Why Netanyahu’s departure will mean nothing

Netanyahu will surely go, but he’ll be replaced by another autocrat hellbent on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Israeli cabinet Getty images
Members of the 34th government of Israel pose for a group photo at the presidential compound in Jerusalem on May 19, 2015 [Getty images]

It’s been said those who fail to recall the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Built of help and hope, this expression is as familiar as it is simple: knowledge is the gateway to informed transformation and with it, educated change is, necessarily, sure to follow.

Breaking news: Don’t kid yourself. When the chorus of selective history finds its path to be, of necessity, narrow and unbending, it’s but a convenient echo of certain repetition. 

Indeed, time and time again, history does repeat itself. When it comes to Israel, we are, if nothing else, naive, if not slow, learners to believe that enlightened change is either inevitable or just around the corner. It’s not, at least not of its own volition.

If reports are to be believed, the reign of Benjamin Netanyahu is now in its final stretch as prosecutors and purchased politicians, alike, line up to see that “justice” be done, and done with ease and smooth political transition. As always, the aim is to remove the bombast, yet, ensure the same old supremacist tune.

Seemingly, a power with many hats, forever – for almost a decade – Netanyahu, as prime minister, has been a storm cloud that has sucked the sheen from the sun wherever his path has taken him. From south Lebanon to the Golan, to Rafah, to the halls of the US Congress, his has been a reckless belligerent trek built of nationalist venture and little else.

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Never one to grin in a vacuum, he’s long been the ugly, but very real, face of Israel in its march to expand occupation and recast and darken opposition, be they home-grown dissidents or crafted “belligerents” from elsewhere.

Like a steady unbroken drumbeat, supremacist odium has, by design, worked its way into all segments of an Israeli culture that sees kind as weak, just as soft, and equality as something much less than equal.


From the mourn of Deir Yassin, to the wail of Sabra-Shatila, to the level of Jenin, to the final breath of  Palestinian infants denied energy to incubate in Gaza, historically each and every act of wanton cruelty has been packaged by Israel as a necessary defence to the willful guile of others.  In Israel, no politician can weave their way up the path of power and survive without the hymn of perpetual victimisation. It’s become very much the traditional tribal chant.

Indeed, no Israeli leader has worked it better, and been more adept at palpable deflection, than has Netanyahu who, for decades, has found an enemy lurking around each and every corner, even when no such corner exists.

Make no mistake about it: While Israel claims self-defence as a necessity from the ever-present looming hate of others, if there is hatred to be had, it is very much a convenient sale of Israel’s own liking and design. To be sure, the mentality of siege dictates that decency knows no reach and avarice no limits. On both fronts, Israel has excelled.

For 70 years, Israeli tropes, whether addressed in Tel Aviv, Brooklyn or Toronto, have mastered the art of self-deception. As almost an obstinate rite of passage, generations of insular, perhaps insulated, Israelis have been birthed on myth. No, not the Holocaust, for it was very real, but the offer that no speech is too vile, no detention too long, no act too extreme once swept up into a sham talismanic call of survival. 

The hate that is Israel is not, at all, limited to the handful of political, military or settlement leaders that have flourished in a society whose mantra is “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Like a steady unbroken drumbeat, supremacist odium has, by design, worked its way into all segments of an Israeli culture that sees “kind” as “weak”, “just” as “soft”, and “equality” as something much less than “equal”.

For generations of Israeli leaders, the message, although at times massaged, has essentially remained very much unremitting and uniform in its hymn.

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Ultimately, other than the spelling of their names, be it Begin, the wanted terrorist of the ’30s and ’40s, Sharon, the war criminal covered with the blood of women and children in Beirut and, later, again, in Jenin, or Netanyahu, the proud architect of multiple slaughters in Gaza, deceitful deflection has remained a constant in the halls of Israeli power.

Absent a dramatic shift, don’t expect that to change, any time soon, should the current prime minister ultimately find his way to his much-deserved place in the prisoner’s dock. 

Indeed, waiting in the wings to assume the grand lie are, yet, other scions of a shaded story that began with the romanticised myth of Kibbutzim which, almost magically, blossomed from the sand and evolved its way to the uneasy canard which, today, wraps Israel in the tattered whole cloth of democracy.

Among those surely awaiting their place in the run of ruin is Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Recently described as a classic fascist in the tradition of Mussolini, Shaked, of the Jewish Home Party, has long been a critic of individual rights or equality under Israeli law. To her, justice is little more than a legislative doorway to Zionist superiority, with travel limited to only the state’s Jewish majority.

Not at all one to run from her very public and proud supremacist wrap, more than once, Shaked has announced the need for a “moral and political revolution” that would smother universal individual rights under the rule of national and Zionist values.

Having long learned that, in Israel, the pathway to political power is seeded with exploitation and pain of non-Jews, Shaked’s racist raves have run the hateful course from attacks on infiltrators from Africa to her well-known declaration that Palestine must be destroyed because “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”

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Lest there be any doubt about what drives this proposed heir to the Israeli political throne, her vitriolic Facebook screed of 2014 ended with a public embrace of nothing short of outright genocide which “calls for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to little snakes.”

Not to worry, there is competition galore. Thus stands Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff who has headed The Jewish Home party since 2012. At various times, Israel’s minister of education, minister of diaspora affairs, minister of economy and minister of religious services, Bennett is an ultra-nationalist adored by Israel’s explosive and criminal settler movement.

Baring a dramatic change, 70 years of history should leave little doubt about the future of Israel, both in the land that it occupies and, elsewhere, where it has shown scant hesitancy in support of other regimes which, like itself, see abusive power as a virtue and absolute, brutal control as a desired end.


He has not only repeatedly spoken out in support of the unilateral annexation of the West Bank, but opposes the creation of any Palestinian state … proudly boasting that “I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state.” On that note, with the election of Donald Trump, Bennett proclaimed “The era of the Palestinian state is over”.

Not to be outdone by Shaked’s call for genocide, in keeping with Israeli political necessity and tradition, Bennett once bragged, “I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that.”

Rhetoric, such as this, might very well mean the end of one’s political future in a rational state that sees violence as the final exception to the rule and not the end itself. But in Israel, where bravado and bombast carries with it a seductive political allure and future, it helped to transform Bennett from Manhattan software entrepreneur to firebrand political hero in the eyes of both settlers and secular Jews, alike.

Highly critical of what he considered to be Israel’s tepid onslaught in Gaza in 2014 – which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, hundreds of them children – Bennett is but another in a generation of Israeli self-apologists who see themselves beyond the reach of humanity, let alone international law.

Indeed, if history is, in fact, a guidepost of what is yet to come, Israel’s view of bed-fellows has long been established as not just strange but remarkable for an unbroken marriage of vile and venom which extends back decades. 

Thus, Israel’s support for South African and Rhodesian apartheid was very public as it provided materials for the building of nuclear weapons or assault weapons and helicopters in violation of UN-imposed sanctions against both. Elsewhere, in Africa, it funded and trained the military forces of brutal dictatorships. It armed the Rwandan military and Hutu militia responsible for genocide against the Tutsis.

In South America, Israel supported Guatemalan death squads, the Contras, Pinochet in Chile, and the military junta in Argentina which disappeared thousands of political opponents including numerous Jewish civilians.

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In Southeast Asia and the Pacific Region, it aided the Suharto and Marcos dictatorships. In Iran, the shah’s secret death squads (SAVAK) received training from Israel and purchased over $150m in arms from it. Never known for its selfless virtue, Israel was to benefit. The shah was one of the first leaders in the region to recognise it as a state.

Today, while most of the world recoils, in sheer horror, with the sight of the rape, displacement and slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Myanmar, Israel continues to train and arm death squads that have targeted the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority for genocide. 

Baring a dramatic change, 70 years of history should leave little doubt about the future of Israel, both in the land that it occupies and, elsewhere, where it has shown scant hesitancy in support of other regimes which, like itself, see abusive power as a virtue and absolute, brutal control as a desired end.

Netanyahu will surely go – whether this year or next. In his place will come another in a long, unbroken line of autocrats who see human rights and international law as barriers in their drive to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians started long ago when the Nakba began, early in the morning of April 9, 1948.

Do I believe it will succeed? No. Do I believe fundamental change in a system fuelled by apartheid and occupation will suddenly reverse a steady stalk of hatred through an Israeli ballot box that has long provided a silent pretext for appalling crimes? Of course not.

Yet, ultimately, I remain hopeful that with determined, at times militant, resistance by Palestinians on the ground, along with the support of a growing world community that understands well that silence is complicity, change will come and come in a way that will echo loudly, “From the River to the sea …”

In the end, I have no doubt the community of nations will run out of excuses, if not time, and finally say enough, and do so in a way which ensures that millions of stateless Palestinians will return home, at long last, to find that aged, rusted keys can still open the doors to equality, freedom and justice.  

Stanley L Cohen is a lawyer and human rights activist who has done extensive work in the Middle East and Africa.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.