Even his detractors need to admit that now-former PM Benjamin Netanyahu leaves Israel with a weighty political and cultural legacy.
And no gift granted by Netanyahu is as powerful and lasting as that of identity. After almost 13 years of Bibi-ism, everyone in Israel knows who we are, and — more importantly — who we are not.
Fault lines — occasionally even based on reality — were so minutely fractured by Netanyahu that today, you really can’t turn around without stepping in a steaming pile of your own identity.
Once upon a time, we likened our often dysfunctional yet reasonably pluralistic society to a patchwork quilt. Today, we have each become such a quilt — sub-divided into components that less often define who we ARE than who we are NOT.
Am I Supposed to Hate Who I AM, Or Who I’m NOT?
The problem is that Netanyahu didn’t stop at pigeonholing. And things get dangerous when they sink into demonization, which he raised to an artform. Because once we focus on who we are not, it becomes clear how utterly wrong those ‘Them’ people are. And not just wrong, but malicious. And not just malicious, but an active threat that needs to be addressed however possible.
And here’s where things start to get really confusing. I personally have no idea who to hate these days. I’ve just lost track. Because as long as Them are clearly Them, everything is great. I am Us and I hate Them. A no-brainer, right? But when the differences are so granular, it’s easy to straddle the line. And then what do I do?
So, SO Confusing
For example, I’m a Jewish Zionist immigrant to Israel, a former IDF combat soldier, and a political centrist. Does that make me an Us, or a Them? What if I regularly attended shul growing up and like Oriental music — but I also demonstrated in favor of a more resilient democracy and am a bald novel-writing vegan heterosexual? What if I once voted Likud and once voted Meretz? Do these cancel each other out? And which, if any, of all these parameters put me where on the scale between “enemy of the people” and “a true patriot”?
And OMG, what if I don’t like soccer? Do I need to hate myself for that?
As I write these lines, the Flag March is going on in Jerusalem. My guess is that at least some the folks participating in this event fall into two groups that have intimately touched my life over the past 30 years since I made Aliyah:
- We served together in the many, many years of active reserve duty I did as a combat medic on the country’s borders.
- They were among those that gave me the finger, spit in my direction, or (once) attempted to run me down when I was demonstrating last Spring.
See the dilemma here? By Bibi rules, I should actively hate the marchers. They’re so totally Them. But I should also love them, because they’re so totally Us — brothers-in-arms, fist bump, grunt and spit…you get the idea.
The Bottom Line
As the Netanyahu years recede in the rearview mirror of history—the question we need to be asking ourselves is: if THEY’RE the Others, then who are WE?
Because when it’s this hard to figure out who Us is and who Them is, and even harder to figure out who to hate — it’s time to cut the bullshit. The divisive pigeonholing we’ve experienced for the past 13+ years has served one overriding interest — that of the gentleman currently residing rent-free in the PM’s residence.
I’m an Us. And I’m a Them, too. Who are you?