David Breakstone
Reflections on Israel and the Jewish world

Some things we can’t forgive

Even more than the criminal acts he’s been accused of, it’s the perfectly legal things that Netanyahu has done that make him entirely unfit to continue as Israel’s prime minister.

Rumors are circulating that current efforts to form a coalition that would end the caustic reign of Binyamin Netanyahu include discussion of Israel’s next president pardoning the sitting prime minister should he ultimately be convicted of the crimes for which he is on trial. I, for one, hope that there is no truth to such speculation.

Were the charges of corruption he is facing limited to matters of champagne and cigars, illicit deals regarding the acquisition of submarines, fraud, bribery and breach of public trust, it would be one thing. But it is what Bibi has done entirely legally since ensconced in the prime minister’s residence that is entirely unforgiveable, rendering him unfit to continue in office, and making the “government of change” that we may be on the verge of getting so imperative.

Here are the five counts against him which should make every citizen and supporter of Israel, and Zionists everywhere, believe that it is high time that PM Netanyahu be evicted from Balfour.

1. Seeding divisiveness within Israeli society

Throughout the last four electoral campaigns, Netanyahu’s demonization of “the radical left” – an absurd characterization of all who oppose him, even those unmistakably to his political right – has fractured Israeli society as never before. Abandoning any pretense of being the prime minister of the entirety of Israel’s citizenry, he released a vicious video last week claiming that he had gone above and beyond in negotiating with prospective partners with the sole objective of preventing the establishment of a “leftist government” that would endanger the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces. Netanyahu’s Israel is not comprised of equals with competing ideas as to what sort of society we want to become and how best to get there, but rather of those who would make Israel great again, and their opponents who imperil its very existence.

2. Alienation of America’s Jews  

Support for Israel has dropped precipitously among American Jews during the 12 years Netanyahu has been in power. The prime minister may have been an oratorical genius in speaking to those old enough to have experienced the Holocaust and lived through the drama of the Six Day War, but he has failed miserably in presenting Israel’s case to those for whom 1967 is referenced not as the year in which Jerusalem was reunified, but rather as the beginning of the occupation. The problem is not that the Zionist idea is no longer compelling but that it has been abused.

Rather than considering how to reclaim support for Israel among those for whom – and in whose name – the State was established, however, Netanyahu has turned his back on what should be his core constituency, having decided instead to court evangelical Christians. This approach was articulated clearly just a few weeks ago by Ron Dermer, past ambassador to the United States and close confidant of Netanyahu. In an interview, he argued that “you should be spending a lot more time doing outreach to evangelical Christians than you would do to Jews.” The rationale? The former, he noted, were passionate and unequivocal in their support for Israel and constituted some 25% of Americans, while the latter, who he disparaged as being disproportionately critical of Israel, made up less than two percent. A misguided strategy. Not only does it constitute a betrayal of the Zionist ethos, it is also short-sited.  Just last week, this paper ran an article under the headline “Support for Israel among young US evangelical Christians drops sharply,” reporting on a survey revealing that “since 2018, backing for Israel dropped from 75% to 33%.” Those who conducted the study pointed to a greater concern with social issues among young evangelicals than with messianic promises. Presumably among them are social issues that Netanyahu has not addressed that are also of importance to young Jews.

3. Undermining the foundations of Israeli democracy

Particularly since the police began their investigation of him, Netanyahu has become increasingly vociferous in his attacks on the attorney general, the police, the media and the judicial system – all of which, he complains, are conspiring against him. He has repeatedly accused his accusers of fabricating the cases for which he is on trial, railed against the media for being complicit in the witch hunt he says has been orchestrated, reproached the Supreme Court for judicial interference, and – tacitly at least – endorsed legislation that what would allow the Knesset to override the court’s rulings, essentially eliminating the delicate system of checks and balances that are the underpinning of any robust democracy.

4. Eroding bi-partisan congressional support for Israel

Hailed by Netanyahu’s supporters as one of his finest hours, the prime minister’s speech to a joint session of the United States Congress in 2017 is seen by many others, including prominent leaders of the American Jewish community and influential Democratic lawmakers, as a low point in Israel-U.S. relations. The event was orchestrated behind the back of President Obama in a failed attempt to derail the nuclear arms agreement he was negotiating with Iran. For many, it is not what was said, but how and where it was said, that made the speech the “most damaging moment in the history of the bipartisan relationship between the US and Israel,” according to remarks allegedly made by a senior Congressional staffer. Even Malcolm Hoenlein, then executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, acknowledged that “There were perceptions among Democrats after that speech that they had been ignored and disrespected,” with another Washington insider reportedly observing that

“You cannot overstate the impact that it had.” Netanyahu had gone “all-in” in betting on Trump, an unwise move in the best of circumstances, that ended up resulting in losses that may never be entirely recouped.

5. Sowing discord between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens

The violence that erupted in numerous locales earlier this month between Arab and Jew took most of the country by surprise. It shouldn’t have. Precious little has been done to undo the sense of alienation among Israel’s Arabs exacerbated by Netanyahu’s infamous Facebook post on election day 2015. In it, he warned that Arab voters were flowing to the polls in droves, as though there were something sinister in their exercising their right to vote. His cynical efforts to court those same Arab voters during this last election was far too little, far too late to appease the twenty percent of Israeli society that he had deeply offended, and who had since become further disenfranchised by gratuitous legislation establishing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. While I unequivocally condemn the hostilities that shattered neighborhoods that had been hailed as a paradigm of coexistence, Netanyahu’s words and deeds – including paving the way for advocates of Kahana’s racist ideology to enter the Knesset – have flown in the face of the dictum found in this week’s Torah reading, that “There shall be one law for the citizens among the Israelites and for the stranger who resides among them.” It would be pure poetic justice if he should be ousted as a result of a new Israeli government that comes into being for the first time as a result of support from an Arab political party.

As of this writing, it is still unclear as to what will play out in Israel’s political arena over the next few days. Against the backdrop of the acrimony and animosity that is plaguing our beleaguered country, however, and given the role that PM Netanyahu has played in fostering that atmosphere, I wholeheartedly support Yair Lapid’s declaration that the unity government he is struggling to establish “isn’t a compromise or a last resort – it’s what we need, a government that will reflect that we don’t hate one another… that will show our differences are a source of strength, not weakness.”

Should Lapid succeed, we should all breathe a sigh of relief. Should he not, and Israel lurch toward new elections, I can only hope that in heading to the polls, Israel’s electorate will be as unforgiving as am I of Netanyahu’s perfectly legal transgressions.

About the Author
Dr. David Breakstone is presently engaged in establishing the Yitzhak Navon Center for a Shared Society. He previously served as deputy chair of the Jewish Agency executive and the World Zionist Organization and was the conceptual architect and founding director of the Herzl Museum and Educational center in Jerusalem.