Israel Pulse

Netanyahu champion of 'don’t worry' approach

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Article Summary
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has adopted the careless approach of some of his predecessors, reassuring Israelis that "everything is gonna be alright."

Associates of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on the morning of April 30 that he was about to reveal amazing facts related to the Iranian nuclear agreement. That evening, Netanyahu addressed the public on live TV, exposing files and CDs retrieved by Mossad agents. This well-orchestrated "performance" of Netanyahu was also accompanied by a slide show.

What was going through the mind of Netanyahu when he decided to summon the international and Israeli media for his standup performance? Did he assume that his tiresome, childish presentation would blind viewers to the fact that he was selling them used goods? Could he have hoped that the fake drama he engineered based on secret Iranian nuclear files would convince the leaders of Europe, China and Russia to jettison the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran? Might Netanyahu have believed that he was presenting US President Donald Trump with the “smoking gun” enabling him to withdraw from the pact come the May 12 deadline for his decision?

One frightening answer to these questions is that Netanyahu is riding high on the Iranian files to divert attention from the police investigations dogging him and his wife. An equally frightening answer lies in a speech delivered in 1992 by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to top military brass, blasting the ubiquitous Israeli panacea “yihiye beseder,” Hebrew for “everything will be fine” — in short, “It’s OK.”

“This phrase, which many of us hear in Israel’s day-to-day life, is intolerable. These two words usually conceal all the things that aren’t OK: arrogance and an exaggerated feeling of self-confidence, power and authority, which are uncalled for,” Rabin said.

So what if the public finds out that the covert “revelations” in Netanyahu’s presentation are already incorporated into the overt reporting of the International Atomic Energy Agency? It’s OK. And what will we do if these “revelations” result in an abrogation of the nuclear agreement and renewal of the Iranian nuclear program? Not to worry, it’s OK. What if the “revelations” convince Trump that the Iranians must not be trusted and the United States and Israel are dragged into a made-in-Israel war? No worries, it’s OK. “Unfortunately, the 'hafif' atmosphere,” Rabin said — using the Arabic vernacular for “carelessness” — “is eating us up." And even though we have learned the hard and painful way that "everything will be fine" means that a lot of things aren't OK, the carelessness modus still dominates us.

Following is an additional example of the irresponsible, careless attitude displayed by the prime minister over the past week. On April 28, the Israel National News website reported that fans of the Premier League soccer club in the Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin were heard whistling and booing during a moment of silence in memory of 10 Israeli youths from a pre-military academy killed in flash floods while hiking. According to the bulletin of the conservative right, “the derogatory whistling was heard loud and clear.” It even quoted fans who said they felt they were “deep inside the area of the Palestinian Authority and not in Israel.” The following day, radical right-wing lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir reportedly lodged a complaint with the Israel Football Association against the Bnei Sakhnin club.

At noon, Netanyahu’s Facebook page posted the report, headlining it “disgraceful.” Without asking his army of aides and spokespeople to check the veracity of the report, Netanyahu demanded that “all public leaders — Jews and non-Jews alike — strongly condemn this shameful conduct.” However, three sports writers present at the stadium said they had not heard a single whistle. The owner of the rival Hapoel Ra'anana team, Asher Alon, who was also present at the site, said the fans’ behavior was exemplary. “I would have expected the prime minister to check rather than to spread unjustified hatred,” Alon said, demanding that Netanyahu apologize to Bnei Sakhnin. To date, no apology has emerged from the prime minister’s office; Netanyahu was surely busy rehearsing for his standup dedicated to the salvation of the Israeli people. Only four days later was the post removed from Netanyahu’s Facebook page.

In fact, the “disgraceful’’ post of Netanyahu showed not only the report about Bnei Sakhnin, but also contained the headline about the flooding. And so, the April 26 flood drowning tragedy, nonchalantly linked to the ongoing delegitimization of Israel’s Arab citizens, also became a victim of the “it’s OK” disease. The media broadcast warnings about flooding in the dry, southern riverbeds? The academy counselor said everything would be fine. The weather service suggested postponing hikes in the treacherous Negev Desert wadis prone to flash floods at the time of year? The officials at the Ministry of Education’s situation room knew all would be well. But how can we complain about a youth counselor and government clerks when the country’s leadership has turned the quick draw into an accepted norm?

For years, successive Israeli governments abetted the crowding of African asylum-seekers into the disadvantaged neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv. Then they encouraged the veteran residents to eschew the newcomers. In early April, we heard Netanyahu announce a superb agreement with the United Nations on the asylum-seekers issues. Several hours later, that same Netanyahu announced the premature death of the fledgling deal.

Netanyahu and the political right did not invent the “it’s OK” syndrome. Rabin himself and the Labor Party he headed showed them the way. The settlement enterprise launched on their watch is an intrinsic example of catastrophic carelessness. Back in the 1960s, when Israel took control of Palestinian territories in the 1967 Six-Day War, there were those who warned against sinking in the mud of the occupation. It’s OK, Rabin and his Labor Party colleagues Shimon Peres, then-minister of defense, and Yisrael Galili said, and approved the establishment of the settlement of Ofra. They were warned that ruling another people would eventually result in apartheid. They said everything would be fine and signed the plans for the establishment of the settlement town of Ariel. On the eve of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Israel was informed by an Egyptian agent, Ashraf Marwan, that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was about to send troops to cross the Suez Canal into the Israeli-held Sinai Peninsula. It’s OK, not to worry, most of the generals told Prime Minister Golda Meir.

The irony is that the “it’s OK” ailment cost Rabin his life. In the year that preceded his 1995 assassination, the corridors of the Shin Bet agency buzzed with reports of intentions to attack the prime minister who was making peace with the Palestinians, and pronouncements to that effect were heard. Although they were aware of the risk, those responsible for guarding Rabin did not change their security protocols.

The accepted method of curbing the “it’s OK” threat is to bolster the decision-making circles around officials and institutions empowered to determine people’s fate. And what does Netanyahu do? He pushes forward a bill that strips the government of authority to declare war and transfers the power to the prime minister and defense minister. Israelis can only raise their eyes heavenward and pray — that everything will indeed be OK.

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Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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