As cities throughout America are roiled by massive Black Lives Matter protests (including my hometown, Seattle, and more notably, neighboring Portland facing its 53rd night of protests), Israel faces equally powerful unrest of a different sort. A few months ago, I wrote extensively about the problematic nature of Israel’s response to Covid19. It turns out that my criticisms were dwarfed by an even worse blunder by Bibi Netanyahu. Once the numbers of cases and deaths shrank, he believed he had weathered the worst and decided it was time to reopen the economy (much like his pal, Donald Trump). He reopened restaurants and cafes and fully reopened schools. These turned out to be disastrous decisions, especially the latter. Young children got sick and brought Covid19 home to their parents. Teachers got sick and died. As of yesterday, there were 2,000 new cases and Israel now has 400 deaths. Compare that to Cuba, a country with 2-million more citizens (12-million) and more than 25% less deaths (90).
The Israeli health ministry has mangled the response. Recently, the deputy minister resigned in protest because her advice was ignored by Netanyahu. For months, Netanyahu has tried to appoint a Covid19 czar to manage the government’s response. But no one will take the job because control-freak Netanyahu refuses to give the official the powers necessary to do the job. Candidates have correctly determined that they would have all the blame but none of the authority to combat the epidemic.
Netanyahu has made feeble attempts to offer economic relief to citizens, but his proposals have been derided or defeated in the Knesset. As a result citizens are increasingly fed up. Israelis are not a calm, patient people. Isaiah even called his fellow Jews “a stiff-necked people.” They are quick to anger and easily aroused when it concerns their own pocketbook. A former IDF general launched a people movement called Black Flag, and organized protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. When the police arrested him and threw him in prison, it jumpstarted a movement.
The latest news shows that rallies in 200 cities demanded Netanyahu’s resignation. They also demanded economic relief. But it appears they will get neither–at least in the foreseeable future.
As support for the government collapses, including both the senior Likud partner and junior Blue and White partner, they have even less reason to abandon ship. For either party to do so, there would have to be a political upside–and there is no upside in facing the people’s wrath in an election.
As if this wasn’t enough drama, Netanyahu will have to begin attending his court hearings three times a week regarding three counts of corruption for which he’s being tried. But there will be no quick resolution of the proceedings as it is scheduled to continue well into January 2021.
The bitterest comment I’ve read is from one of Haaretz’s few Palestinian columnists, Odeh Bisharat: Israelis may complain about the rough treatment meted out to him by Bibi’s police goons, but they’re lucky they’re not Palestinians. If it were, they’d be facing bullets instead of batons.
Like Trump, Netanyahu has responded with wild lies and mischaracterizations of his opponents. The most outrageous is one heard yesterday. It concerns the Wexner Foundation, one of the wealthiest Jewish foundations in the U.S. It is funded by billionaire retailer, Leslie Wexner, who had a years-long, business partnership with accused pedophile, Jeffrey Epstein.
The latter specialized in currying favor with the rich and famous, inviting them to his Caribbean island and his Manhattan mansion. Among these celebrities was former prime minister, Ehud Barak. Barak has never been known as a Boy Scout. He took a few million from the Foundation in what appears to be somewhat shady circumstances. But his behavior, till now, hasn’t been much worse than previous prime ministers or presidents who’ve gone to prison after criminal convictions.
Netanyahu is, with a straight face, accusing Barak of taking Wexner’s money and using it to fund the current wave of protests. Of course, Epstein is dead and Wexner severed his relationship with him over a decade ago. But that hasn’t stopped Netanyahu from beating this dead horse.
Just as Trump seeks to sow chaos in Portland and other American cities in order to blame Democrats and win the election, the fake charges against Wexner and Barak are like throwing a match into an oil tank. He hopes to start a mass conflagration and blame his enemies for it. It’s something like the Reichstag fire was for the Nazis. But unlike Hitler, it will not work for Bibi.
These wild accusations are reminiscent of similar anti-Semitic slurs leveled against George Soros by Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban and U.S. white supremacists alike. According to Trump, Soros has funded everything from the Mexican caravan seeking asylum in the U.S. to the Black Lives Matter protests. It’s no accident that Netanyahu uses the same tactics as rabid anti-Semitic neo-Nazis. After all, he is a Israeli version of them.
Emblematic of the crisis facing Israel, is the way Netanyahu has dealt with his own residence in Jerusalem. In the old days, one could walk past the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street as if it was any other home in the city. But no longer. Now there are massive rows of police barricades, and at times there is a dark black curtain drawn to hide the goings-on behind it. As if Netanyahu or his security force feared an assassination attempt and from his embittered fellow citizens. Another explanation may lie with Sara Netanyahu, who has an especially paranoid outlook on almost everything. The curtain gave rise to the especially powerful video featured above.