Reprinted from "Haaretz" Friday Supplement 26 December, 1997
[The following is "Haaretz's own English translation available via
Internet on http://www3.Why We Hate Him [Netanyahu]: The Real Reason - by Ari Shavit
Reprinted from "Haaretz" Friday Supplement 26 December, 1997
[The following is "Haaretz's own English translation available via
Internet on http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/htmls/KAT9_2.htm. The
only change in this copy is that the translator confused "choma
sinit" - "Chinese wall" - for The "Great Wall of China". Other
translation errors which do not affect the thrust of the article
have not been changed as well as a paragraph which for some reason
was not included in the translation which appears here in
I walked up the street to buy a few things I needed for Shabbat,
and on the wall near the delicatessen it said "Down with Bibi the
detestable murderer." Then I opened my afternoon paper and there,
on the news page, where they put the facts, it said that Bibi has
no God. That everyone knows that Bibi has no God. So I scanned the
inside pages, with the oversize advertisements taken out by my camp
- the camp of the Sons of Light. The ads said the prime minister
was traitorous, that he was not a human being. Then I looked up
from the newspaper and glanced at the wall across the street where
people post announcements. I saw a dozen beautifully designed
posters, from my camp, the peace camp. "We will not forget and we
will not forgive", said the posters. "We will not forget (the
murder victim) and we will not forgive (the murderer)," said my
camp, the peace camp.
I asked myself what was going on here. What exactly had led to this
lynch atmosphere? Why do our editorial pages read like an endless
string of summary verdicts? Why do our feature pages seem like a
series of firing squads all aimed in one direction? What is it that
ushered in the wild, impassioned, "kill the beast" atmosphere of
bloodletting that is so prevalent in our streets and among our
friends? How is it that upstanding citizens, who normally exhibit
a good, healthy dose of skepticism, have mutated and now bare their
teeth with violently totalitarian self-assurance? And how did it
come to pass that decent, humane people are willingly taking part
in the process of demonization, unabashedly fanning the flames of
hatred for Benjamin Netanyahu?
Only then did I begin to understood that there were two distinct
phenomena here. One is Netanyahu himself, and the other is hatred
of Netanyahu, a crusade that is gradually taking center stage in
our lives. I decided to ask myself the simplest question of all:
Why is it that we hate Benjamin Netanyahu so much?
Is it because our security situation has reached unprecedented lows
during his tenure? Is it because over 200 people have been killed
in our streets and our buses and our shopping centers?
Oops, wrong government. All this happened while Yitzhak Rabin and
Shimon Peres were in charge. At the time, we just kept quiet. We
didn't think it was so terrible. We, who now hate Netanyahu so
much, never even considered the idea of hating Rabin and Peres
because of their responsibility for the bloodshed.
So do we hate Benjamin Netanyahu because he is a brutal prime
minister who used massive military force to achieve strategic
objectives, forcing hundreds of thousands of people out of their
homes? Do we hate Netanyahu because he bears ministerial
responsibility for the warfare that caused the deaths of dozens of
Oops again. It was Yitzhak Rabin who used massive force during
Operation Accountability to achieve strategic objectives, forcing
hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians from their homes. And
it is Shimon Peres who bears direct ministerial responsibility for
the policies that led to the mass killings of innocent victims
during Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon in 1996. At the time,
we simply kept quiet. We didn't think the brutality was so
horrendous. We, who now hate Netanyahu so much, never considered
hating Rabin and Peres for their responsibility for the brutality.
So do we hate Benjamin Netanyahu because during his administration
the social gaps in Israel grew to unprecedented heights, and human
rights legislation came to a halt, and residents of the territories
were subjected to a cruel closure policy, and hundreds were
deported without trial in the middle of the night?
Oops. That happened in the last government too. Yet we remained
silent. We did not think that the injustices were so intolerable.
We, who now hate Netanyahu so much, never considered hating Rabin
and Peres for their responsibility for these acts of injustice.
So, do we hate Benjamin Netanyahu because his government hastily
and recklessly adopted irreversible historic decisions with blatant
disregard for proper procedure, not bothering to take account of
the feelings of half the country, only bothering to receive Knesset
approval after the fact?
Oops. That would be the Rabin and Peres governments. As for
ourselves, we simply remained silent. We did not feel that proper
procedure and fair democratic rules and proper public debate were
so important. We, who hate Netanyahu so much because he is forcing
his worldview upon us, did not even consider hating Rabin and Peres
for the patronizing manner in which they pushed through such a
fateful historic decision, forcing their worldview upon the entire
So the question remains. Why do we hate Benjamin Netanyahu so much?
After all, as of December 25, 1997, Benjamin Netanyahu has not made
a single move that might be interpreted as improper use of force.
Benjamin Netanyahu has not taken a single action that might be
considered a war crime. Benjamin Netanyahu bears responsibility for
less bloodshed and less harm to human rights than the two patrons
of peace who occupied the prime minister's chair before him. So why
do we hate him so much?
[The story which we like to tell ourselves is that we hate Binyamin
Netanyahu because of the very dramatic evidence which has amassed
against him: Liberman, Bar-On, the Tunnel, Mash'al,
the-Left-has-forgotten-what-it-is-to-be-Jewish and being two-faced
at the Likud convention. But if we stop for a moment, if we are
honest with ourselves for a moment, we will be forced to admit that
this story, which we are trying to tell ourselves, doesn't hold
water. Because even though almost all of these validly warrant
criticism, and frequently sharp criticism, of Netanyahu, almost all
of them don't justify or explain the deep hatred for him.
After all, for each of these things there is something just as
dramatic during the period of the previous administration. For the
investigated Liberman there is the investigated Sheves, for the
Shas pal Attorney General Bar On there was family friend Attorney
General Ben Yair. For the mistake of the Tunnel there is the
Temple Mount mistake of Peres, for the fiasco in Amman there are
the Mossad fiascos in Lillehammer and London. Against the
the-Left-has-forgotten-what-it-is-to-be-Jewish (said not for
publication by Netanyahu and received wide publication) there is
what-stupid-Arabs-these-are (said by Peres for publication but not
published at all), and against Netanyahu's two-faced position
regarding Likud primaries there is the no less serious
two-facedness of Yitzhak Rabin on the matter of the Labor Party,
Chaim Ramon and the Histadrut.]
One possible answer: Benjamin Netanyahu unravels the stitching that
binds our obligations as members of a democracy and our obligations
as peace supporters.
A few words of explanation are in order: One of the biggest
problems of the Israeli democratic model is the problem of dual
roles played by its elite class. The same people who fill the ranks
of the peace elite also fill the ranks of the democratic-process
elite. Yet because these two publics draw from the same
demographic pool - those who are committed to the idea of peace in
its radical-dovish version are the same journalists, jurists and
academics who dictate civil and judicial norms - a situation has
evolved whereby the members of one particular camp are forced to
wear three or four hats: they play on one of the competing teams,
they serve as the referee for the competing groups, and they report
and comment on the game between the competing teams.
This scenario is fundamentally unethical and untenable. The only
way that we members of the elite can withstand the challenge is by
building a sort of internal Great Chinese Wall, which would
maintain an absolute division between our contrasting missions.
Here and there, attempts have been made to build this Great Wall.
However, since the 1992 elections - since we began to feel that the
majority was on our side, since we began to think we had a chance
to throw our opponents onto the trash heap of history - all the
lines of demarcation have been blurred. Instead of constituting a
normative elite we have become just another one of the savage
tribes inhabiting this land. Step by step, we have lost the ability
of self-criticism, lost any sense of good taste and shame. We no
longer hesitate to use whatever influence we can muster as
referees, reporters and commentators to influence the results of
the game in our favor. We will do whatever it takes - Chinese Wall
be damned - to ensure our final victory. To vanquish, once and for
all, the Sons of Darkness on the opposing team.
Yet despite these efforts - despite our determination not to hold
an open democratic referendum on the question of peace, opting
instead to make it a retroactive vote on facts that had already
been set in motion - the moment of truth came. And when the
long-overdue plebiscite on the peace process was finally held on
May 29, 1996, the Israeli public told us no. The Israeli public
Thus, for us, for the enlightened elite, since the morning of May
30, we have been forced to contend with a situation we could not
control. On the one hand, wearing our hat as the democratic elite,
we well understood that the people had had their say. And the word
of the people is final. As members of a democracy, we knew that
government policy would reflect the will of the majority.
But on the other hand, when we put on our peace elite hat, it is
obvious that we cannot accept the voter's verdict at face value. We
expect that despite the decision of the voter, Netanyahu will
continue to implement our peace policies. We expect him to betray
his and his voters' own sensibilities.
After all, despite the fact that we strut around wearing our
liberal plumage, we have no doubts at all regarding the justice of
our cause. Like Gush Emunim and Neturei Karta, it is crystal clear
to us that our truth is the only authentic truth. And since the
questions on the table have to do with peace and war, life and
death, we find it unacceptable that they be decided by an Israeli
voting public that is, as we all know, not entirely serious and not
entirely rational, not entirely secular and not at all white.
The mechanism we have developed to work our way out of this tangle
is to work up a psychosis of hatred for the elected prime minister.
To hate him and hate his wife and hate his children. And while we
revel in this hatred of all things Bibi, we will feel no
compunctions as we trample every cultural norm and every basic
concept of fairness.
We will convince ourselves that the prime minister is the devil
incarnate. That he is an alien being who by some fraudulent scheme
seized hold of the reins of power. He murdered and then he seized
But there is a deeper motive for the hatred we feel for Benjamin
Netanyahu. Here too some background is called for: In the early
90's, and especially the spring and summer of 1992, the autumn and
winter of 1993, and the spring and autumn of 1994, we, the
enlightened Israelis, were infected with a messianic craze. Almost
without noticing it, our peace movement, which had always been so
rational and sober, full of phlegmatic reserve, began to whirl
itself into an ecstatic Kabbalistic dervish trance. All of a
sudden, we believed that the great global changes underway at the
end of the millennium were signaling us that the end of the old
Middle East was near. The end of history, the end of wars, the end
of the conflict. Like the members of any other messianic movement,
we decided to hasten the end, and anointed Yitzhak Rabin as our
Yitzhak Rabin was a demonstratively un-messianic person. But for
that very reason, because of his reserve and his decency, he was
just right for the role we carved out for him. No one could ever
suspect Rabin of charlatanism. Meanwhile, we began to pitch our
tents around him, dancing around and demanding that he perform
miracles for us. That he make a Western Europe out of the Middle
East. That he fashion us a Norway out of the Land of Israel and
Palestine. Yitzhak Rabin stood there, blushing and embarrassed,
knowing that there was something a little suspicious about all the
commotion being made, that our apocalyptic prognostications had
gone too far. Yet the reveling around Baba Rabin went on. He let it
continue, not wanting to disappoint us. He saw how excited we were,
and thought why not? Maybe it will work.
But even then, back in the autumn of 1993, Netanyahu was the
naysayer. The heretic. Even then he did not raise his voice and did
not yell. He'd travel alone from village to village and town to
town, repeating in his cool, unemotional voice and stern gaze that
we were intoxicated with the fantasy. That we were humiliating
ourselves, making a joke of ourselves.
In the beginning, during the first months, Netanyahu did not bother
us too much. He was marginal, practically an eccentric. He was a
tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it.
But gradually, it became clear that the scenario was not as
straightforward as we had believed it would be, that there was
something a bit more complex going on here, that there were still
loose strings having to do with identity, history and culture,
fundamental existential problems. Benjamin Netanyahu began to annoy
us more and more. The more reality pushed aside our ecstatic mirage
of the oasis in the desert, which had enraptured us to the point of
sensory overload, the more Benjamin Netanyahu annoyed us. To the
point that when reality finally rushed in, when terrorism struck
and Yitzhak Rabin was murdered and we found ourselves once again
part of the cruel and complex history from which we thought we had
extricated ourselves, it was obvious to us who was to blame. The
naysayer was to blame. The Judas Iscariot was to blame. The
murderer of the Messiah was to blame.
When all is said and done, the truth is that we hate Benjamin
Netanyahu so much because the hatred makes life easier for us.
Because this hatred responds to our deepest emotional needs.
Because hatred of Netanyahu saves us from having to deal with our
own internal contradictions and errors. And because hatred of
Netanyahu enables us to conveniently forget that before the bubble
burst, we had acted like fools. We fooled ourselves with illusions.
We were bedazzled into committing a collective act of messianic
Hatred of Netanyahu also gives us a chance to forget that it was
not the rise of Netanyahu that brought on the paralysis of Oslo but
the paralysis of Oslo that brought on the rise of Netanyahu. The
hatred permits us to keep harboring the notion that everything is
really much more simple, that if we only pull back, if we only
recognize Palestinian statehood.... The hatred lets us divert our
attention from the renewed strength of the Egyptian army, from the
pinpoint accuracy of the Syrian missiles, from the Iraqi anthrax
and from the Iranian nuclear program. Thanks to our hatred of
Netanyahu, we can convince ourselves that if we only beat up our
prime minister a little harder, if we could only manage to break
his political bones, if we could only vanquish him and get him out
of our lives, then everything would revert to the simple, sweet
life that once was. Once again, like in the spring and summer of
1992, and the autumn and winter of 1993, we would be able to breath
in that exhilarating, heady aroma of the end of history, the end of
wars, the end of the conflict. The intoxicating taste of the end of