At the heart of the ongoing turmoil engulfing Israel is a pathological liar and a pervasive lie. The liar has long been exposed, but the lie he and others have long propagated has only now begun to unravel. It is no coincidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has thus far lied his way through a crisis of his own creation. He is known among his former and present coalition partners to be a liar – a pathological liar, a serial liar, and my favorite, the “liar of all liars”. Even Western leaders, like former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former US President Donald Trump, thought the man was an unbearable liar.
It is true that, in some of these instances, it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but rarely has there been such a wide consensus about a politician, except perhaps Trump. But then again, Netanyahu is a Trumpian politician, lacking in moral scruples and always advancing his interests at the expense of others. In 2022, Netanyahu led a populist campaign of lies against Israel’s elites, media and judiciary in a successful attempt to regain the premiership he had lost a year earlier. This self-declared liberal then formed a coalition government of tyrannical fascists and fanatics to take on the old liberal “deep state” and transform it into a fundamentalist “Jewish state”.
He has thus far insisted that there is no personal agenda behind his judiciary agenda, which aims to subjugate the courts to the whims of the ruling majority. But in reality, he made a Faustian deal with Israel’s most fanatic parties that allows him to stay out of prison and at the helm of state power, despite his indictment on multiple charges of corruption. In return, he is helping them impose their ultrareligious agenda on state and society and further marginalise Israel’s Palestinian minority. Netanyahu has proven ready to do anything in his power to hold on to power, including conspiring with the most rogue and dangerous elements of the Israeli polity to undermine the secular liberal Ashkenazi-dominated establishment that built the foundations of the Israeli state and shaped its development.
Himself secular, Ashkenazi, and morally challenged, Netanyahu commands wide support among the ultrareligious, ultranationalist and Sephardic communities, all of whom helped him become the longest-serving prime minister in the history of the Israeli state. Dubbed the “King of Israel” by his base, Netanyahu probably thinks he also can shoot anyone on Dizengoff Street and still not lose a vote. This Trumpian arrogance led him to force through the Knesset his radical, illiberal and transformative legislative agenda with a very thin majority, ignoring the mounting opposition domestically and internationally, notably from the United States and Europe. That was a mistake; a stupid mistake.
It did not take long for Netanyahu’s detractors to conclude that once his judicial “reform” is passed, lifting judiciary oversight and sidelining the Supreme Court, the prime minister and coconspirators will be able to legislate any law regulating any aspect of Israeli life, with no legal means to stop them. In response, hundreds of thousands of secular and liberal Israelis from all walks of life poured onto the streets to protest against his attempts to undo their old liberal Ashkenazi-dominated order and replace it with new autocratic rule. They threatened to paralyse the state, shutting down ports, Tel Aviv airport, and universities, until their demands are met. Under intensified street pressure, Netanyahu finally backed down on Monday and delayed the parliamentary vote over his agenda in the hope of defusing tensions. His promise to reach a national or parliamentary consensus has thus far been downplayed by the protestors as no more than a ploy to kick the can down the road.
But some among the opposition leaders, like his former coalition partner, Benny Gantz, seem ready to reach a deal, in the name of the national – read Jewish Israeli – interest. Many of the protesters waving Israeli flags in a show of patriotism and in defence of their freedoms do not seem to realise or admit that as long as their colonial Israel maintains its oppressive Jewish supremacy in Palestine, its entrenched system of apartheid will continue to feed into tyrannical fascism and fanaticism. They do not seem to realise or admit that the new generation of rogue religious extremists, like ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, are byproducts of Israel’s occupation and illegal settlement enterprise, and that judging from their large and growing following among Israeli youth, they are destined to become very powerful and very dangerous, as the violent apartheid regime persists.
And while there is no moral equivalence between Israel’s drive for domination and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, the past three decades of apartheid have had similar effects on both the occupier and occupied, strengthening the religious and extremist elements in both societies and threatening new cycles of violence that will in turn lead to more fanaticism. It is not yet clear how or when the present commotion will end, but what is clear is that today’s schism within Israeli society will continue to deepen unless Israel tackles the biggest lie of all: that of being a Jewish democracy, a liberal occupier and a civilised tormentor of another people, the Palestinians. This lie became pervasive in the early 1990s, when the US-sponsored peace process gave Israel the privilege of becoming a prosperous settler-colonial state over 78 percent of historic Palestine – an industrious, liberal state with secular Tel Aviv at its heart, fully integrated into the West and the Middle East – alongside an independent Palestinian state.
The alternative was to continue to expand its illegal Jewish settlements to become an apartheid state like South Africa, stretching over the entirety of historic Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with two separate political systems, economies and infrastructure, dominated by a more fanatic and illiberal “Jewish state” with the religiously charged, occupied Jerusalem at its heart. Arrogant and greedy, Israel rejected the overly generous Palestinian offer of coexistence, believing it could have it both ways – rule over all of Palestine and enjoy peace, prosperity and international legitimacy. This was propagated from the outset by none other than Netanyahu himself, who took power in 1996 after conjuring incitement against the peace process, which had led to the 1995 assassination of his predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin.
Thanks to its American patron, Israel has, for a long while, had it both ways. Over the past 30 years, Washington has shored up Israel’s economy, invested in its high-tech industry, funded its army, and pushed for the normalisation of its relations with much of the world, all the while ignoring the deepening apartheid and mounting violence. But the decades of unconditional American support that have allowed Israel to punch above its weight with chutzpah, and approach the realities of the region with utter disdain, have also enabled the rise of apocalyptic fascism and fanaticism that may well lead to its demise. So, let me be clear, as the deception unravels and the lie catches up with the liar, Israel must end the charade, break out of its Zionist trap, and stop pretending to be both colonial and liberal, Jewish and democratic, secular and fanatic, oppressive and peaceful, apartheid and humane. It is time for Israel to choose wiselky before the fanatics make the choice for it.