In the space of just a week, twin failures by Binyamin Netanyahu coalesced into a new menace: the one, a near monstrous failure – the matter of the mufti and Hitler; the other, a small and nearly comic stumble, surveying the Gaza border region through binoculars that still had their lens caps on.
At once it became tangible: anyone, in Israel or abroad, could see the manner in which Netanyahu gazes, when all is said and done – only internally, only within himself. Anyone who listened to his speech about Hitler and the mufti – in which he essentially acquitted Hitler of hatching the notion of the Final Solution and laid the blame at the feet of the Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini – could discern, in a way that was naked of obstruction, the things that Netanyahu sees within himself: the virtually mechanical apparatus that enables him to erase the facts in order to change – with one quick cartwheel of the consciousness – the condition of occupation and oppression to one of persecution and victimhood.
Revealed, too, was the manner in which he casts his victimhood on reality, like one who casts a dense and hermetic net that offers no way out, no escape, not even to Netanyahu himself. But this time, more so than in the past, it has become clear to what extent we, the citizens of Israel, are trapped, flailing, in this net of his.
For many years now, ever since he embarked on his journey to the prime minister’s office, he has masterfully mixed and stirred the true dangers facing Israel with the echoes of Holocaust trauma. Skilfully, with sharp flashes of rhetoric and overwhelming powers of persuasion, he has learned how to ensnare the majority of the Israeli population within a labyrinth constructed of echoes and the true facts of reality.
Israel is a country of refugees from a terrible disaster, a country battered by trauma. The trauma of Jewish history, the trauma of the Holocaust, and the traumas of frequent war. To a certain extent most of us are helpless in the face of the prime minister’s sophisticated manipulations. For many of us, too, it is hard to rationally discern the true dangers of today from echoes of the past that roar still in our ears. We give ourselves easily to those fears, at times even eagerly. This is not a surprise: they are etched into our collective and individual DNA, and naturally they leap to the surface with the first shadow of threat and danger. With the blink of an eye, those echoes of the past drown out the threats of the present, and we find ourselves “there” – even if the facts of our lives point towards a reality that is far more complex.
I cannot probe the depths of Netanyahu’s soul. I do not know if he does what he does as a cynical manipulation or out of faith and deep conviction. It is entirely possible that what started as a manipulation metamorphosed, for him, into truth. This sort of manipulation can at times wrap itself around its own instigator.
The words that are written here are not a casual dismissal of the dangers facing Israel. Iran and al-Qaida and Isis, Hamas and Hezbollah, the knives of the intensifying third intifada and the hatred for Israel in the Arab lands, alongside the brittle fragility of the Middle East: all are known and real and must be faced with eyes wide open.
But he who sees only these threats will in the end fall victim to them. He whose vision travels, in an automatic and repetitive way, along the axis of “exercising power” and “exercising more power” will ultimately fall to a power more forceful and more determined than his.
The horizon of our lives offers other possibilities, an expanse for manoeuvrability and initiative: for example, cooperation against violent jihadism with states whose interests are aligned with ours, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Or a shift in our relationship with the Palestinians by restarting negotiations, this time with the true intent of reaching an agreement (the articles of which are known to every reasonable Israeli and Palestinian). Such a move would also bring immediate succour on a different front – Israel’s collapsing international standing.
But the internal apparatus of Netanyahu’s mind and consciousness – bared before all with his statement about the mufti and Hitler – tells us, in the most simple and frightful way, that the policies of the state of Israel, its character and its future, are being forged and determined, to the utmost extent, within the narrow and hermetic confines of the man and his covered and sealed field glasses. That is where we are trapped; that is where our future is being determined; and that is where we are being led, eyes wide shut.
Translated from Hebrew by Mitch Ginsburg.
David Grossman is the author of Death as a Way of Life: Israel Ten Years After Oslo. His novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar will be published in 2016.