Netanyahu: The tragic hero of our time

Photo is from:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on October 28, 2023. ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

I turn the news on, and a man in a black shirt appears, heavy bags under his eyes, it seems like he lost some weight. There is sadness, grief and perhaps a touch of embarrassment in his usually so confident an expression. He gives a speech on the situation. It is the end of October. When he speaks, there is hardly a trace of his customary cocksureness. His trademark confidence ebbing, it seems, humility might be breaking through. Or maybe this is my imagination running wild after what happened on October 7th. I am asking the man on the screen how it happened on his own watch. He who has always exuded an overwhelming confidence in guaranteeing Israel’s security, thus putting to rest many a sceptic over the years, he who has led this country to unprecedented economic heights, who has enhanced Israel’s diplomatic ties with the world, whose signature is put on the Abraham Accords. But this isn’t an ode to Bibi, rather an attempt to understand what happened to the man in black.

Netanyahu’s charisma, intellect and political acumen have rendered him unique in the local political landscape, and even in the global one. Possessing none of the provinciality so characteristic of all other Israeli leaders, he has gained prominence all over the world. When he speaks, people listen. One could argue regarding his policies, but even his most bitter opponents recognize his many talents and achievements. These extraordinary qualities have made him an ideal tragic hero, who, according to Aristotle, eventually falls prey to his very own greatness. There are three major phases such a hero goes through: hubris – a sin of pride, hamartia – a fatal mistake, peripeteia – a point of no return.


But at first, such a hero evokes our sympathy and empathy. Ironically, Bibi’s taste for expensive wine, cigars and other perks, has made him more relatable to the people. In lieu of alienating him from the blue-collar public, his main constituency, it has made him more lovable in their midst, so much so that his other looming allegations have never been an obstacle to his popularity. His alleged crimes emphasize his humanity and the ongoing barrage of the mainstream media against him has but solidified his political status.

The many years in power have evidently started getting into his head. His political invincibility leads to the first phase Aristotle talks about – the sin of Hubris, or pride. When the hero bathes in this success and believes in his own grandeur, he just then undergoes the phase of hamartia, or the phase of tragic mistakes. Netanyahu’s mistake is twofold. First, by attracting far right nationalists to his potential coalition. This was seen by many as a step too far for a power-craving politician, who has already served as Prime Minister for twelve years consecutively, from 2009-2021. His second and most crucial mistake is his conduct following October 7th.

To be clear, the bribing of Hamas and consolidating its power has been Israel’s policy for the last fifteen years. When Bennet came to power in 2021, this policy didn’t change. The belief that a terrorist organization can be appeased has turned out to be an illusion in retrospect. However, an assumption that Israel can deal with them based on common sense was an honest mistake. Bibi’s flaw is not so much in supporting Hamas’s lifeline, as in stubbornly not taking responsibility for the resulting horror of the October 7th attack. It is the fact that he has always evaded the question of responsibility, as the head of state, that is looming large. Thus, October 7th will always be associated with him, even more so because of his political cowardice.

In addition, the public discontent over the extreme judicial reforms of not so long ago, added by his political impotence and dependence on the far-right leaders, who refuse to discuss Gaza’s after the war policy, position Netanyahu in an unfamiliar turf of growing unpopularity and contempt by many of his former ardent allies and fans, including the members and supporters of the Likud party. To do the right thing for Israel, which is to dismiss Ben Gvir and Smotrich, and invite Lapid, thus forming a broad government in such a time, would inevitably bring about his demise. The new anti-Bibi majority in the Knesset would hastily oust him out of power. Yet, it is his political survival that has long become the basis of his decision making, not the good of the country anymore.

October 7th has become the third and irreversible phase of Bibi’s fall, the point of no return; a point in the timeline of events, when the tragic hero cannot go back and fix things, when the horror cannot be undone, as well as the events leading to it, and, as the present shows us, nor the events following it. If the first mistake of taking the extreme right into the bargain could and still can be reversed, but never will be, the second error of taking responsibility for his actions would mean leaving the reins of power and falling into the abyss of trial and tribulations, can but never will be reversed, for it would mean the end of Netanyahu’s political life, which for a personality of such a magnitude would mean the end of life.

Right now, Netanyahu is in power, and has no intentions of relinquishing it. Doubtless, he realizes that his political future is in the hands of Ben Gvir and Smotrich, but for a man addicted to power, this is no hurdle. One thing is for sure, though. The next elections, whenever they may be, will be the final ones for Benjamin Netanyahu. A tragic hero of the (post)modern times, a man of unparalleled wisdom and prowess, Bibi will inevitably go down as one, who brought the worst calamity on the people of Israel since WWII. Whether Thomas Friedman’s prediction, that Bibi will be remembered as the worst leader in Jewish history is correct or not, he will be remembered as a leader who was ousted in shame, a result of his own doing.

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I am an English teacher, married with twins.
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