Even by Benjamin Netanyahu’s very high standards of skullduggery, the staged bust up of his meeting with Druze leadership on Thursday night was a beaut. The prime minister carefully prepared an ambush, blew up the meeting at its outset and then instructed his agents to spread a completely false account of what had transpired. The Druze leaders were flummoxed, reconciliation was shattered, and Netanyahu chalked up another one of his vile victories. The final result was Netanyahu 1, Israel 0.
A few minutes after the start of the evening prime time newscasts, reporters covering the meeting between the prime minister and the Druze delegation broke in with the story, exactly as it was concocted by Netanyahu’s distortion machine. A retired Druze general, Amal Asad, had incensed Netanyahu by asserting, out of the blue, that Israel was an “apartheid state.” A proud prime minister stood up for his country’s honor and stormed out of the meeting. Asad, by implication, had gone over to the dark side.
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By the time the truth came out, it was too late: Netanyahu’s political acolytes and social media mob had gotten the message. The Druze were now the enemy. They were being funded and/or bamboozled by George Soros, the New Israel Fund and the perfidious left in general. The Druze, embraced only last week as blood brothers, could now go and live in Syria and see how they like it there, as countless tweets exhorted.
It no longer mattered that, in fact, it was Netanyahu who brought the loaded term “apartheid state” into the meeting. He came prepared with a Facebook post that Asad had written several days earlier – and which few people had heard of. Asad hadn’t asserted, either at the meeting or in his post, that Israel is an apartheid state, but rather that the new nation-state law would allow it to become one. Netanyahu had demanded that the group of former IDF officers led by Asad leave the room and leave him alone with established Druze leadership. They refused.
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Netanyahu realized before the meeting that his efforts to get the Druze to abandon their planned Saturday night demonstration at Rabin Square was going to fail.
The established leadership was inclined to accept his promises to “anchor” the “special status” of the Druze and to grant new benefits to those who serve in the army, but it faced stiff opposition from younger and more militant Druze who described Netanyahu’s offers as hush money. The Druze stuck to the one demand that Netanyahu refuses to meet: The amendment if not annulment of the Jewish-centrist nation-state law.
So Netanyahu decided that when the Druze went high, he would go to the gutter. He would stain the Druze and their demonstration with his favorite paintbrush of treason. He would rally his base to accost Asad, besmirch the Druze and portray the Kikar Rabin demo as a subversive putsch. He would divide and split Israeli Jews between those who stand with the Jewish nation and those who aid and abet its enemies. He would push all the right buttons that he’s mastered over three decades of incitement and pave the way for another triumph of Jewish nationalism over the depraved, cosmopolitan, Jew-hating, terrorist loving left.
Will it work? Perhaps. Netanyahu’s rabble-rousing has done the trick for him in the past, from “Netanyahu is Good for the Jews” that enabled his first election triumph in 1996 to “The Arabs are moving to the ballot boxes” that gave him his last. As any American who lives with Donald Trump knows all too well, one can never underestimate the ability of the mob to embrace falsehoods, their insatiable craving to denounce subversive enemies from within and their willingness to follow their leader, no questions asked, down the road of hatred and strife. And that a great many more people are fully cognizant of Netanyahu’s chicanery and of the dangers posed by the rising tide of Jewish nationalism, but they nonetheless cast their lot with the rightwing rabble for fear of being identified with the supposedly treasonous left.
But perhaps, this time around, Netanyahu has bitten off more than he can chew. Asad, after all, has consummate Israeli credentials: A 26-year army veteran, a brigadier-general who served as combat commander of infantry battalions and brigades, a paratrooper who risked his life on the front lines, from the bloodiest battle of the 1973 war through the Lebanon War to the Kasbah in Jenin during the first intifada. In his brief sojourn in politics he opted to join, you guessed it, the Likud. If Netanyahu can brand someone like Asad as a turncoat, absolutely no one, including the IDF’s most decorated heroes, can feel himself immune.
The same is true of the Druze community itself. For decades it has been portrayed as the most loyal ally of the Jews, living proof that Zionism can recruit local, non-Jewish minorities in a common front against Palestinians and radical Islam. Netanyahu’s minions need only his word, but for many Israelis it will require a radical leap of faith to forget everything they knew about the Druze and to start treating them with the same disdain and suspicion hitherto reserved for the Palestinians.
Saturday night’s demonstration will test Netanyahu’s success. A sparsely attended protest will delight his followers, who will be convinced that Netanyahu ingeniously defused his opponents. A mass demonstration, on the other hand, would signal that, on the contrary, Netanyahu has stirred up a hornet’s nest. That he not only angered the Druze but ignited the Jews as well, unwittingly forging a new Israeli coalition. Such a show of strength would galvanize Israel’s despondent left and alarm the arrogant right. Netanyahu will be forced to dig even deeper into his bag of dirty tricks, turn up the volume of his incitement and try even harder to divide and rule. Whether this is “good for the Jews”, as Netanyahu is supposed to be, is debatable.