The Encyclopedia Britannica defines anarchism as a “cluster of doctrines and attitudes centered on the belief that government is both harmful and unnecessary.” There is one person who clearly embodies this worldview in Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nobody does more damage than he to the legitimacy of the regime and its institutions. Nobody has caused greater destruction to the government, Knesset, political parties, army and law enforcement more than he has.
Left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak and his peers at the protests in the West Bank village of Bil’in will have to forgive me, and the anarchists of the “Jerusalem faction” of ultra-Orthodox Jews will have to as well, but they can only be jealous of the man from Balfour Street who has trampled the national flag even more than they have – and with greater success.
It’s no surprise that Netanyahu and members of his court are calling those who protest against them “anarchists.” The encyclopedia says that political rivals called each other this back in the days of the French Revolution. But in Israel of 2020, the protest is in reverse: The protesters want a strong state and not to be free of authority or of the rule of law and order. They want the prime minister to face his criminal trial the same as any other citizen would, for the government to take care of the unemployed and of the businesses that have gone under during the coronavirus crisis, for enforcement of social-distancing regulations to be transparent and made clear to the public at large.
But Netanyahu insists on neutralizing the checks and balances that still limit his rule and on replacing the political system with “direct action.” And on shaking up the country – instead of leading a stable and responsible government that bows to its laws and their representatives – with an ongoing revolution.
It seems as if the book that has influenced Netanyahu the most is Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” Like the book’s protagonist, Howard Roark, Netanyahu also studied architecture, before he switched to business administration. But even after he went from designing buildings to leading a country, he stayed faithful to Rand’s philosophy, like his friends on the American right.
Like Roark, Netanyahu believes that geniuses like him must be exempt from the limitations placed on simple, less exemplary people. He believes that the masses must recognize his special talents and clear his path, rather than place obstacles in his way – among them “the attorney general,” “the Lahav 433 unit of the police,” “the treasury’s budget director” or the “state comptroller’s permits committee.”
The clauses in criminal law regarding corruption were intended for the “riff-raff,” not for him. People such as Likud lawmaker Yifat Shasha-Biton, who demand authority and adhere to protocol, are bothersome flies to him that need to be banished.
While his competitors clawed their way up the ranks by their fingernails from squad commander to army general, or from the backbenches of the Knesset to some junior government portfolio – Netanyahu sprung almost directly to the top and always looked down on other officials and institutions. Their significance, in his eyes, depends on the political needs of the moment, and as long as he sits in his seat he will seek to destroy them.
That’s how it went with Netanyahu’s failed proposal to annul the role of the presidency in order to prevent Reuven Rivlin from getting the job, with his opposition to the chief of staff in the affair of Elor Azaria, the so-called Hebron shooter, and with his demand to revoke the Knesset’s role of monitoring the government.
The climax was, of course, the speech of his life that Netanyahu gave at the opening of his trial: Who are you to judge me, he demanded to know, as he declared war on the country’s law enforcement agencies. Instead of the institutions we know from our dusty old civics textbooks, Netanyahu has created a regime of direct rule via his son Yair’s Twitter account, right-wing media critics and organizations such as the Kohelet Policy Forum. These channels compete with each other in their mockery and derision of established legal institutions and political and economic systems. And it’s all for the sake of the leader, despite the verifiable certainty that he will kick them out too, if and when the need arises.
All that remains is to wait and see, whether like Rand’s Roark, his idol, Netanyahu also winds up destroying the building at the end of the story, as a real anarchist would.