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Opinion | Netanyahu, a Gang Leader Who Can't Go on Serving as Israel's PM

11 October 2023

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in August.

“What we do to the enemy will reverberate for generations,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed in his empty speech on Monday. Instead, he should have adopted Menachem Begin’s famous statement from 1983, “I can’t go on,” which was made after he, too, had thought that what Israel did in Lebanon during the first Lebanon War would reverberate for generations.

Menachem Begin resigned during that war and was replaced by Yitzhak Shamir. With his departure, the consensual lie that you can’t replace a prime minister during wartime also collapsed.

  • Netanyahu’s recklessness has brought war upon Israel

  • Israel's dead: Civilians, soldiers, emergency services personnel killed in war with Hamas

  • Bodies piled up in the Israeli border town of Sderot, with rocket fire as a soundtrack

Israel is now headed by a corrupt leader, a criminal defendant who just a moment ago was investing all his effort in carrying out a judicial coup. He has turned Western governments against him and undermined relations with the U.S. administration. He has marked the army, the Shin Bet security service and a majority of the public as enemies of the people. And now he’s leading the country into a war in which nobody even knows the precise goals, much less the outcome.

This is a prime minister who doesn’t even recognize the need for a national emergency government, because he’s sure he’s irreplaceable. He is now likening himself to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a true leader who has fought bravely against a superpower invasion. Yet Netanyahu himself spent years nurturing the enemy that invaded Israel this week without let or hindrance, on his watch, due to his terrible failure, without accepting even a shred of responsibility.

Shortly before this war began, in the heated but air-conditioned theater of the courtroom, a war for Netanyahu’s political survival was being waged. The Supreme Court was discussing whether it was possible to declare him incapacitated because he violated his conflict of interest agreement. “The petition essentially seeks to declare, without any legal authorization, that millions of citizens took the trouble to exercise their right to vote in vain,” he argued in his defense.

Those same millions of voters, who gave his governing coalition 64 Knesset seats, have since lost hundreds of their relatives. Thousands of their friends have been wounded. Their relatives have been imprisoned in safe rooms for hours, in paralyzing terror, as they tried to find out what had happened to their loved ones without being able to get any answers. And they still don’t know what else awaits them.

So do they have an obligation to remain loyal to the vote they cast 11 months ago, when the situation was “wonderful”? Does their vote grant him an exclusive, absolute, irrevocable right to steer Israel into a war whose end even he doesn’t know, with no plan and no goal?

After all, this is the same prime minister, the same recidivist liar, who, as even many of his voters now realize, is guided by only one principle – saving his own skin. Did he suddenly experience an epiphany that led him to understand the good of the country as well? Is he even fit to determine what the good of the country entails? How nonsensical his call for “national unity” sounds when he is the one who determines who is fit to be a partner in that unity.

This is also the same prime minister who exploited the public legitimacy he gained 11 months ago to put a gun to the state’s head – first through his war on democracy, and now in his mad race toward a war of vengeance. The gun is still on the table, and the price tag attached to it isn’t just smashing our democracy, but also Israelis’ lives.

More than 100 Israelis are now imprisoned, in terrible fear, in cellars and tunnels in the Gaza Strip. And perhaps they have already heard the remarks of the fanatic Sicarii finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who sees them as collateral damage that shouldn’t be taken into account during this holy war.

A prime minister like this is wholly disqualified for office – even if legally, he can find some provision of the law to hide behind, and even if the court rules that a new law making it impossible for the attorney general to declare him incapacitated is a role model for good legislation.

Benjamin Netanyahu won’t suddenly become a leader whom we can expect to accept responsibility. He’s a gang leader who has to be stripped of responsibility, even, and perhaps especially, during wartime. Netanyahu “can’t go on.”


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