Op-Ed: Benjamin Netanyahu is betraying Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during his party's election campaign event in Ramat Gan, Israel on March 4.
(Abir Sultan / EPA-EFE / REX )

In a 2013 interview with Euronews, my late grandfather, Shimon Peres, grew reflective. He had served Israel twice as prime minister and once as president, and he was a member of twelve cabinets and several political parties over decades in public life. Now he was trying to sum up some of what he’d learned along the way.

“I think we live in a world of differences, not in a world of likenesses,” he told the interviewer. “Democracy today is not just the right to be equal but also the equal right to be different, and the person who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand the future of our world.”

My grandfather passed away three years later, in 2016, and he died profoundly worried that the state he had devoted his entire life to building and serving had lost sight of those crucial principles: the right to be equal and the equal right to be different. What has happened in Israel during the years since his death would only increase his concern, because what we’re seeing in Israel at present is the onset of tyranny.


Netanyahu demonstrates daily that he doesn’t understand the parallel rights of all Israelis to be both equal and different.

Today, we have a prime minister who refuses to step down, even when facing indictments in three different cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. We have a prime minister who, over the last decade, has been systematically gutting Israeli democracy and repeatedly attacking its gatekeepers. He has lashed out at President Reuven Rivlin, at top law enforcers, at justices of the Supreme Court and at numerous other public officials and members of the media – in short, at anyone who criticizes his policies.

If Benjamin Netanyahu does not resign, he will be tried in the court of general elections, on April 9. These elections are not about right and left, nor are they about Israel’s next military conflict. They are about Israel’s survival, about its very existence as a democratic, Jewish state.

As Netanyahu has repeatedly demonstrated in the past, he will stop at nothing to stay in power. Just last week he went as far as embracing the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party, known in English as Jewish Power -- the political heirs of the late ultranationalist Meir Kahane, who advocated expelling all Arabs from Israel.

Netanyahu demonstrates daily that he doesn’t understand the parallel rights of all Israelis to be both equal and different. He has actively promoted legislation to constrict the activities of human rights organizations; he has supported legislative attempts to restrict budgetary allocations to universities because of political statements by their professors; he has proposed an amendment to the country’s anti-defamation law that would make it easier to prosecute soldiers speaking out against military actions.

Using democratic processes to nullify democracy is not a Netanyahu invention – he was preceded by Vladimir Putin in Russia, Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and a host of other leaders. And we are now seeing the U.S. president working to nullify democracy in the United States.


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Netanyahu is very good at it. His approach has been to turn up the heat slowly, as in the old story about cooking a frog. By the time the temperature poses an actual life threat, it’s too late. You don’t need tanks in the streets to annihilate democracy; a gradual erosion of rights accomplishes the same thing without nearly as much opposition.

This is not the country my grandfather envisioned. Nor is it the one envisioned by David Ben-Gurion, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Theodor Herzl. People are not fond of admitting that something bad is happening to them. Often, the depth of denial is as great as the breadth of oncoming catastrophe. But it’s time for Israelis to admit that the lump we’ve been ignoring, the one we didn’t see a doctor about, because we didn’t want to hear the truth about it – that lump will kill us if we don’t acknowledge it and deal with it, right now.

We are a young country, but we’ve been through seven wars. Today we face our most dangerous enemy yet: a government that is attacking its own people.

Mika Almog, a columnist and political activist, is author of the short story collection “Tzipiya” (“Anticipation”). She lives in Tel Aviv.