David Grossman: For Israel, There Is No Way Back from Netanyahu’s Chaos

Haaretz newspaper today published a powerful essay by Israeli novelist David Grossman conveying his dismay at the manner in which Benjamin Netanyahu is forming his new coalition and at the damage – some likely irreversible – that Netanyahu is causing to Israel. The essay reflected the sentiments of many Israelis. It was the leading story of Haaretz’s Hebrew edition, under a one-word headline: Chaos.

Following is the English translation of Grossman’s essay.  

For Israel, There Is No Way Back from Netanyahu’s Chaos

Under the guise of democracy, Netanyahu is warping the character of Israel itself, sowing the seeds of anarchic chaos, hatred and violence which cannot be tamed

By David Grossman

Dec 28, 2022

Everything that has happened in Israel since the election is ostensibly legal and democratic. But under its cover – as has happened more than once in history – the seeds of chaos, emptiness and disorder have been sown in Israel’s most vital institutions.

I am not talking merely about the enactment of new laws, extreme and outrageous though they are, but about a deeper, more fateful change, a change in our identity, a change in the character of the state. And the election wasn’t fought over this change; this isn’t what Israelis went to the polls to vote on.

Throughout the negotiations to form a new government, a verse from the book of Isaiah has been constantly running through my head – “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!”

A banner calls on incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his designated religious-nationalist coalition partners to act against perceived judicial overreach with the words in Hebrew “You promised – now make it happen! Justice-system reform now!” near the entrance to Israel’s Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

In the background, like a Chinese water torture, I constantly hear MK Moshe Gafni proclaiming, “Half the people will study Torah and half will serve in the army.” And each time, my brain is charred, this time in part for completely personal reasons.

The negotiations, which more closely resembled a looting spree, have flickered before our eyes in rapid pictures, in flashes of an alien, provocative logic – “the override clause,” “the discrimination law,” “Smotrich will be the ultimate arbiter on construction in the West Bank,” “Ben-Gvir will be able to set up a private militia in the West Bank,” “The serial criminal Dery will be able...” In the blink of an eye, with increasing freneticism, with the sleight of hand of a streetside card sharp.

We know that someone is deceiving us at this very moment. That someone is pocketing not just our money, but our future and that of our children, the existence we wanted to create here – a state where, despite all its flaws and shortcomings and blind spots, the possibility of becoming a civilized, egalitarian country, one that has the power to absorb contradictions and differences, one that in time will even manage to free itself of the cursed occupation, occasionally shines through. A country that could be Jewish and believing and secular, a high-tech power and traditional and democratic, and also a good home for its minorities. An Israeli state where the multiplicity of societal and human dialects won’t necessarily create fears and mutual threats and racism, but will instead lead to cross-fertilization and flourishing.

Benjamin Netanyahu looks at Member of Knesset Arye Dery as they stand with other members of the new Israeli parliament after their swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem last month.

Now, after the dust storm has settled, after the dimensions of the catastrophe have been revealed, Benjamin Netanyahu may be telling himself that after his sowing of chaos has achieved its goals – destroying the legal system, the police, education and anything that emits a whiff of “leftism” – he will be able to turn back the clock, erase or at least moderate the crazy, dishonest worldview he himself created and go back to leading us in a proper, legal, rational fashion. Back to being the responsible adult in a well-run country.

But at that point, he may well discover that from the place to which he has brought us, there is no return. It will be impossible to eliminate or even tame the chaos he has created. His years of chaos have already etched something tangible and frightening into reality, into the souls of the people who have lived through it.

They are here. The chaos is here, with all its suctioning force. Internal hatreds are here. Mutual loathing is here; as is the cruel violence in our streets, on our highways, in our schools and hospitals. The people who call good evil and evil good are also already here.

The occupation also evidently won’t end in the foreseeable future; it is already stronger than all the forces now active in the political arena. What began and was honed with great efficiency there is now seeping into here. Anarchy’s gaping maw has bared its fangs at the most fragile democracy in the Middle East.