Despite the allegations of fraud and bribery swirling around Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as Israel heads, yet again, for another election, Bibi, as he is affectionately known by the Israeli public, still has his nose in front in the polls.
Why is it that, despite the Prime Minister facing charges of breach of trust, the Israeli public’s trust in him has not yet been breached?
One can put it down to the principle of fairness and justice, that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Bibi’s defensive drumbeat has been “there is no there there,” or as he puts it, “there will be nothing because there is nothing,” referring to his belief that the facts and evidence will acquit him.
I believe the motive of the mass of Israelis to stick with Bibi has a more basic instinct.
Simply put, staying alive.
Some anticipate watching the impending hearings and possible indictment as spectators about to witness the biggest trial in Israeli history. But the majority of Israelis feel personally invested in his fate, many fearing that his replacement will not keep them as safe as he has done both internationally and on the international stage.
In the terror years of 2000-2009, before Netanyahu was elected to office, 1072 Israelis were killed by Palestinians. Since becoming Prime Minister in 2009, and despite incessant Palestinian terrorism and rocket attacks, only 196 Israelis have been killed.
Israelis heightened sense of security makes them sensitive to the need to stick with a tried and tested leader with expertise on the international stage, rather than gamble with alternative candidates that fail the basic question “What would you do differently?”
Staying alive is what motivates Israelis to stick with the leader they have rather than live with the consequences of an alternative, as of now, unproven national and relatively unknown international leader at a time of constant threats from enemies near and far.
Every Israeli citizen knows somebody who was killed during the decades of Palestinian terror and rocket warfare.
Abroad, people read in the newspaper or see on their TV screens events that happen in places they almost never visit. Israelis do not watch the news as voyeurs staring at the tragic lives of others. They view the tragedies of fellow Jews as if they are part of their own family, because often they are.
Israelis, collectively, live in a world of constant conflict. They feel they live on a diverse and democratic island surrounded by a sea of haters who want to see them dead.
Israelis are constantly hectored by the international community that they have to make peace with people who are committed not to accept their existence, but also want to kill them.
From, “O Muslim, there’s a Jew behind me. Come out and kill him” (Hamas), to “Jews filthy feet” and “We bless every drop of blood that has been split for Jerusalem” (Mahmoud Abbas), Israelis fully understand the anti-Semitic message of a Palestine “from the river to the sea.” They have stopped believing in peace, especially the deceptive two-state solution, which is nothing more than a dog whistle for the staged destruction of Israel.
They are suspicious of any party whose platform advances this roadmap to Israel’s eventual demise. The question they fire at opposition leaders heading to the elections is “What would you do differently to Bibi?”
They are not getting any coherent alternative.
Every Israeli family is personally invested in Israel’s defense and security. They see their sons become responsible men willing to give their lives to protect them and their homeland.
Professor Asa Kasher of Tel Aviv University recently 11compared Israeli students to American students. Life-changing experiences that the Israeli students have by serving their country in the IDF matures them, makes them more patriotic.
As he told the Jerusalem Report, “In the US when you teach (American) undergrads, you call them kids. Their general attitude toward the world is more similar to that of kid’s than to that of Israeli ex-soldiers.”
“Think about young officers, very early in their military service,” Asher explained. “Some are slightly older than 20, many are younger. They shoulder quite a heavy responsibility. They have a responsibility to the defense of the state, and a responsibility for the lives of their subordinates. It is,” he said, “a very heavy responsibility that most American students don’t ever shoulder.”
He went on. “They know more, they have experience dealing with responsibility and risk, and they have experience sometimes losing comrades, so they’re more accomplished adults.”
The word “maturity” comes to mind.
We will see this development in my family, having just inducted a grandson, son, brother, nephew, into an IDF fighting unit. It is clear to all of us that he is likely to see action during his three-year service. It’s a worrying time, and “staying alive” lies behind the blessing we gave him to come back in one piece.
Being realistic Israelis, we said “piece,” not “peace.”
It’s a sad reflection of the times we are living through.
So, we head to elections knowing that our close proximity enemies, and those further afield, are still alive and killing.
That’s why staying alive will remain a motivating factor as Israelis go to the polls next month.
Barry Shaw is the International Public Diplomacy Director at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS, and Anti-Semitism.’