Gil Lewinsky

Netanyahu, Chaos, and the Echoes of Ancient Judea

“The current government is the worst left wing government in Israeli history” according to Netanyahu (also referred to as Bibi). Even worse, “it is a fraud, a major election fraud”. Themes echoing Donald Trump after the November 2020 elections in the United States now reverberate in Israel.

This coming Thursday the Flag March, which was canceled after Hamas launched rockets toward Jerusalem, is scheduled to take place. Going through Damascus Gate and Muslim areas of the Old City toward the Kotel the planned march has already led to calls from Hamas and Fatah for Palestinians to defend Al Aqsa. Hamas has threatened to “burn” Israel to the ground and to unleash a war worse than the one that seemingly ended weeks ago.

As the march is slated to take place, Knesset speaker Yariv Levin, a Netanyahu loyalist, whose responsibility is to swear in the new government, will likely delay the swearing-in as long as possible, likely until next week. Searing tensions threaten to explode into open hostilities, which may lead to Arabs withdrawing their support of the new government and new elections.

Who will likely win in this scenario: Netanyahu.

Israel is a proportional representative democracy which doesn’t directly elect its leaders. The United States, in contrast, has an electoral college that bases the elections of its leader on a formula from over two hundred years ago. Neither is truly democratic for electing leadership.

Four rounds of elections. Netanyahu did not clearly win. His allies are the most fringe on the Israeli political spectrum, including Ultra-Orthodox Haredi parties and ultra-right Zionist Religious parties that see events as part of a divine plan and based on divine principles. Bibi himself may not be religious, but to his supporters and even to his allies he has become a sort of “messiah” and must be defended at all costs.

As stated by a group of national religious rabbis in an open letter to their followers:
“We cannot accept a reality in which a government will be formed in Israel that will harm the most fundamental matters of religion and state that were accepted since the establishment of the State of Israel… “There is no doubt that this government will also harm matters of security, which relate to our very existence, as it relies on terror supporters and includes ministers who urge the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate IDF officers for war crimes,”…“This government is entirely against the will of the people as directly reflected by the past elections. We must try and do everything so that this government is not formed”

Is Bibi the only person that can defend Israel from external threats? Many of his voters view him as a strongman that has shown his ability to ensure calm and deal with problems. However did he deal with problems or was he simply a master at sidelining them?A decade of peace aside, under his watch the ICC case was opened against Israel. Under his watch, Iran continues to march toward a nuclear weapon. For many years he was good at defaming Iran, but is failing uterly in the ultimate goal. If he is failing in stopping Iran, is he the only one who can stop Iran?

The Palestinian question is an excellent example of sidelining after relative quiet for many years. He knows how to bomb Gaza from the air but a plan to remove Hamas entirely will likely never materialize under his watch. The reason is simple and for the same reason and why the West Bank remains stuck in time: it is convinient. To uproot the status quo may unleash currents or a war which may not be easy for Israel to follow. The status quo leads to peace and quiet. Voting for Bibi is a vote for peace and quiet.

This was and remains the magic of Bibism until now. Maintaining a peaceful state of stasis based on not changing anything fundamentally and sidelining issues with an image of strength.  With strong outside connections and a free market spirit Bibi transformed Israel into a sort of California of the Middle East. However, the problems are still there….ignoring them and building on top of them will not make them go away.

Religious Zionists be warned, status quo means no Third Temple. Haredi rabbis be warned, the land will not follow more Torah while maintaining the status quo. At some point someone needs to change the status quo for the biblical dreams of fulfilling Jerusalem to be realised.

Trump and Bibi together resulted in great peace in Israel. Some of his changes were real such as a US embassy in Jerusalem, recognition of the Golan Heights and peace with several more Arab states. However, today, the peace is unravalling. If Israel is truly a democracy, like what many even in Bibi’s camp like to point out to our enemies, than why is it such a major crime to allow someone else to be in charge?

What is emerging is dangerous incitement that was enough for the Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman to release a public warning of imminent physical violence. “We have recently identified a serious rise and radicalization in violent and inciting discourse, specifically on social media,” Argaman said, ““This discourse may be interpreted among certain groups or individuals as one that allows violent and illegal activity and could even lead to harm to individuals”.

One side, the change block has began to do just that. Everyone is seemingly represented including several former right wing allies of Netanyahu. Even the Arabs have a small seat at the table.

Netanyahu is not Messiah. He did not build the Third Temple nor is he a person who keeps religious law fully. Two thousand years ago a sect of Jewry called the Zealots held apocalyptic beliefs and used terror to take the Temple hostage until the Roman seige that destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE. We must not go down a similar road.

There was once a time when I looked at Israel from afar and defended it wholeheartedly as a bastion of ethical morality in a rather dark neighborhood. What is happening these days is harder to defend and echo of a dark chapter in a history nearly forgotten of the Jewish people.

The factions of this country need to back off now. Hamas and many in our neighborhood feed off our disunity and a new war will be sooner than we think as the infighting continues.

In the meantime let us hold our breath. The next week has the potential of an action thriller.

About the Author
Born in Israel but raised in Canada, Gil Lewinsky worked as a journalist in Jewish newspapers including the Jerusalem Post after completing a Masters degree at the Munk School of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. He also has a LLM in International Law from Lancaster University in the UK. His past topics include a book written about the Status of Gaza under International Law soon after its conquest by Hamas in 2007. He is perhaps best known as one of two people that brought a flock of Jacob Sheep from Canada to Israel in 2016, making history. He currently works as a teacher and English public relations professional in Israel.