Paranoid Benjamin Netanyahu Prepares For His Last Stand
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu propelled his Likud Party to victory over the centrist Zionist Union in national elections this week with a vehement rejection of a Palestinian state and warning of “buses full of Arabs” inundating polling places. He understands that most Jewish Israelis do not want to live beside an independent Palestinian state or next door to a Palestinian. He is one of them, after all, and he shares their sensibility. His last minute desperate appeal to racism was an Israeli application of Alabama Governor George C. Wallace’s political rule: “I will never be out-niggered again.”
By making Netanyahu the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history, Jewish Israeli voters have chosen occupation, apartheid and periodic bouts of warfare. By signing onto Likud’s election list, they have sent figures to the Knesset who make Netanyahu look like Arlo Guthrie. They include Miri Regev, an Israeli blend of Sarah Palin and Marine Le Pen who incited racist riots at a 2012 rally when she called African migrants “a cancer in the nation’s body.” Also on the list is Avi Dichter, a hardline former Shin Bet chief who authored a bill that would have formally enshrined Israel’s Jewish character as superior to its democratic charter. (The bill may pass in diluted form in the coming months). Then there is Ayoub Kara, a rabidly anti-Palestinian Druze Arab legislator who flew to Berlin in 2011 to pal around with a neo-Nazi German millionaire and later described Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as “really a leftist.” Avigdor Lieberman, for his part, recently called for beheading Arab citizens of Israel he deemed disloyal—“we need to pick up an axe and cut off his head.”
A minority of Israeli Jewish citizens have attempted to resist their country’s destructive path, but they have never been more stigmatized or marginalized. Meanwhile, millions of Palestinians live under Israeli rule without the right to vote or any legal rights at all. The war that left some 2,200 residents of the Gaza Strip dead last summer and reduced nearly a quarter of the besieged coastal enclave’s urban landscape to rubble was supported by over 90 percent of the Jewish Israeli public, with 45 percent of Israelis complaining that their army had not used enough force. This was the Israel that rewarded Netanyahu with his fourth term.
Marketed to the Western world as a vibrant liberal democracy filled with sexy citizen-soldier girls, gay pride marchers and bespectacled Ashkenazi intellectuals anguishing over Israel’s excesses in quaint cafes, Israel today increasingly resembles the first-century CE desert fortress known as Masada. Now a popular tourist destination, Masada was the site of a mass suicide by Jewish fanatics who rebelled against the Roman Empire, then slaughtered and robbed a community of Jews at the village of Ein Gedi who had attempted to negotiate with the Romans. The Jewish Roman historian Josephus referred to the rebels as “Sicarii,” or terrorist bandits.
In his final address at Masada, with the hilltop fortress surrounded by the Roman legions, the messianic rebel leader Elazar Ben-Yair exhorted his followers to commit mass suicide. “Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted of slavery,” Ben-Yair declared. “And after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually, and preserve ourselves in freedom.” The zealots slaughtered one another, with the men among some 960 rebels running swords through their wives then butchering their children before killing themselves. The seven survivors of the massacre recalled to Josephus a stifling atmosphere in which all dissent was crushed and conformism reigned.
Instead of teaching Masada as a cautionary tale, Israel’s founding generation glorified the suicidal zealots. Israeli children celebrated their bar mitzvahs en masse at Masada, while soldiers ascended the steep incline to take their induction rites at the hilltop fort and recite a line from the poet Yitzhak Lamdan: “Never again willl Masada fall!” The Israeli political psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal titled his groundbreaking 1983 study of Jewish Israeli attitudes, “Masada Syndrome,” revealing the powerful influence of a siege mentality “in which members of a group hold a central belief that the rest of the world has highly negative behavioral intentions towards the group.” Masada was the symbolic space where all the demons of the Israeli psyche blended into a single phantasm of a last stand.
Nearly all of Israel’s leaders have demonstrated symptoms of Masada Syndrome, but few have embraced it as enthusiastically as Netanyahu. His world is a dystopia filled with genocidal enemies hellbent on the destruction of the Jewish people. They range from what he called “the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam” to the “modern Hitler” in Tehran, from the “goons in Gaza” to a Palestinian national movement controlled by anti-Semitic gamma rays emitted from Hitler’s brain. Netanyahu has identified the New York Times and Ha’aretz as two of Israel’s greatest foes, and once described former Obama advisors Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod as “self-hating Jews.” In the final days of his re-election campaign, he howled against an international conspiracy to overthrow him, with Barack Hussein Obama as its puppet-master. (A robo-call to voters in Israel warned them to vote for Netanyahu against “Hussein Obama.”)
Given his paranoid style, it is unsurprising that Netanyahu has identified the leader of the suicidal Masada bandits, Elazar Ben-Yair, as one of his personal heroes in his ironically titled 1994 book, A Durable Peace. During his speech to the Congress just before the election, boycotted by 58 Democratic lawmakers and Vice-President Joseph Biden, Netanyahu channeled Ben-Yair’s final words: “For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. This is why—this is why, as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”
Few observers of his extraordinary performance in Washington understood his subtext. Netanyahu’s statement can be read in the wake of his victory as his threat to Israel’s Western patrons. To him, the EU and US are not allies, but Romans attempting to impose their oppressive order on Jerusalem. If they refuse to bend to his will, he will defy them as his hero Ben-Yair did. Vowing to “stand alone,” Netanyahu has set the stage for an ultimate stand-off.