Last week we bade farewell (and some might say good riddance!) to our longest serving prime minister. Dubbed “King Bibi,” “Israel’s magician,” and “Mr. Security” by many pundits, I want to take a moment to examine this last epithet. For some reason, there is less than the usual Israeli lack of accountability when examining Netanyahu’s record. I simply do not understand why people, who understand cause and effect when it comes to analyzing the policies of Shamir, Rabin, Barak, Sharon and Olmert, somehow ignore any hint of causality when it comes to Netanyahu’s policies. Suddently, when violence erupts, it is considered a force majeure, and some even express relief that Netanyahu, rather than a “weak left,” is in charge at such a time.
Take for instance the violence during the last month — both in terms of the conflict with Hamas and the inter-ethnic clashes in Israel’s mixed cities. One obviously cannot hold Netanyahu wholly responsible for what happened but it would be intellectually dishonest and outright disingenuous to ignore certain policies which he implemented or for which he bears (prime) ministerial responsibility, which lay the groundwork for the flare-up. It was the third major Gaza conflict since coming to office (It is said that Albert Einstein exclaimed, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”) but the real shock was the internecine confict within Israel proper. Newspaper headlines regarding this part of the conflict sounded like they had been cut and pasted from the time of the British Mandate. Let us discuss these policies, for which he should be held accountable.
- Years of so-called “price tag” terrorist attacks by Jewish terrorists against Palestinian property and person in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank and Israel proper, for which almost no perpetrators have been arrested or tried. Although Israeli security forces can locate a Palestinian youth who slapped a Haredi youth (an act I obviously condemn, along with the other handful of so-called “TikTok terror” attacks!), we cannot find the perpetrators of hundreds of anti-Palestinian acts?! This simply beggars belief.
- The incitement by Netanyahu and his minions against Palestinian citizens of Israel, including him trying to get Ra’am to split from the Meshutefet (Joint List) so it would not pass the electoral threshold, so Netanyahu would reach 61 seats, and then pretending to care about Palestinian citizens of Israel so that Ra’am would support the government from the outside so Netanyahu could evade justice (and now come the claims that the incoming government has “sold the Negev to the Bedouins” for making a deal with Ra’am that it appears he himself would have made).
- Six Jewish supremacists who hate women, LGBTQ, Palestinians and leftists, now sitting in the Knesset with legitimacy, which has given a tailwind to Jewish Blackshirts (I use this term both literally and figuratively) who want to – and do – attack Palestinian citizens of Israel, “hunting” them in downtown Jerusalem and around Damascus Gate. The Religious Zionism party comprises three components: Tekuma/National Union, whose leader Bezalel Smotrich has publicly called for either genocide, expulsion or apartheid/slavery of the Palestinian population (“Tochnit Ha’hachra’a“), who led a “Beasts Parade” to protest the “Pride March,” implying that a homosexual couple is equivalent to committing bestiality, who supports segregated (Arab/Jewish) maternity wards, and who was arrested in the lead-up to the disengagement and held by the Shin Bet for three weeks, which investigated him for conspiracy to blow up cars and damage infrastructure in order to try and stop the withdrawal; the leader of Otzma Yehudit Ben-Gvir is the ideological successor of Meir Kahane, whose legislative endeavors were likened to the Nuremberg Laws by Mickey Eitan (former Likud MK), and the Noam party, one of whose leaders previously spoke out against Knafayim shel Krembo, a youth movement seeking to integrate children with special needs and able-bodied children, who demanded that cabinet resolution 2331 (from 2014) calling for greater representation of women in public bodies be rescinded because they are mysoginists who think that women need to get back to being barefoot and in the kitchen, who hate LGBTQ people, and who refused to join the Union of Right Wing Parties when it was led by Ayelet Shaked because she is a women. This is the Religious Zionism party; Netanyahu served as its midwife!
- The absurd provocative decision to close the plaza of Shaar Schem (Damascus Gate) during Ramadan and then for the Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to outright lie on prime time television that this did not represent a change to the status quo; Palestinian protests around Damascus Gate were met with disproportionate Israeli force; Jewish protests (by these same Blackshirts) were met with at most some pushing aside by Israeli security forces.
- The situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which will see dozens of Palestinians evicted from their homes of decades and thrown out onto the street. How can a Jewish state pass laws which allow a Jew to reclaim property which a Jew previously owned (a Jew, but not the Jews who have moved in and not the Jews who will move in to these homes in Sheikh Jarrah) but simply does not extend this right to Palestinians? This is a challenge (to say the least!) to the idea of equality before the law and democratic norms and mores. It opens up 1948 and not 1967 as the problem which needs a solution, a Pandora’s Box, which even some thinkers on the right oppose.
- Netanyahu actively propping up Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, and weakening Fatah in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria, and actively embracing the split in the Palestinian polity. It is ever so convenient to say ‘If Mahmoud Abbas only represents half the Palestinian nation, why should I negotiate with him?’ when they are split, and then ever so convenient to say ‘How can I negotiate with Abbas when he’s in bed with terrorists? when any talk of Palestinian reconciliation come up; when exactly were negotiations meant to take place? The Abraham Accords, which largely tried to sweep the “Palestinian issue” under the rug, was also a factor. So too, the Nation State Law, which demonstrably did not include the word “equality” and demoted the status of Arabic as a national language also played a role..
- Blocking any Palestinian National Authority voting in East/eastern Jerusalem. Even though this was obviously going to be used as a pretext by Mahmoud Abbas to suspend (read: cancel) the elections he feared Fatah would lose, it allowed an opening to develop for Hamas to present itself as the guardian of al-Quds, and to break down some of the divisions between different groups of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine (Gazans, citizens of Israel, permanent residents of Israel in Jerusalem, in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria). Of course, Israeli force used on the Temple Mount, along with blocking busloads of pilgrims from entering Jerusalem in the lead-up to Laylat al-Qadr, also contributed to this.
- The insanity of even thinking of allowing a Flag March by national religious men, not a few of whom sing odious songs and chants, inciting to hatred, racism and violence, through the Muslim Quarter, forcing many residents to close their stores and stay in their homes, any year, but especially this year, was an unnecessary provocation.
- The ongoing process of supporting the “Judaization” of mixed cities through garin torani groups and through public housing company Amidar’s move to sell-off “public housing” in Jaffa, without allowing it to be transferred to the third generation, even though much of this housing belonged to Palestinian refugees in the first place, prompting a process of gentrification with ethnic hues.
- Finally, not having any proper governance for the last 30 months because the criminal defendant refuses to resign as he demanded of Olmert (who at the time of his resignation was not even charged; the ultimate indictment was for crimes which were much less serious than the crimes for which Netanyahu is already standing trial) had a significant effect. One cannot try to turn the Knesset into a rubber stamp, destroy the “gate-keepers” of democracy and surround oneself with sychophant political neophytes and think that it will not influence Israeli politics and statecraft. The crisis of last month which we suffered through did not happen in isolation, unlinked to Israeli governmental policies.
One cannot simply count the casualty figures when determining whether someone has contributed to or harmed Israeli security. Security is more than tactics, optics and soundbites for the eight o’clock news. And policies (and embracing the status quo is a policy!) have results. The Palestinians do not only act; they also react (obviously the same can be said for Israel). And they react to Israeli policies, they do not act in a vacuum, disconnected from who sits in Balfour.
This does not excuse the actions of Hamas, which launched 4300 rockets at my people, and made me run with my 4 year old twins toward the bomb shelter, on May 10. Regardless of any power imbalance which exists between the sides, Hamas members have agency and, just like Netanyahu, must also be held accountable for their actions.