What happens the ‘day after’ Netanyahu?

Even as the end of Netanyahu’s reign seems to be approaching, it’s no time to celebrate — the problems in Israel run far deeper than one man.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a statement to the press at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after delivering a statement to the press at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Over the past few years, the top echelons of the Jewish Israeli Left have been trying to figure out how to remove or “replace” Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Those who have been following these conversations over the past few years, could have, for a moment, become confused and think that the criticism of the government and regime in Israel are the result of Netanyahu’s rule — not the occupation, discrimination, racism, not abandoning the periphery, police and IDF violence, selling off the country’s assets, and racist laws.

Netanyahu may reap the benefits of all these, but portraying him as the sole problem, and his removal as the perfect solution, becomes more pathetic as time goes on.

Remember Barak and Olmert?

One can, of course, understand this worldview, which justifiably sees Netanyahu’s rule as the extreme realization of occupation policies and the corruption of the Right, which is itself personally responsible for burying negotiations with the Palestinians.

But we must not accept this worldview, for two reasons: firstly, it is factually incorrect. Over the past 20 years, almost every right-wing government has been supported by the heads of the center-left, including Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Isaac Herzog, and Amir Peretz (aside from Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich, they all jumped on the right-wing bandwagon the moment they had the chance). The two governments led by the center-left in these years left behind the bloody legacy of October 2000 during Ehud Barak’s term and Operation Cast Lead under Ehud Olmert.

A woman holds a sign reading: 'With occupation, there is no hope,' during a protest march against the Netanyahu government, Tel Aviv, October 24, 2015. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)
A woman holds a sign reading: ‘With occupation, there is no hope,’ during a protest march against the Netanyahu government, Tel Aviv, October 24, 2015. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

And when Netanyahu resigns to deal with the criminal proceedings against him, and we will discover — once again — that the policies of death and destruction go beyond the king himself, we will feel a familiar disappointment: look, we replaced Netanyahu, and yet the occupation hasn’t gone anywhere.

If the center-left’s only answer is to remove Netanyahu, why are we shocked that even its supporters view it as entirely disconnected from reality. The same thing can be said about Donald Trump: the problem with the U.S.’s policies in the Middle East did not begin on January 20, 2017, and they will not disappear if Americans decide to kick him out of office.

Now is the time to organize

Nonetheless, the main player is going home. The first person bold enough to grasp this was Amir Peretz, who announced well in advance of when he “should” have that he would be running for the Labor Party leadership, which raised a few eyebrows. Peretz has always known how to seize an opportunity, and now everyone else is joining in: from Left to Right, from the extremist center to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Perhaps Netanyahu, a relic from the previous political generation, will hold on a little longer in order to prolong his successor’s torture. But he, too, will eventually go. It will be a day like any other; we’ll get up in the morning to the same headlines and the same television programs. The customary incitement and hatred will remain, and political correspondents and weekend editions of newspapers will recap for us his years of leadership, the achievements, the failures.

The sigh of relief that will accompany the departure of the Right’s strongest-ever leader must be converted into action on the ground: more joint Palestinian-Jewish demonstrations against the occupation and oppression, more labor unions and more alliances between exploited groups — Mizrahim, Haredim, Palestinians, LGBTQs and the poor. Political engagement is as important as ever, but it’s not everything.

The Israeli street, battered and in despair, is a political arena. As long as we don’t nurture a plan of action, opposition and persistence, we cannot relax, even if the prime minister is finally on his way out of power and into prison.

Eli Bitan is a journalist in the Haredi press in Israel, and is a blogger on Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.

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