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Netanyahu must go before he causes further irreversible harm to Israel

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Wednesday, 3 January 2024


Regardless of how the Israel-Hamas war is concluded, no one in Israel should ever forget how, under his watch for nearly 15 consecutive years, Netanyahu pushed Israel downhill toward the abyss. Despite its miraculous achievements since its establishment in 1948, today's Israel has reached its nadir, and no one has contributed to its present darkest chapter more than Netanyahu. Sadly, Netanyahu, who could have emerged as one of Israel's greatest leaders ranked with Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin, squandered his impressive early economic and national security achievements. His ideological bent against the Palestinians, inborn dishonesty, and insatiable lust for power blinded him to a point where he could no longer decipher what was best for the country, instead placing his self-interest above that of the nation.

The litany of Netanyahu's disastrous policies and personal conduct is long and most troubling. Given the current state of affairs in Israel, his continuing stewardship could steer the country to an even darker alley from which it will not exit without sustaining irretrievable damage to its future while betraying the very reason behind its being. Netanyahu is accused of the following egregious political and immoral conduct, for which he must be held accountable.

Forming the most extremist government

In December 2022, Netanyahu formed the most extremist right-wing messianic government in Israel's history. This government precipitated the alienation of Israel from its allies, harassing and forcing many Palestinians out of their land, polarizing the Israeli public, increasing the threat of its enemies, weakening its national security preparedness, and trying to rob the judiciary of its powers to save his skin from the three pending criminal charges against him. The government includes several ministers with criminal records, including Ben-Gvir and Deri, whose conduct and policies have harmed Israel more than any other ministers in Israel's history.

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Subordinating the judiciary

From the first day Netanyahu formed his current government, he exerted every ounce of his energy to "reform the judiciary," a code for subordinating the Supreme Court to elected politicians, especially allowing them to appoint judges. The judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, is the guardian of Israel's democracy, without which the government can do whatever it pleases with no accountability, which de facto spells the end of democracy and the start of authoritarianism, which he sought with vigor. Thus far, Netanyahu has successfully passed the reasonableness clause that prevents the Supreme Court from striking down any government policy deemed unreasonable.

Compromising National Security

To justify the continuation of the occupation, Netanyahu has systematically portrayed the Palestinians as an implacable foe that poses an existential danger to Israel. He masterfully brainwashed the Israelis to believe that only by sustaining the occupation would Israel's national security be guarded. To that end, he needed to keep the Palestinians as a perpetual enemy to justify the occupation, when in fact, Israel would have been far more secure by ending it. And he persuaded Trump to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, allowing Tehran to come within reach of the nuclear threshold, further endangering Israel's security more than any time before.

Polarizing the Israelis

To serve his political agenda, Netanyahu cozied up to the right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties while widening the schism between secular Israelis and the Haredim, intensifying the distrust between Jewish and Arab Israelis, increasing the discrimination against Sephardic/Mizrahi Jews, and widening the divide between political parties while offering preferential treatment to loyalists and cronies. To be sure, the Israeli public has never been as divided between different political leanings and ethnic backgrounds as under Netanyahu's leadership.

The building and expansion of settlements Netanyahu has focused on building, expanding, and legalizing illegal settlements to serve his scheme to annex much of the West Bank and hammer another nail in the coffin of a two-state solution. He is allowing the settlers to harass Palestinians and confiscate their farmland and is appropriating hundreds of millions to protect the settlers while abandoning poor communities inside Israel to rot. For Netanyahu, the settlers represent the first line of defense and a central means of preventing the Palestinians from ever returning to their land.

Intensifying antisemitism

Although antisemitism has existed from time immemorial, Netanyahu's brutal treatment of the Palestinians over the years in the West Bank has significantly contributed to the rise of antisemitism in recent years, especially in the wake of the Israel-Gaza war. The administrative detention of Palestinians, the demolishing of homes, the widespread night raids, and the use of disproportionate force to quell violent resistance while the whole world is watching have sharply contributed to the rise in antisemitism. Only a fool would assume that Netanyahu's policies in the West Bank did not lend a hand to the upsurge of antisemitism from which Jews around the world are suffering.

Alienating the United States

No Israeli prime minister has antagonized successive American administrations more than Netanyahu. Given the US' unshakable commitment to Israel's national security, its consistent political backing, and substantial military and financial aid, it is shocking how Netanyahu dares to defy the US and challenge its policy, especially toward Iran's nuclear program. He often interfered in US domestic policies while openly siding with the Republican party, aligning himself with evangelical Christians and alienating Democratic presidents. He found his match with a deranged and morally corrupt Trump, who abandoned US values, which are the bedrock of bilateral US-Israel relations. The Hebrew word chutzpah (roughly translated to brazen audacity) applies more to Netanyahu than anyone else, especially concerning the US. Earlier this year, Netanyahu stated that "Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends," which is the height of chutzpah.

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Buttressing Hamas' power

Netanyahu's policy of playing Hamas against the PA and vice versa was a terribly dangerous strategy. He has allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to be funneled from Qatar to Hamas because he deliberately wanted to strengthen Hamas and weaken the PA to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, telling Likud lawmakers in 2019 that "whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for" Qatar's funding. His tragic mis-assessment of Hamas' capabilities and intentions, believing that the PA is a liability and Hamas is an asset, and his misplaced confidence that he had complete control over Gaza and that Hamas was incapable of undertaking a massive attack against Israel was tragically negligent, especially in light of numerous warnings from IDF surveillance soldiers. Netanyahu's preoccupation with "judicial reforms" and the criminal charges against him, and his reassignment of some of the Israeli forces that were tasked to protect Israeli communities adjacent to Gaza to the West Bank, made it possible for Hamas to commit its savagery against Israelis, for which he never apologized.

Manipulating the political landscape

No Israeli leader has as masterfully manipulated the political landscape to stay in power as Netanyahu. He regularly colludes with political leaders from within or outside his government to promote his political interests. He often reneges on promises he makes, even to his coalition partners, only to pursue his schemes to stay in power. Just like a despot, he controls the national agenda so that nothing bypasses him. He uses every parliamentarian trick to get his way while allegedly following his wife Sara's commands on how to sideline his political rivals and punish his adversaries. To be sure, political manipulation and Netanyahu became synonymous.

Alienating World Jewry

Although Israel was created to embrace Jews from every corner of the world and offer a home, a refuge to any Jew to live freely in peace and security regardless of their political leanings, religious affiliation, or country of origin, Netanyahu betrayed all that. His policy of siding with rabbinical institutions to prevent women's prayer at the Wailing Wall, his brutal treatment of the Palestinians, and the imposition of religious laws on secular/reform Jews have dramatically alienated world Jewry. The mutually complementary relationship between Israel and world Jewry has sunk under Netanyahu's leadership to a level unseen since Israel's creation.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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