• Why do they hate him so much? My evening with the Netanyahus
    Gideon Levy | Nov. 11, 2021

    The most hated and most admired man in Israel today sat last Saturday night with his wife and two sons on an old couch in a small living room, chock-full of ornamental objects, constantly caressing his wife’s hand and charming nearly all his interlocutors.

    That night, he and she were almost the complete opposite of what is told of them. The opposite of what is thought of them. There is almost nothing said about them by their critics, consumed with revulsion, that was not revealed that evening as the opposite of the picture revealed for a few hours in the old stone house in Ra’anana.

    He was a good listener, and she touched no liquor. She was warm, a little insecure and vulnerable, his English is a little less perfect than most think. He’s sharp and full of energy, contrary to recent reports from the Knesset.

    She was, imagine it, soft. Nobody talked politics. No politicians were there, and the friends of the wife were stewardesses from her early days.

    Sara Netanyahu’s birthday was at author and Haaretz journalist Benny Ziffer’s house, attended by family, friends, and a few other guests. Those who despise Benjamin Netanyahu will say that it was just another evening of cult worship, sycophancy, and cozening.

    But the truth is, it was a pleasant, interesting, at times even moving evening. At this point, most Haaretz readers have lost their cool.

    The man fills the space around him. He is more intriguing than any current Israeli politician, even now, seemingly in the winter of his career. It is easier to comprehend the blind admiration toward him than the elemental hatred he inspires.

    On the most crucial topic for Israel – its turning into an apartheid state – his policies were no worse than those of his predecessors, or his successors. Many of his haters’ doomsday prophecies never came to pass.

    His harm to democracy, if there was one, is harm to a semblance of democracy, with a military dictatorship in its backyard. As to his lifestyle and the indictments he’s facing – the court shall speak. In the living room of the house in Ra’anana sat a former Prime Minister, energetic and interesting.

    So why do they hate him so much? And why do they have so much hate for anyone daring to say a word in his favor too?

    Ziffer, the host, found something that might serve as a partial explanation in the archive. It might be one of Netanyahu’s most fateful errors, not taking the advice given to him by author Moshe Shamir in his letter to Netanyahu on March 26th, 1993, before it all began: “Create as wide a circle of support as possible, beyond the confines of the party… in simple terms: Presence in cultural life, theater, literature, academia. Even in the most turbulent of times – not just politics.”

    When Ziffer finished reading the letter, Netanyahu said “Some advice I didn’t take.” The right-wing writer may have touched on something here.

    When you spend an evening with Netanyahu you can’t help but wonder once again at the incredible gap between his level and breadth of knowledge and the milieu in which he operates. He chose this environment. He didn’t listen to Shamir.

    Netanyahu gave up that other environment in exchange for working in right-wing politics, and there alone. He exchanged his natural fields of interest for an aggressive, alien, shallow, and at times ignorant environment, to realize his boundless political ambition.

    The repugnance felt towards him on the left stems from his lifestyle and his politics, with more than a dash of dual moralities and hypocrisy towards the members of their own side who sometimes behave similarly, but above all floats the way Netanyahu completely cut off all those who might criticize him.

    Perhaps if Netanyahu was more open to criticism and had stayed in touch with the circles Shamir suggested, he would have been less hated. Precisely because he is who he is, it is such a shame he didn’t take Shamir’s advice.

    • The Israeli left’s hatred for Netanyahu has driven it mad
      Gideon Levy | Nov. 14, 2021

      There’s nothing like the unbelievable fury that my op-ed (Haaretz, Nov. 11) about my encounter with Benjamin Netanyahu sparked to prove a long-standing claim: The Israeli left is ill. Very ill. Its hatred for Netanyahu has driven it mad. Comparisons were immediately made to meeting Hitler in the Eagle’s Nest. Others settled for Stalin, or at the very least the CEO of ExxonMobil.

      The personal insults, including from friends, are forgivable, albeit not without asking: Where does all this rage come from, what are its sources and, above all, what is it covering up? Something is hiding here, without which the depth of these feelings is incomprehensible. No approbatory essay about a different Israeli politician, dead or living, would have provoked a similar dance of hatred. It’s doubtful that anything else would have, with the possible exception of a meeting with Ariel Sharon the day after the Sabra and Chatila massacre, and in any event Sharon was forgiven for everything.

      People who have been silent about Israel’s apartheid for years, who yawn at news of the crimes of the occupation and turn a blind eye to them; who vote for Yesh Atid, the Labor Party and Meretz, say they oppose the occupation, worship the Israel Defense Forces, patronize the Palestinians and think themselves enlightened – yet their conscience is tortured by the impotence and the conceptual void to which they are subjected. Deep inside they know that they are no less proponents of Jewish supremacy than the right that they despise, and from which they struggle to differentiate themselves. They know that Israel’s left-center governments never did what they had to do in order to enable the Palestinians to exercise their rights. They know that at the end of the day, they themselves are the occupation’s greatest supporters and perpetrators, in their silence, their complacency, their disinterest and their inaction.

      Netanyahu fell into their hands like a ripe fruit, manna from heaven, 12 years of uninterrupted pleasure. The gift that keeps on giving. Suddenly they have an ideology, their life has meaning. Suddenly they can differentiate themselves from the right, they are fearless political warriors, Che Guevara each and every one. “Anyone but Bibi” became not only a unifying slogan and battle cry, but also the definer of their lost political identity.

      It’s verboten to play with the left’s new toy, or even to go near it. If this toy is taken from it, the left will once more sink into the void, into ennui and losing its way. It will mumble empty slogans and sing songs about peace and about tomorrow, and no one will see how it’s any different from the cruel and boorish right. Woe be it, then, to anyone who tries to cast doubt on the amount of hatred that Netanyahu deserves, the hatred that is now the left’s sole raison d’etre. Even when Netanyahu is no longer prime minister, he is the left’s only toy. The government of change is irrefutable proof of this: What has actually changed? Almost nothing, particularly in regard to the most important issue, from which the government flees as if from fire.

      Netanyahu was what he was. On the most critical issue he was no worse than his predecessors or his successors. He was also no better. That drives the left insane. Anyone who attempts to cast doubt on Netanyahu’s monstrosity is stepping out of line, and his fate is sealed. It is treason to say that Netanyahu is more complex than he seems. To say that he has positive sides is trolling. “The elderly you puts the you of your youth to shame,” wrote many people who did not know me or my youth but who know that one good word for Netanyahu is enough to make that claim.

      Had the same things been written about Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid or Gideon Sa’ar, they wouldn’t have created even a small uproar. Benny Gantz, by the way, spilled much more blood than Netanyahu and is even proud of it. But it’s okay to write positive things about him without limits. The prohibition, and it is absolute, applies to just one person.

      A political camp that is no less tyrannical, intolerant and aggressive than that of the right, whose actions support the continuation of the occupation no less than those of the right, is horrified by someone who dares to disturb that which it most cherishes, its hatred for Netanyahu. After all, if Netanyahu is not Satan, what will it have left?