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From gutter to sewer – the world’s politicians sneak a look at where Netanyahu will go next

Posted on April 14, 2023

It’s been a curious few weeks for those of us who found ourselves fending off accusations of antisemitism.

With hundreds of thousands of Israel’s citizens taking to the streets to protest against the rightward lurch of Netanyahu’s cabal, even some of that country’s tried-and-tested allies have had their patience tested. British Jews have gathered outside the Israeli embassy, the Board of Deputies has upbraided an Israeli politician for advocating wiping out a Palestinian town and an eminent historian, Simon Schama, has warned of the establishment of a ‘nationalist theocracy.’

In expressing proper concerns about how Israel conducts its affairs, none of these critics have had their views delegitimised as expressions of antisemitism. The cheap conflation of these two separate notions – that questioning Israel’s policies equates to hatred of Jews – has, entirely correctly, been absent from the discourse.

Protests in Israeli and elsewhere are characterised not by home-made, cardboard placards bearing pithy slogans, but by the vigorous waving of the national flag. Those doing the waving fear the dismantling of an independent judiciary to whose judgement government would be answerable. They are concerned about the establishment of unaccountable local militia and of the turning back of the clock on social issues such as gay rights. The slogan ‘defend Israel’s democracy’ is the watchword of all such events.

Peer as much as you like at any of the footage, there’s no breaking up this flag uniformity. There are no Palestinian standards to be seen. This is a private affair. Any saving that’s going to be done will be done by Israelis for Israelis. Given such strength of feeling from his potential electorate, even the staunchly impervious Netanyahu had to take nervous notice. Holed up with his consiglieri, he reached for grubbiest playbook of them all – whistling up the common enemy to provide a convenient distraction.

In doing so, he’s got just the accomplice he needs. His Minister for National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has had multiple inglorious associations with dodgy militia groups. He’s one of many, including members of our own media, who perpetrate the myth that the site of the Al -Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem is ‘contested’, despite this assertion being rejected by most informed opinion. International law prohibits non-Muslim prayer at the site.

This didn’t stop Ben-Gvir, one of whose first acts on taking office had been to enter the site uninvited, allowing over 2,000 Israelis protected by armed forces, entering the mosque compound during Ramadan. As an act of headline-grabbing provocation, it succeeded perfectly. With feelings on all sides suitably enflamed, a resumption of the exchange of unequal ordnance heaped more destruction on the occupied territories. In the febrile atmosphere so generated, a family from North London, literally caught in the crossfire, grimly enabled normal service to be resumed. Politicians traditionally sympathetic to Israel condemned the inhumanity of their assassins. Netanyahu smirkingly led the chorus. Job done.

The story couldn’t be clearer. The victims did nothing wrong. They had every right by the nation’s law to be where they wished to be.

The gunman – and just for absolute clarity, this is not an exoneration of the act – will have seen things differently. The words and actions of Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir are daily reminders that extended settlements will enforce the apartheid that continues to disenfranchise him. As far as Netanyahu’s gang is concerned, going where you wish to go won’t be an option open to most Palestinians any time soon.

Nobody believes that these bull-headed autocrats will take a moment to reflect on the misery their actions cause from Hebron to Hendon. Poking at a furious, if enfeebled, enemy might bring some routine death and destruction, but it remains the smartest political game in town. Let’s just be thankful that our own temperate, compassionate politicians wouldn’t indulge in such loose and dangerous victim-blaming.

As if they’d play the race card when it comes to providing for the safety of our most vulnerable children. To imagine that they’d manufacture a crisis out of handling fewer asylum seekers than any similar country. How could we possibly think that they’d tell us these would be issues we need to worry about when practically every public servant has been on strike in the last few months, doctors’ appointments already have a nostalgic feel, the roads resemble battlefields and our rivers are full of shit.

Plenty, then to be learnt from Israel. And, no, I’m not holding my breath waiting for an apology from the battalion of lame opportunists who wielded the antisemitism accusations so recklessly when it suited them. They’ll hoik this stuff out again if they ever think it’s going to be useful to them. In the meantime, as the man who could be next Prime Minister (and don’t write off the possibility of him fudging it up) sinks into the sewer to play meme-games about toughness on paedophiles, we’d do best not to be diverted. When our own leaders sink that low, we can be sure that there’s something much more important they don’t want us to be looking at.

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