10 March 2015
An endless coup against Netanyahu?
With his party trailing in some polls are Israel's parliamentary election draws near, Prime Minister Netanyahu rails this week against a "worldwide effort" to ensure his defeat at the polls. Outsiders, he believes, are trying to influence the vote, whether through money or pure propaganda, presumably to put leaders in power more willing to compromise with the Palestinians, the Iranians, etc., in a way Netanyahu himself worries would compromise Israeli security. He has a problem that looks familiar to American election watchers. While foreigners are forbidden from donating to Israeli politicians and parties, they can support nebulous non-profit organizations that take political stands. How much this is happening in Israel I can't say. Netanyahu's party, or at least his defense minister, is also playing a sort of ethnic card, blaming English-speaking Israelis for inflaming leftists and Palestinians against the Likud government. Perhaps some of Netanyahu's many friends in the Republican party can help him out of this jam; they're likely to have more influence in Israel than they ever will in Iran, where the GOP's open letter to the leadership warning against any deal with President Obama has only riled things up further. In any event, how different is Netanyahu's denunciation of a worldwide conspiracy from Nicolas Maduro's charge of an endless coup against his Venezuelan government? Both men have Obama as an enemy, at least in their own minds, despite Netanyahu's diplomatic words of praise before Congress last week. The main difference, presumably, is that Netanyahu isn't going to start rounding up leaders of the opposition parties, or at least the leaders of the Zionist Union that may defeat him. Still, both leaders have an unhealthy tendency to identify domestic opponents with foreign interests, and Netanyahu's outburst proves, at least to the domestic opposition, that he's become nearly as delusional, or at least dishonest, as Americans perceive Maduro to be. While Netanyahu is a man of the global Right and Maduro of the global Left, we may perceive here a common quality of revolutionary regimes like Venezuela's and settler nations like Israel. Leaders in both cases perceive their nation or movement's position as precarious and persistently besieged. They face an authoritarian temptation to see themselves as uniquely qualified national saviors; Republican praise in the U.S. for Netanyahu as a Churchillian figure may have freshly fueled such self-regard in him. Netanyahu is clearly more of a classical liberal than Maduro may ever be, but he also represents the curdled form of liberalism that calls itself conservatism and has defined itself for nearly a century in opposition to a global conspiracy against liberty. As a conservative, he sees his country's legitimacy and its victories in war as settled facts and thus can portray his Muslim antagonists as the aggressors in the Middle East. But the insecurity implicit in his paranoid rhetoric -- one campaign commercial suggests that victory for the Israeli left will open the door to ISIS -- tells a different story. Israel may not be as socialist now as it was at its birth, but it remains, for good or ill, a revolutionary state in its region, and like the alleged paranoids in Venezuela it does have enemies and advocates of counterrevolution. This alone doesn't mean that Netanyahu will become a dictator some day, or Israel a dictatorship under someone else, but despite a relatively respectable commitment to liberal values, the country's situation means that the potential is always there.