Ari Shavit
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 15, 2011 - 1:00am

We have never been so ugly. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu seeks to silence the call to prayer over the loudspeakers of the country's mosques, and to shut down Channel 10 television. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman expresses support for the Russian "democtator" who has just rigged elections. Defense Minister Ehud Barak stands by while Jewish settlers victimize Palestinians and ultra-Orthodox religious nationalists victimize female soldiers.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is trying to turn the Supreme Court into other one of his subsidiaries. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is working to prevent the media from reporting on investigations against public figures. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman excludes women from participation in an official award ceremony.

Coalition chairman Zeev Elkin undermines and neuters civil society. Religious fanatics exclude women, tyrannize secular citizens and spit at priests. Jewish terrorists burn Muslim houses of worship, invade Israel Defense Force bases and attack soldiers.

We see what we would never believe with our own eyes. Darkness at noon, a dark Israel snuffing out an enlightened Israel. There have been dark moments in the past. The 1956 killing of Israeli Arabs at Kafr Qasem, the 1982 massacres by Israeli allies in Lebanon at Sabra and Chatila, the 1994 Hebron massacre by Baruch Goldstein. There have also been prior attempts at silencing the press, publications such as Kol Ha'am, Haolam Hazeh and Hadashot.

There have been assaults on the judicial system. Former Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, and Daniel Friedmann and Daniel Friedmann. Time after time there have been assaults by the secular right and the religious right on the principles of liberalism and on liberal institutions, but there has never been an all-out, multi-pronged and multi-dimensional attack on the core values of the Jewish democratic state.

There has never been such a comprehensive attempt to remake the face of Israel and to replace it with something else. Under Netanyahu and Lieberman's leadership, Israel been turned into a country with the values of Newt Gingrich and the look of Vladimir Putin. What's happening here? And why now exactly? Why are anti-democratic forces at work now to run roughshod over human rights and human dignity and freedom? Why are the Jewish nationalists and ultra-Orthodox fanatics, along with Russian statism, bursting forth now all at the same time?

The answer is Netanyahu. In the past he was conservative, cautious and democratic. With American Jewish leader Ron Lauder at his side and popular historian Paul Johnson in his hand, Netanyahu sought to turn Israel into a strong free-market country sharing the values of Republican America.

As a result, the first time around as prime minister he governed like a democrat and lost like a democrat. And when the left wing tripped him up and got him out of office, he was subdued and a gentleman about it. Just as the Republican Party has changed over the past decade, so too has Netanyahu. The follower of Ronald Reagan has become a Tea Partier. With Sheldon Adelson at his side and Avigdor Lieberman tying his hands, the second iteration of Netanyahu is an aggressive ruler.

He is not guided by the rules of the game, but by the desire to gain a position of strength. It is not protecting democracy that is uppermost in his mind but retaining power. He is therefore not interested or capable of demonstrating moral leadership. Netanyahu is letting his Rottweilers devour liberal democracy while he himself stands by watching. He is not fulfilling his role as the guardian of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

Netanyahu's weak leadership and moral laxity are what unleashed this frenzy. The fact that he has not put a stop to the dark forces that have always oozed from our depths is what brought us to this situation, but it is not yet too late. Netanyahu can put a stop to this insanity in an instant. All he has to do is halt the totalitarian legislation and to deliver one major address extolling enlightened democracy and human rights.

He must make it clear that violence will not be tolerated, that women are equal. Arabs are equal and every human being is created in God's image. If the super-leader of the right wing would order the lunatic fringe on the right to stop, they would. If the leader of the State of Israel would say that liberty and equality and law and freedom of expression are the beating heart of the state, so it would be.

Not a single party would quit the government coalition. Not a single minister would quit the cabinet. But the young people who are called upon to defend this place would know what they are protecting. And the older generation who built this place would know what they built. The face in the mirror would again be our face.


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