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Zehava Galon
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Just as Begin resigned, so should Netanyahu. But he won’t

Even now, with 1,400 dead and 200 abducted, Bibi and the opportunists in his government are making political calculations
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a special Knesset plenum session presenting the new emergency government, in Jerusalem, October 12, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a special Knesset plenum session presenting the new emergency government, in Jerusalem, October 12, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

We are at a perilous historical moment. The fighting in Gaza could at any moment devolve into an all-out war on Israel’s northern border and in the West Bank. Iran is threatening to join in, while huge demonstrations in Jordan raise concerns about its stability. And because this is such a dangerous moment, I won’t mince words: The man currently leading Israel and running the war is unfit. His interests are not the interests of the State of Israel. For too long, Israeli history has been shackled to Benjamin Netanyahu’s urges, desires, and lies. We don’t have that luxury anymore.

The Commission of Inquiry set up after the Lebanon War in 1982 criticized Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s performance but reached no personal conclusions about him. Nevertheless, Begin thought this criticism necessitated his resignation. Everyone remembers his words “I cannot go on anymore,” but forgets his apology several weeks later, when he tendered his resignation at the cabinet meeting: “Therefore, from the start, I ask your forgiveness, pardon, and absolution. Whether these should be accorded to me – I don’t know.” 

Netanyahu is not Begin. He will not resign. There is no remorse or sorrow in him, not a shred of compassion for the abductees, for their families, for the 1,300 people who lost their lives in one day. That’s the plain truth. He can go on, and on, and on, if only we let him. We are the ones who cannot go on.

During the first week of the war, as civilians were donating body armor and food, families were searching for signs of life from their loved ones, and the number of victims was climbing by the hour, Netanyahu was completely immersed in a war – not our war, but his war, the battle over the “day-after” narrative. He issued statements to the media, but as usual, refused to answer questions. He demanded that officers stop recording cabinet meetings, in a throwback to the shredding of documents in the Prime Minister’s Office, just before Naftali Bennett entered it. He shoved Likud spokesmen and his personal publicists into official public diplomacy briefings and granted his close associate and media pyromaniac Yaakov Bardugo access to his Tel Aviv office. Outrageously, he even managed to set up an alternative to the organization of families of abductees, a group linked to the despicable far-right group Honenu, which provides legal counsel to Jewish terrorists. And in the negotiations on the establishment of the new war-time coalition, with the fighting raging all around, he never forgot to make sure his 64 lackeys remained by his side, prepared for the day after.

A person who sets out to divide families of captives does not feel remorse or sorrow. Someone who, in the midst of a war, makes sure to monopolize the minutes of cabinet meetings even as citizens plead for apartments outfitted with bomb shelters is not a person with a sense of national responsibility. A man who demands of his countrymen that they send their children to the battlefront but cannot be bothered to hold a press conference is not fit to be in charge of a war. Israelis are fighting for their homeland, but Netanyahu is fighting for his private villa in Caesarea. I know these are horrible words but no other conclusion is possible, and I fear with all my heart that Netanyahu will conduct this war too for his own political survival.

That Netanyahu “will make decisions based on personal interests pertaining to his political survival rather than to the national interest” is no longer a mere concern. It is a fact. The man rushed to deny that he had received intelligence information from Egypt before the Hamas attack (which apparently is a lie), but has yet to deny the conspiracy theory making the rounds among his supporters that the army was betrayed from the inside. This is no accident.  He is ready to buy his rule with blood.

And what is most horrifying is that Netanyahu is only the tip of the narcissistic iceberg known as Israel’s 37th government: 64 people, and not a single Menachem Begin among them. Not one who is putting the good of the country ahead of his pointless political career. Even now, with 1,400 murdered and 200 abducted, this bunch of opportunists is making political calculations. “We are political corpses,” one minister told a Ma’ariv reporter, as the bodies of Israelis lay around the Gaza border. It’s just mind-boggling!

A week later, when they realized the intensity of the country’s rage, they hastened “to take responsibility,” three words that in the Israeli political lexicon mean “let’s move on.” What does it even mean “to take responsibility” if you remain in the same job and continue to dispense budgets of millions to your cronies as if it were candy?

Civilians stepped in to fill in for the state because ministers do not know how to tie their own shoes without getting instructions from Bibi’s sidekick Nathan Eshel, and even the civilian effort was sabotaged by the Prime Minister’s Office because these people participated in the demonstrations against the regime revolution. And, not even one of the 64 voiced his disagreement, not one to whom the good of Israel is more important than his own.

Lives are at stake here, soldiers, civilians, innocent people, both here and in Gaza. Our blood is boiling, and the government urges us to avenge our dead by bombing uninvolved civilians, children, and elderly people, to seek revenge even if our own captives die in the process. That is why Netanyahu made sure to put together an alternative organization of families of captives, families that would urge him to make no concessions, to harden our hearts not only to the children and elderly in Gaza but also to our own children and elderly captives. Israelis are paying with their blood for an impotent and narcissistic leadership, while Gazans are paying with their blood for their own murderous and psychopathic leadership.

Lives are at stake and Netanyahu is unfit to run this country. We still don’t know what the goals of the fighting are. What will happen here the day after? Will we occupy Gaza? What happens if the fighting spreads to other fronts? Minister Tzahi Hanegbi says there will be no negotiations about the abductees, while Netanyahu affirms that securing their release is one of the objectives of the war. How do these positions reconcile? Netanyahu expects us to guess. Even after his entire strategy for the past decade has collapsed into bodies laid out in rows, he still thinks it’s not his job to tell us where we’re going. 

For over a decade, Netanyahu opted for Hamas, rounds of fighting, a constant threat to the home front and purposeless military operations, so that his voters in the settlements could go on expanding. And they still had the chutzpah to claim that they were second-class citizens. They are the country’s armor, we were told, when the whole country was actually their armor. I have been writing against this conception for years. The Gaza border communities cried out for help for years on end, but the mighty Napoleon from Caesarea knew best. And now the same Napoleon is again calling on his countrymen to follow him into war.

So, the answer is no! We will not wait. We will not wait for the commission of inquiry that may one day be formed, stacked with Likud Central Committee members. We will not watch from the sidelines when Bibists threaten to kill the parents of captive children. No! We can’t go on like this anymore!

About the Author
Zehava Galon is the former head of the Meretz party and served as a member of Knesset for 16 years. She is founder and president of the new Israeli NGO, Zulat.