Nuancing Netanyahu

When asked to comment on the Israeli film, Oslo Diaries, I noted that I see it as a valuable perspective on a missed opportunity for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. it is a sobering reminder that there were sincere proponents for peace on the Palestinian side. I also noted but that that the movie is a “hatchet job,” on Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

A friend wrote that if it is a “hatchet job,” it is a deserved “hatchet job.” He then went on to ask rhetorically if Netanyahu’s silence in the face of right wing sentiment against Yitzhak Rabin and Netanyahu’s words contributed to Rabin’s death. (Indeed that rhetoric is replayed often on Israeli television as the anniversary of Rabin’s death approaches each year.)

History has made Rabin the fallen crusader for peace, and indeed his death was a tragedy that set back progress to peace that has not begun to move forward since.

Still, to simply blame Netanyahu for the sorry state of current Israeli- Palestinian peace negotiations or lack thereof is an oversimplification.

I wrote back to my friend:

As you recall, I began my remarks about the film by saying, “I am no fan of the current Prime Minister of Israel.”

Further, I hope he will be indicted on criminal charges, and on more than one occasion I have publicly called for him to resign.

I also believe history will hold him accountable as your letter suggests, for his rhetoric in the days before Rabin’s assassination.

So I don’t disagree that he “deserves” it.

But  …

We often make the same mistake with Netanyahu that many who oppose President Trump make. In attempts to vilify them (even if they “deserve “it) we fail to apprehend and appreciate what makes them popular enough with so many people that they are elected (in Netanyahu’s case repeatedly) to the highest office in the land.

Netanyahu is now the person who has served Israel as prime minister longer than anyone else in its history. Is it only because Israelis are fools or greedy grabbers of Palestinian lands and oppressors of The Palestinian people? Or do we from the safety of Sanibel fail to grasp the existential threat to its existence, which Israel has lived (or perceives with lots of good reason that it lives) since well before it officially became a state? Do we fail to understand that most of Israel’s population descends from those who fled as refugees from Arab countries that robbed their families of homes, possessions, fortunes and lives?

They arrived in Israel with the shirts on their backs where they were absorbed, housed, taught a new language and the skills to make a living. They don’t trust the Arabs or any promises they would make.

Another significant percentage are refugees or descendants of refugees from the Former Soviet Union that backed the Arab world in their struggles against Israel. They, too, have no confidence that the Arab world will honor a commitment to peace with Israel.

Finally, there remain descendants of holocaust refuges who are well aware that Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League joined forces with Hitler, and vowed to perpetrate the destruction of Israel in a way that will remind the world of the Mongolian massacres.

Netanyahu – whether we like it or not — effectively speaks to their fears, and if we ignore those fears, we can never understand Israel’s reality, as we should.

So, just to say he “deserves it” should not blind us to the propaganda motive inherent in a film released just as an Israeli election campaign is getting underway.