Monday, March 23, 2015

800 Words: The Origins of Shoah Bet Part 2

But it was the very perilousness of Israel’s situation that made Netanyahu’s attempts to create a securer Israel so extraordinary in its danger. There were many right-wing administrations before Netanyahu, some brutally so, but the Netanyahu administration was the first in Israel’s history to so covet an honored place among nations that he would attempt to take it by force.

Benyamin Netanyahu’s relationship to the West, and particularly to America, was Shakespearean in its tragic depth. He was a modern-day Saul whose premiership followed a long series of Davids and Solomons. Like his biblical antecedent, he was the king nobody wanted - a Nixonian figure, anointed by whatever god controls destiny as a leader of convenience, isolated upon his throne and beloved by nobody. If the ‘founding generation’ of Rabin, Peres, and Sharon inspired their followers with pre-1948 visions of what Israel could become, then Netanyahu, Prime Minister for nearly as long as those three leaders combined and the first and only Prime Minster born after the State’s founding, represented with eerie exactitude what Israel seemed to be. Netanyahu exemplified everything with which the modern Israeli was stereotyped - intransigent, overachieving, bellicose, temperamental, brilliant in precisely that low cunning sort of way that history falsely associates with Judaism from time immemorial, and symbiotic with turn-of-the-century America to the point that he seemed to control it like a puppet.

And yet the ironies of how he came to exemplify the modern Israel are stupendous. Netanyahu was descended from Israel's intellectual royalty. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, was one of his era’s most eminent scholars of Jewish history and served as personal secretary to Ben-Gurion’s most eminent right-wing rival, Ze’ev Jabotinsky. His uncle, Elisha Netanyahu, was a famous mathematician and dean of Israel’s once-famed science institute - the Techniyon. His aunt, Shoshana Netanyahu, was an Israeli Supreme Court Justice, and his grandfather, Nathan Mielikowski (later Netanyahu), was a writer who moved in the earliest Zionist circles and was widely known as early Zionism’s greatest orator. As an older man living in Palestine, Mielikowski broke so definitively with mainstream Zionism that he personally defended the two men accused of assassinating the eminent left-wing Zionist leader, Chaim Arlozoroff.

Still more ironic is that Netanyahu was perhaps more American than he was Israeli. Until he turned forty, a full half his life was spent in the United States. So privileged was Netanyahu’s upbringing that he lived the majority of his formative years not in scrappy early Israel but in then-prosperous Philadelphia, where his father was a tenured professor. After five years of army service, he spent the majority of his twenties as an architecture student and economist in Boston, and spent the majority of his thirties as a high-ranking ambassador - first in DC as Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to the United States, and then in New York as Ambassador to the United Nations. From the beginning of his career, Netanyahu was fast-tracked because of his Americanness during a period when Israel began to look to America as its sole ally of consequence. Like the far more diplomatically suited Abba Eban before him, Netanyahu spoke an English so beautifully eloquent that he easily out-orated most of his American allies in their mother tongue. In time he became, in so many ways, the right-wing leader turn-of-the-century Republicans desired for America. But only an Israeli intellectual could covet an honoured place among American conservatives at the moment when the American Conservative was the most hated person on the planet.

Whereas Yitzhak Rabin presonified a "Sabra" who seemed just as comfortable on a Kibbutz as he was with a rifle (even though he grew up in Tel Aviv and his knowledge of farming was purely by academic training), and Shimon Peres's elegant polish personified the 'Yekke' - one of the sophisticated German Jews of intellectual bent who were so important to giving Israel credibility in the world's eyes during its early years (even though he was actually from Polish peasant stock), and Ariel Sharon seemed like the ultimate 'Chayyal', the soldier who exemplified the fighting spirit that was so crucial to Israel's establishment (even though he grew more obese with every promotion), Netanyahu seemed to have nothing of Israel's pioneer spirit about him. To Israelis, he exemplified the 'Yordim,' Israelis who left Israel in the 50's and 60's and were heavily looked down upon because they left Israel at its time of greatest need. But once the Yordim and their children began to return, richer and with extremely valuable work experience, the wisdom from the outside world which they accumulated made them re-embraced. To the world, Netanyahu was Israel, but to Israel, Netanyahu was the world - the wider world they longed to see and take their place among as an equal member. 

But to Netanyahu himself, he was Israel's conscience - all that stood between Israel and the second Holocaust he unwittingly helped to facilitate. The more he saw of the wider world, the more afraid he became of it, and the more determined he became to protect Israelis who slept soundly in their beds, not knowing the horrors which could await them without his protection. At the heart of Netanyahu's worldview was his father's. His father lived to the ripe old age of 102, and in his many years, pronounced so many apocalypses that some of them had to come true. At Benzion's 100th birthday celebration, the son recalled his father uncanny prescience about antisemitic elements - having predicted the European Holocaust in 1937, the attack by Islamic fundamentalists upon the World Trade Center in the early 1990's, and towards the end of his life, the nuclear attack in Israel arranged by the Iranian government.   

In an era that saw the height of the Bush family, Osama bin-Laden, Vladimir Putin, Kim-Jong Un, Bashar al-Assad, Viktor Orban, Tayyip Erdogan, and the toppling of Qaddafi and Mubarak, there was not a single world leader who inspired the vitriol heaped upon Netanyahu. The more hated he became by the wider world, the more determined he became to isolate Israel from her remaining allies. The more Israel’s Arab neighbors grew militant, the more his heart was hardened to match them militance for militance. The greater the gulf between the world’s criticism of Israel and its excusal of her neighbors’ intransigence, the more determined Netanyahu became to show his contempt with actions that seemed designed to make his people all the more hated.

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