Go? No-Go: Curb Your Enthusiasm

The Israeli Left – which in this environment points an amorphous, yet large sector of the public who wish for peace through dialogue and call for social justice within Israel – is having a field day. The slogan of the day and of the times is לך!. Simply translated from Hebrew this means, “Go!.” In the Hebrew language there is an imperative tense. Thus, the word Go! uttered as an imperative command really says to Israel’s prime minister, “Go! F-Off! Go away!”

We have seen large and powerful demonstrations at the prime minister’s official lodgings, at his private home in Caesarea and later due to Covid restrictions, these demonstrations have now multiplied to every city, town and village in Israel. Hundreds of thousands gather now in smaller groups within the Corona rules, on the roads, on the bridges, in public squares and motorcades to protest against the man who is now seen as their ruination and the greatest threat to Israel’s future. Black flags are everywhere and with the simple slogan “Lech!” They are a powerful reminder of Netanyahu’s failure in handling the Corona crisis and have exposed the man and his current failures of leadership, lack of management skills and his deterioration of basic judgement capability in the last few years – these are all a consequence of his need to stay out of jail. He has been indicted for bribery and corruption and a dark cloud of further corruption – not fully investigated, still remains as a blight in the public eye.

An almost perfect storm of small-business owners, laborers, retired generals and high-ranking military and intelligence personnel, business leaders, academics, regular working folk and more, are finished with the corruption and manipulations of Mr. Netanyahu. It is time for him to go.

Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, is sinking in the polls like a torpedoed submarine. He maintains his power within the party by means of a cabal of sycophants who play the role of loudmouth enablers, dirt diggers, propogandists and spin artists and who could make the likes of Roger Stone proud. Waiting on the sidelines is the “Yemina” party, a religious-conservative far right – some say fascist in character – movement that advocates land annexation within the West Bank, accelerated settlement, and an ultra-nationalist doctrine where Arabs are second class citizens and the Palestinians are doomed to some kind of Bantustan future which is not clear. Essentially it propounds the reclaiming of what is considered biblical Jewish land. A deeply disturbing picture emerges from this far right party that now seems to have absorbed the bulk of the nationalist leaning public that feels betrayed by Netanyahu or see the recent peace and normalcy with moderate Arab states in exchange for non-annexation, as a betrayal by the Likud. They view the corruption of the Netanyahu leadership as an opportunity to seize the reins of power. The ramifications need to be examined by indicators from their previous bouts within government: the basis of democracy will be eradicated insofar as the legal system is concerned, which until now has borne the test of time. They will control judge appointments and a nationalistic Jewish religious view of law will override a matured and robust system that exists today. Children will be saturated from nursery school to the 12th grade by a Jewish religious, nationalist-leaning propaganda education and re-education machine.

In order to explore where these socio-political changes have come from and what this leads to, we need to look back at powerful surges within the Israeli public and understand how these have taken twists and turns leading almost consistently to the opposite intention of each such uprising and national outcry, similar to what we see today.

We can take a look at several spontaneous national outcries, all resulting from a crisis of leadership and a search for direction. After the assassination of Rabin in 1995, the national backlash took the form of a horrendous outcry at extremist settlement fanatics, seen to be embodied in the perverse nature of the murderer, Yigal Amir. A powerful and spontaneous need to complete Rabin’s vision was the result. Yet the twists of fate following that event led to no left-leaning government. Ultimately Netanyahu took the premiership in the 90s triggering the fledgling peace process to fracture.

Barak’s election that then came later was predicated mainly on another grass-roots movement. The “Four Mothers”. Here, four brave women dressed in black protested against the unending Lebanon war. There was no reward and only human sacrifice in Israel’s persistent presence in Southern Lebanon. The Four Mothers were joined by hundreds of thousands of Israelis who sought an end to the nightmare. Ehud Barak won the election following that. He removed the troops from Lebanon, and it seemed that a vision of long-term peace both on our Northern border and with the Palestinians was finally to be achieved. Yet the outbreak of the second intifada due to a series of errors of judgment by Barak, the military, (and primarily due to Arafat’s destructive vision of an implosion of the Jewish state), finally brought about yet another hard right, military-focused leadership in the ironic form of Arik Sharon, of Sabra and Shatila ignominy. And the fact is that Sharon ultimately created a barrier preventing bombings and  terror attacks in Israel. He initiated a harsh and a brutal war on terror groups within the entire west bank, thus ending the intifada and thoroughly thrashing the uprising into submission. The trauma of daily Palestinian terror in the streets of Israel, the fear that accompanies compromise, the hatred engendered within the Israeli public of Barak, due to his error of judgment in 2000, the mistrust of “Arabs” – all of these factors are present within the national psyche. Sharon’s misguided policy of later withdrawing from Gaza with no overall vision, strategy or at least smart negotiation with moderate Palestinian leadership, proved yet again that this albeit half-baked attempt to solve the Palestinian issue only meant trouble.

The final and possibly the most damning proof that grass-roots movements do not create real change in Israel is found in the 2011 protests for social justice, economic change and a call to end the plutocracy that had disenfranchised an entire younger generation from acquiring basic economic security in Israeli society. The protests were ubiquitous, creating an atmosphere of expectation, excitement to a move to towards a vision of a new society. Of course, we now all know that the events of 2011 achieved absolutely nothing. Politics, politicians, tycoons, dishonest leaders made sure that all the promises would be broken.

The indicators here is Israel are noticeably clear. A powerful grass-roots movement can achieve maybe one and only one real change, at best. In the latter case, of the events of 2011 it achieved extraordinarily little or to be honest, nothing. Yet in other cases such as the Lebanon war, it achieved a huge step: the end of the Lebanon war. But in the long run, the vision for peace and a society built on social justice with a dedicated, honest, strategically focused leadership did not come about. In the case of the blind withdrawal from Gaza which was conceived and executed with no greater-policy vision, finally led to a violent takeover by Hamas, the creation of a terror entity that has gained missile power and a festering wound in Israel’s underbelly. It also strengthened the settler movement and aroused feelings of regret and failure within the Israeli public. However, the almost daily bloodshed of settlers in their homes and on the roads in Gaza did come to an end. So yes, there were limited results, but the nature of leadership and a long-term change did not come about.

The great fight today by grass-roots protest, is focused at bringing an end to the corruption within leadership, rebuilding Israel’s fragile democracy now under immediate threat, and a more fair and equal society. In essence, political change. And therein lies the rub. Don’t bet on it. There may well yet be one positive outcome: Netanyahu will most likely leave the stage, whether by a revolt within his party or whether by the courts ruling against him. In many respects, the Four Mothers movement in the late nineties also achieved one, only one important goal. Not to be underestimated, however not real change in leadership.

So, to my friends on the left, prepare to feel betrayed and disappointed if the plutocracy strengthens; if the judicial system is weakened; if a financial crisis grows; if peace – real peace with Palestinians is not on the table; if we continually hurl ourselves blindly towards an apartheid-type reality.

NSF, folks. You see, real change comes only one way: though the political system. And for that, some well-known general advocating himself as the ultimate leader, or many good willed people, or a mass grass-roots movement, cannot create enough momentum for real, meaningful and sustainable change. For that you need to get your hands dirty: connections, money, power, leverage, structure, effective organization, hard-core politics, and crystal-clear messages that resonate with voters. Seems easy. It is not. We shall discuss that in another article to follow.

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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