to be anything but a very bad peace. A shitty peace is better than no peace. It would have made Palestine into a kleptocratic dictatorship: like Jordan at best, Kuwait at worst; it would have made Israel live with a certain level of terror: like post-apartheid South Africa (and we won’t get into that debate…). Both sides found it unacceptable, but both sides would have their futures guaranteed. The threat of nuclear war would drastically reduce as Israel concentrated the entirety of their force to Hezbollah on the northern border and policing Iran’s developments. A handpicked heir to Arafat would have full control of Palestine. He’d value his physical safety to the point that he’d crush any violent Islamic forces with a savagery that impresses even them. A million Israelis would leave the country at the first sign of better opportunities elsewhere and a series of right-wingers would win election by blaming the peace process while running roughshod over the rights of Israeli Arabs. But two corrupt sides would have seen cooperation as their mutual interest, and worked together to ensure that no twice in a century war would originate from them.
One of the many things our modern tellings of history get wrong is that progress does not happen from the bottom up. The bottom may demand progress, but progress only happens when a ‘great man’ is a ‘good man’ and uses his great power to make sure that no man can ever be as powerful as him ever again. We call the people atop who make history ‘Great Men’, but as often as not, great men are villains: sociopaths and narcissists who rise to society’s top because of their will to extreme acts people with a conscience never fathom. The struggle to wrest power from them is eternal, and often as not, we fail.
The Jewish world’s failure has a name, and that name is Bibi.
If Yitzhak Rabin is the story of Israel, then Netanyahu is the story of Israel’s relationship to America.
Netanyahu wasn’t born here, but from high school onward Netanyahu lived two lives: as an Israeli and an American: high school in Philly, IDF, MIT, Harvard, Yom Kippur War, MIT again, Boston financial firm, anti-terror thinktank in Jerusalem, and then the two identities merge: multinational corporate job in Jerusalem, Deputy Ambassador to the US, then Ambassador to the UN. Even when he goes back to Israel to serve in the Knesset (parliament), he becomes the voice of official Israeli policy whenever American news needs an interview. Netanyahu became the dominant politician of his time not because he represented Israel so well to America, but because he represented America to Israelis.
Every day you hear some version on the refrain that Israel is the tail which wags America’s dog, but if Israel has disproportionate influence in America, the reason is the same reason Jews succeed in every country and eventually fail: be more native than the natives, beat Americans at being American, so American that they resent you for being a better American than they are. Nowadays every American who goes to Israel comments on how much Israel looks like any place in the US.
But Bibi is not just half-American, he’s half corporate American, and it’s not the progressive, subversive parts of America Israel seems like, it’s the corporate, anonymous, faux-respectable sides. Israeli culture has a life and mind of its own, subversive in a completely different way from its American countercultural counterparts, but go around any skyscraper or office park or mini-mall and ask yourself if you can tell which country you’re in.
If Bibi were all American, he’d have been the second Ronald Reagan every Republican’s hoped for ever since – a Ronald Reagan who actually who actually runs his government. Even as a half-Israeli, Bibi gives better speeches in English than most American presidents. To Israeli politics he brought American techniques of corporate messaging, TV presentation, negative campaign ads, economic deregulation, tax cuts, welfare reform and streamlined government assets.
It was American economics which got him back to his nearly 15 year reign, but it’s masterful American style bullshit that keeps him there: promising Obama a Palestinian state he obviously had no intention of keeping, promising there would never be a Palestinian state a day before his re-election and going back on his ‘un-promise’ the day after, telling voters to vote for him so as to ‘dilute high Arab turnout’ then promising Arabs the day after he won ‘I value your contributions and I value you.’ Nothing is more American than Israel’s 2018 “Jewish nation state” law which manages to strip minorities of their rights precisely by saying nothing about them.
And yet I never got it. For years, I hated him for the opposite reason to why I now hate him. On the ‘matzav’ (what Israelis call ‘the situation’), he is probably closer to the center than any Likud Prime Minister was before him, but I didn’t believe he was reasonable, no matter what he said about Palestinian statehood.
For years, I thought he was a fanatic, the son of Jabotinsky’s right-hand man (look him up…) with so many daddy issues that he’d never let go of the infinitely militarized ‘Greater Israel’ vision that could lead Israel to ruin as quickly as if Israel laid down its arms forever. But it took him embracing the fanatics I thought he was to figure out that he was no fanatic.
Bibi is not unreasonable, he’s too reasonable. In his heart he’s not a fanatic, he’s a sociopath. He’s not so Jewish that he’d run the Jewish people aground out from his own fanaticism, he’s so American he’d run the Jewish people aground for his own ego.
Then the scandals hit: bribes in the form of personal gifts, promising Israel’s main newspaper (Yediot Akh’ronot) that he’d push through legislation to limit the circulation of competitors so long as they portrayed him better, promising a guy with a website and shady finances to change financial regulations if he gets better portrayal there too. Don’t ask me to explain them more than that, it would take too much time and I’m not totally sure I understand them myself.
The point is not that Netanyahu is corrupt. In Israel, political corruption is a trade hazard; like everywhere else, but unlike everywhere else, Israel sends its corrupt leaders to jail. But Netanyahu is not garden variety corrupt like his predecessor, Ehud Olmert (remember him?). Netanyahu is snake-in-the-garden corrupt, like Trump, so corrupt he’d be willing to take his country down with him. So many fanatics have a cripplingly perverse integrity and prize the idea that they’d go down saving the ship. If staying Prime Minister means Netanyahu ruins Israel, he seems perfectly fine with it.
This post is already much too long…
Basically: so that he could avoid a trial, Netanyahu sent through legislation defanging the judiciary, barring them from striking down legislation, from deeming a minister unfit or too corrupt for office, from barring a minster from service for prior convictions. It basically made the Prime Minister a sovereign, answerable to literally no one. The backlash: nine months of regular protests, sometimes as many as a quarter of a million people showing up to a single location. Hundreds, maybe thousands of army reservists threatening not to show up for duty. Thousands of small donations to legal funds to fight against a potential Netanyahustan.
For years before that, Netanyahu’s electoral mandates were already slimming. Israeli politics is a bit like herding cattle, there are over fifty political parties and there’s always the chance a stampede collapses the government. Bibi had to call new elections once every eighteen months for six years, his party never getting more than a quarter of the vote, then building paper thin coalitions nobody really wanted. But now, in order to get the majority he needed in a country growing tired of him, he did the unthinkable: scrapping together a government literally by bribing all the most distasteful parties into one tiny coalition of densely packed mole people. Here are some of the most charming parties and their leaders:

– United Torah Judaism: representing the Eastern European Orthodox, lead by Yitzhak Goldknopf, head of the Committee for the Sanctity of the Shabbat, devoted to making restrictions on public spaces and Sabbath driving, and banning Israel’s national airline, El-Al, from flying on the Sabbath. Goldknopf is Minister of Housing and Construction – AKA, Minister of Settlements.

– Religious Zionist Party: a party with Jewish supremacy in its charter, lead by Betzalel Smotrich. In 2005, around the time of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, Smotrich was detained in possession of 700 liters of gasoline. This is the Minister of Finance.

– Shas: representing the Middle Eastern Orthodox, lead by Aryeh Deri. Deri was convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes while he was Interior Minister during Netanyahu’s first premiereship. This was the Deputy Prime Minister until the Supreme Court deemed his seat unconstitutional.

…and the ‘money shot’…

– Otzmah Yehudit (meaning “Jewish Power”): the militant far-right party, lead by Itamar Ben-Gvir, campaigning for the active deportation of the vaguely termed ‘enemies of Israel.’ He says it means Arabs disloyal to Israel, but nobody’s sure if he actually means every Arab in the country, or even liberal Jews. What they do know is that as a lawyer, Ben-Gvir represented a who’s who among Israel’s hate criminals. They know he’s the lawyer for Lehava, an organization for the banning of intermarriage between Jews and gentiles. They know he has a portrait in his living room of Baruch Goldstein – who broke into a mosque and shot 150 Arabs. When he was 19, he stole the hood ornament from Yitzhak Rabin’s Cadillac, brandished it on national television and said “We got to his car, we’ll get to him too.”
This is the Minister of National Security.
So, let’s be honest, Netanyahu is not just another Prime Minister like Olmert. Netanyahu is Bibi. Even were he convicted, Netanyahu wouldn’t go to jail. Somebody would pardon him in two seconds and there are enough sympathetic judges that the case itself could get thrown out if only he’d let it go to trial. The Israeli world is too divided, the Jewish world is too divided, and clearly, too much is at stake. There’s a better chance Donald Trump will go to jail than that Bibi Netanyahu ever will. A trial for a guy like Netanyahu is ultimately just an inconvenience. Trump is just dumb enough to do something that lands him there, but Bibi thrives on challenges like this.
What he wants is exactly what Trump wants, and what Putin has. Democracy without liberal rule of law: illiberal democracy is a dictatorship in all but name. Every illiberal democracy thinks they have the will of the majority, but the majority always splits, and speaks for smaller and smaller slivers of society, until it speaks for one man alone – after a certain point, you might as well call yourself ‘The People’s Republic of…’ If Israel is not an apartheid state yet, it would be the moment such a law takes effect.
I may be the only person in the world who believes this, but I find it hard to dismiss the voice in that creeping spine nausea whispering that this is exactly what Bibi Netanyahu’s wanted this whole time.
Look, the ground invasion is going to happen. Whether it should or not is immaterial. It is going to happen and we all just have to pray because prayer is our only option that this conflict won’t careen out of control well beyond the borders of Israel/Palestine.
At least it is until Bibi goes.
Israel is not simply a flawed democracy or a democracy for some, it is a compromised democracy. Even for Jews. There is literally almost no one who wants this government except the people in power, and yet they don’t go. It’s been two weeks since the biggest disaster in the history of the State of Israel, a failure of exponentially monumental incompetence, and still, there is no high official who called for the removal of Benyamin Netanyahu.
Maybe some removal is planned, a parliamentary ambush perhaps, maybe people are just waiting for an appropriate amount of time after the attack, but even if that is possible, what does it say about the State of Israel that such quiet planning would be necessary?
I could be very wrong, but if Netanyahu keeps power, my guess is there will be all sorts of talk that Netanyahu deliberately provoked the whole thing and looked the other way at Hamas’s preparations even as he knew what would happen. It’s exactly the kind of conspiracy theory antisemites love. Some 1% version of it might be true: maybe Netanyahu thought he could look the other way while Hamas caused a skirmish, provoking a momentary distraction while he maneuvers to stay in power. But even if there’s no way that conspiracy theory is true, Netanyahu can benefit from it just as though it were true. A malevolent leader can draw the war out indefinitely in a hundred different ways and silence dissent at any point out of war necessity. For the last few years Bibi governed by a coalition majority of 61-63 in a chamber of 120, he is now at the head of a national unity government. And yet a man who called for Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination on national television is still the Minister of National Security; and we’re supposed to believe Israel is fighting for democracy? Israel, above all the world’s democracies, has the intelligence and military apparatus to make itself into a dictatorship overnight, and emergency powers are a next easy step for a leader who manages to defang the judiciary.
…on the other hand, he might be gone in another two weeks.
Again, this invasion is going to happen. What’s taking so long? Well, 300,000 reservists are training for very fraught circumstances, Netanyahu is shoring up his allies (such as Bibi is capable of having any…), Israel is gathering intelligence about what they will encounter in Gaza (probably chemical weapons, human shields everywhere, weapons depots in the most sensitive spots, snipers everywhere, killers blending into civilian crowds, I’m sure I’ll think of other things later…).
Or, just maybe, god forbid, there’s a strategy being formed beyond simply decimating Hamas. War is not about going into a place and smashing something out of rage. No one has known better than Israel that war is about very concrete objectives and contingency plans for every possibility. And yet Israel’s already endured two quagmires (Gaza 1967-2005 and Lebanon 1982-2000: what goes on in the West Bank is arguable), it has no need for a third, and if there is no negotiated peace at the end of all this, there will be still worse carnage when Gazans under the age of 18 grow up – in Gaza, minors are literally 1 out of every 2 people.
When there is a ground invasion, it will be horrible on a level so far past any Israeli operation there has ever been. There are already more casualties in this Gaza operation than there ever were from any other. There will soon be multiples more. There can (and likely will) be accidents which make the hospital look like an Independence Day firework, and by the time what happened is cleared up, propaganda can ignite the world. And that’s only the accidents. There will be rogue soldiers, there will be horrific moments on camera, there will judgement calls interpreted by the world in the worst possible light. Israel is about to be hated as never before, and next to what’s coming the current genocide accusations will be a mere pebble skimming a lake.
Actual liberals will always look out for us, but much of the left wing will not protect a Jew they suspect of supporting Israel. They talk a good game, but Jews will always be the one minority for which an attack on us ‘might have a reason.’ Those numbers on the left who will equivocate about people who attack us will increase exponentially. It is a bad time for Jews again, and we all will reap our share of the coming whirlwind. We thought we could not be more consequential to modern history than Hitler made us, but here we are, eighty years later, potential kindling for a global conflict.
This is not just the decisive moment when Israel/Palestine finally explodes into the full scale war that’s threatened it for fifty-five years, this is the decisive moment when we see whether compromised democracies can eliminate their threat – Israel, like us, is on the edge of systemically ossifying into authoritarian leadership for god knows how long. This is the decisive moment when we see whether the US can sustain a two-front foreign aid commitment to both Israel and Ukraine before China tries to take Taiwan, with half of southeast Asia and part of Africa within its sight next. Russia and China can always bring war to other shores (like ours), but it seemed as though there were only two basic fronts in a potential global conflict, against Russia in Eastern Europe, against China in East Asia. There is now a potential third.
It all depends on whether this ground invasion is conducted by a leader with principles and an end goal, or a leader with no scruples at all, ready to personally benefit from each and every step of chaos he inflicts to further ensconce his power.
I met a Rabbi this week who once was a soldier and saw combat. He said that the worst of all wars are when combat is fought in cities. Even at its best, war is organized murder. The only good thing to come out of it is that sometimes there is a good leader to make sure the dead have not died in vain. The end of this conflict is either a two state solution with a restored democracy in Israel, or a continued status quo with war that eventually spreads well beyond Gaza’s 37 mile border. David Ben-Gurion was a leader who could do this, Yitzhak Rabin could do this, Lincoln and Roosevelt were leaders like that here in the US, even Joe Biden may be a leader like that.
But this guy, would you buy a used car from him?
So this is still about Israel and Netanyahu, but we’re going to begin with Thomas Mann. Mann is generally thought the greatest German author of the 20th century and symbol to the free world of how even a barbarian like Hitler could not destroy the greatness of German culture, which could not be destroyed even if Thomas Mann was exiled to Beverly Hills.
In 1939, Mann wrote an essay called Bruder Hitler – Brother Hitler, in which he tried to examine what Hitler;s followers saw in him and the culpability of establishment liberal/conservatives like him in bringing him to power. Hitler was, in spite of it all, ‘my brother’, and as a German, there is no dissociating Mann from Germany’s collective complicity.
Now, let’s be clear: in absolutely no way does Netanyahu resemble Hitler except in his wasteful incompetence in military matters. But even we in the Jewish world who hate him are culpable for his rise and his maintenance of power. Even as we opposed his policies, for fifteen years we benefited from the prosperity he brought and our wellbeing benefited from the security we thought he gave us.
Under Netanyahu, Israel reached an absolute zenith of its prosperity, and it’s hard to believe it won’t take decades to rebuild whatever’s soon to be destroyed.
i’ve scrawled my endless annoyance with everything Israeli on my media, and yet, yes, it’s more home to me than home itself. I want to be buried on the Mount of Olives, I want my soul to see the city at the center of history to watch it unfurl.
For all my exasperation, Israel is a family quarrel and when your family behaves destructively, you’re reminded of how much you love them all the more. As I love America, which gave my family everything after Europe destroyed them, I love Israel, which I suspect is the reason America loves us. But I see the self-destructive ways they’re both behaving and I’m helpless to stop them. I didn’t enjoy living there, but every day now I’m thinking of those landscapes and that lifestyle and old friends and acquaintances and irritants with a painful nostalgia I’d have dismissed last week as performative bullshit.
Non-Jews always find something weird in the way Jews talk about their connection to Israel. Let’s not lie, it IS weird. When you go there, it’s like you’re gripped by a sudden awareness that you’ve been an outsider your whole life, and your vague feelings of not belonging elsewhere have a reason. I don’t doubt it’s a false sense of belonging for people who need a meaning beyond their not quite satisfying lives, but this longing for Zion is real, and once you feel it you can never unexperience it. It’s a longing for something more than fitting in, it’s a longing to be part of something so large that being in its very presence illuminates. You see that desert and those fig trees, and you feel linked to a great chain of being, a great society linking the long dead to the not yet born, and you know that this is your chapter to write in a larger story that means something true. Whether you believe in God or you believe in nothing, you see that the larger story of Jewish history means something simply because it happened. The very facts of the Jewish story are irrational. Dozens of times, we should not have survived – a fact proven by how many of us didn’t. Yet here we are, the product of those few who did, comparatively thriving in societies we know will eventually kill us just as every society did before them. God knows, Israel is not the proof that we will survive this time, but Israel is the proof that our suffering has reasons.
Once you experience something that powerful, the temptation is always there to think those before us suffered particularly for us, so we could come home, so we could achieve the reunion with the land they bled for for two thousand years. And even if we’re not the reason for it , what amid a story as eternal as ours is fifteen years of false security?
But God makes Jews foot the bill for everything: for every moment we put too much faith in something other than absolute humility, he makes us pay in blood. In this case, ‘humility’ means everything from how we conduct ourselves in interpersonal dealings to how we deal with the international stage. The humiliating lesson of God is not that we should approach the world with our heads down, it’s that we should never believe we have the true answer: there is no philosophy of how to approach to problems that always works. There are always exceptions, provisos, codicils, stipulations, caveats, appendices.
One can say that no one in Israel was responsible for what happened, one can say that everyone was responsible, but neither is quite correct. Only one side of Israeli discourse held vastly disproportionate power for an entire generation, and only one side elected their candidate precisely because they knew his filth of character, and they liked it. They so believe in what they believe that their hatred for those who oppose them became greater than their love of country. And just as He did in Biblical times, God punished the State of Israel in a manner so brutal, so unjust, so disproportionate, that one has to question His goodness, because if He exists, He heard the cries of the Palestinians, and punished Israel in exactly the manner He punished Palestine: only for Palestine’s still greater hubris, He punished them still worse.
Just because I think the Israeli side is more right than the Palestinian does not mean that the other side of the argument can be ignored. Just because I think the Israeli left is more right than the Israeli right does not mean that the other side of the argument can be ignored. Even if I disagreed with any of the three 100%, the other sides cannot be ignored because any solution that does not involve the eventual annihilation of the Palestinian people involves concessions to them all. When solutions become too drastic, one becomes the barbarity one supposedly abhors.
In any disagreement, someone is always more ‘right. The chance that two people who disagree see an issue equally well is infinitesimally unlikely. Someone always has a slightly better view, someone always has slightly better points, but that does not mean the other person has no legitimate grievances, or insights, or solutions.
When two people are in the same boat on an ocean, it’s highly likely that both are needed to get back to shore. One can try to toss the other into the sea, but the chance the murderer would survive is much less. If Israel annihilates Palestine, Israel too will eventually be annihilated. The genocidal precedent will be set, and some nuclear power in the international community will eventually go to total war with Israel and show them the precise lack of mercy they showed to Palestine. If Palestine and its allies annihilate Israel, Palestine will inherit a land soaked in blood, and the internecine warfare between factions will never stop until one faction emerges victorious in a generation-long totalitarian state of murder. If there is a binational state, a future civil war would be a foregone conclusion. If the status quo’s maintained, the death tolls simply pile up until one of these solutions present themselves.
So that leaves the two state solution: a terrible solution among much shittier ones.
Israel is 75 years old, and Netanyahu is still Israel’s only long term Prime Minister born after the creation of the state. For almost exactly one year there was Naftali Bennett and six months there was Yair Lapid: other than them, that’s it. It would seem, for all purposes, that Netanyahu’s Israel is what the founding generation fought for: easy money and lack of scruple, and, god knows how, a simultaneous lack of regard for both peace and vigilance. Teetering so on the edge of authoritarianism that a war could spill it over into precisely the sort of Francoist military dictatorship that presaged the coming of the last Jewish genocide.
But Brother Netanyahu is our kin. There is not a single Jew on earth who didn’t somehow benefit from him in the short term, and we will all pay God’s price for what Bibi did for us.
About the Author
Evan Tucker, alias A C Charlap, is a writer and musician residing in Baltimore. He is currently composing music for all 150 Biblical Tehillim. A Jewish Music Apollo Project - because "They have Messiah, we have I Have a Little Dreidel." He is currently on #17. Evan also has a podcast called 'It's Not Even Past - A History of the Distant Present' which is a way of relating current events to history and history to current events. Most importantly, he is also currently working on a podcast called Tales from the Old New Land, fictional stories from the whole of Jewish History. The podcast is currently being retooled, but it will return.
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