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Why Bibi was good for the Jews, after all

By Doron Rosenblum (haAretz - 20-06-99)

The twilight of the Netanyahu episode (or, more accurately, the "Netanyahu experience") is for the moment characterized by one thing, which everyone, supporters and adversaries alike, seem to agree on: the total absence of any sort of desire to see, write, hear or read another word about that person. For one of the reasons for his fall and removal (as even his doppelganger, Finkelstein, finally grasped) was the situation of intolerable satiation: no one could bear for even one more minute the appearances of this unrestrained television and radio figure who appropriated the entire media and filled it for three years without letup - and then doubled and tripled the frequency of his appearances just as it became obvious that they were counterproductive.

At the same time, because "the press is the first draft of history," we are entrusted with the unpleasant, ungrateful duty of biting our lips and rushing into the breach one more time - the last, it's to be hoped - and endeavoring to cast a panoramic glance over the outgoing era; for in retrospect, from the vantage point of history, it could turn out, ironically, that the slogan "Bibi is good for the Jews" - and even more, that Bibi was good for those he despised, the Israelis - was correct.

He broke the "paralyzing political stalemate," shattered the Greater Israel Front and idea, detached the Likud from the "not one inch" principle, established the Palestinian state, and in the long run may have advanced the peace process more than any of his predecessors

I was told recently by the historian, educator, researcher and Heine translator, the dear personality of fourscore years, Dr. Yehuda Ilan-Gavoha, "As a clear-eyed, rational historian, I am now standing for the first time, thrilled, before the mystical and the unknown ... What is there to say? In retrospect we have to admit that this Lubavitcher was really right and foresaw what would happen: Bibi really was good for the Jews!... Let's just for a moment try to conjure up a Bibi-less situation. We can only imagine what would have happened if the 'enlightened right' had been elected to rule the Likud - that set of 'sane' and 'decent' chaps: Meridor, Uzi Landau, Benny Begin, Sheetrit... In that case we might have been stuck forever with the Likud and with Greater Israel... Only Bibi was capable of coming out of nowhere, infuriating everyone, uniting all his foes domestic and foreign, activating all the enemies of the idea he supposedly advocates and sending them to the polling stations as one person ... The man is simply God's messenger! Well, the fact is he concluded his mission - and went home."

Indeed, if the dynamics of Israeli politics can be likened to the movement of a pendulum that oscillates lethargically between the "right" pole and the "left" pole, it really is difficult to imagine anyone else apart from Netanyahu who could have thrust it so powerfully to the opposite side. Looking back, the man looks like the wet dream of "the left," like a brilliant invention of Ehud Barak's. More than any of his predecessors, he revived and consolidated the old elites

In the same way that "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" incited against the Jews but also built up their image as a prodigious, world-embracing force, Netanyahu's systematic instigation against "the elites" in Israel succeeded in conferring on them status, influence and power such as they had never known.

To be sure, there was a core of truth in Netanyahu's description of the uniformity of thought and temperament, the conceptual rigidity, the group pressures and the inertia that typify Israel's academic and intellectual community; and a core of truth, to be equally sure, in what he and his cronies had to say about the judicial system and the media; and "the left" surely has its narcissistic absurdities; assuredly, the list could be extended. Perhaps if these observations had been couched in other terms or been voiced by someone else - possessed of a bit less impulse and arrogance, a little less exaggeration and paranoia, a pinch less demagogy and loathing - people might have listened and even agreed. But man is instinctual and Netanyahu was ruled by his base instincts: it was all done with wild hyperbole, hysteria, overkill.

No dramaturgic genius could have invented his last "great-balls-of-fire" utterance - "They're afraid! They're aff-rr-aid!" - since it was obvious that he himself was the one who was aff-rr-aid, like a boy whistling in the dark. And of whom? Typically, the "they" remained hovering, conundrum-like, in the air, not entirely resolved: Who was he actually talking about? Who were the "they"? Those "elites"? Maybe the media? Academia? The judicial system? The police? The army high command? One thing is clear: at the conclusion of Netanyahu's term of office those bodies have never looked more powerful - all of them together and each by itself.

He made a major contribution toward strengthening the media

If serious fears existed about the status and clout of the established media in the era of decentralization, multiple channels, satellite dishes, open skies and the Internet - along came Netanyahu and reversed these trends: never has the media flourished as much as it did during his premiership. Never before did the least of the anchors, on the most trivial of shows, hear their names mentioned so many times by a prime minister; never before were such piddlingly inconsequential texts so assiduously magic-markered as they were in Netanyahu's bureau, or obtain such prominence by being cited at such a high level on a daily basis; never were media and entertainment personalities as important as they were during the tenure of the prime minister who, instead of dealing with peace-shmeace, policy-shmolicy, seemed a lot more preoccupied with questions like: Who is whispering what into whose ear, what is the best camera angle and when is the commercial break.

Thus Netanyahu conferred on "the media" power and prestige such as it never had before in Israel - not only by means of the attention he paid to it, the obsessive daily interest and the endless excoriations, which became his almost exclusive agenda - but also in terms of the quantities of tricks, spins, shticks and the sheer amount of "spots," "air time" and "sound bites" he supplied. It's not surprising that the media, particularly of the electronic variety, is now experiencing agonizing withdrawal symptoms. Without its "pusher," the media has come down from its permanent high and more or less reverted to its natural place.

Terrorism really declined

Let his adversaries twist and turn, philosophize and explain that Netanyahu reaped the fruits planted by his predecessors; that the defense establishment did the work; that without a peace process there was no more reason for terrorism; that it was plain luck; or that in fact there were terrorist attacks during the Netanyahu years. But one thing they can't take from him: he hacked out his political path by taking up the machete of the war against terrorism, he was elected primarily on a ticket of ending terrorism, and during his term of office there was less terrorism. Period.

He matured us

Even though Netanyahu behaved and acted like an elderly Revisionist, and even though some of his hard-core supporters - his peers and even older - called out to him with Likudnik inertia, "You are our father," Netanyahu was in fact the first prime minister who was younger than the state, the first who was able to present a living mother and father, and the first who by his behavior punctured the mystique that always enveloped the high office of the premiership. As such, he made an important contribution to normalization: he dissociated the leadership in Israel from its paternalistic or maternalistic syndrome. No more will we get prime ministers who are half-patriarchs and half-nannies; no more "uniques in their generation"; no more know-it-all "giants"; no more "greats" whose understanding transcends ours; even no more chaver. From now on we will have PMs who are one of the people, for good or for ill; short-term functionaries who are traded on the stock market and judged by their performance, no more. If they deliver, they will be re-elected; if they don't, they won't.

He demonstrated the resilience of the Israeli system of checks and balances

Until not long ago it seemed that no power on earth (even under the previous electoral system) could remove from office an Israeli prime minister who simply - because of personality structure, illness or any other personal reason - was unsuited for the position. We have already known sick, eccentric or exotically inexplicable prime ministers who went on ruling for one term after another, without any serious challenge. Sometimes it seemed as though even someone clinically dead could go on serving as our PM, if only he enlisted the aid of a good spokesman.

The system of the direct election of the prime minister only heightened such fears. Until, that is, the advent of Netanyahu, who succeeded in demonstrating that the Israeli political system - patchwork, makeshift, unformed - is, despite everything, capable of organizing in order to topple and eject a leader who exceeds a certain level of behavioral acceptability. If it took America six years to grasp the nature of Richard Nixon's presidency and terminate it, we did the same in only half the time and in less than one full term of office.

Furthermore, as shown by the affair of Orient House - which almost ended Netanyahu's term with the same kind of big bang with which it began: the "Western Wall tunnel" episode - the unofficial, improvised system of balances also functions at the level of ongoing actions: only a personality like Netanyahu could have activated the system of checks and balances and set off alarm bells in every direction, from the army to the judicial system, averting a disastrous imbroglio at the last minute. Such vigilance, such finely attuned alertness by the entire system would not, of course, have existed if the prime minister had been perceived by the public as responsible and judicious. So here, too - for exemplifying the resilience acquired by the system, which survived him - kudos to Netanyahu.

He succeeded in toppling Netanyahu

And no one could have done it "better, faster, more cheaply" (as he described "the peace treaty I will obtain" on the eve of the previous elections) than he did himself.

17.Mai 1999 17.Mai 1999

Die hier archivierten Artikel stammen aus den "Anfangsjahren" der breiten Nutzung des Internet. Damals waren die gestalterischen Möglichkeiten noch etwas ursprünglicher als heute. Wir haben die Artikel jedoch weiterhin archiviert, da die Informationen durchaus noch interessant sein können, u..a. auch zu Dokumentationszwecken.

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