At Davos this weekend, in a “special conversation” between Fareed Zakaria and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister articulated his strategy for defeating extremist ideologies: “I think the key is despair, is to rob them of hope—the hope that their wild fantasies will actually win out the day.”
Netanyahu—who, last year, expressed some dubious ideas about who, precisely, was responsible for the Holocaust—repeatedly expressed his anxiety over the United States’ recent deal with Iran, which he said continues to seek the Jewish state’s destruction. By contrast, he claimed, “Israel doesn’t seek to destroy anyone.”
Last year, Israel dealt with a spate of stabbings and shootings by deploying hundreds of troops to reinforce thousands of police officers in cities across the country, as well as erecting concrete walls around Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. “We’ve been careful to enable the economy to continue even as we’ve had this wave of stabbings, because we don’t want the rest of the population to fall into that trap,” Netanyahu said.
He also alluded to the rise of ISIS, or Daesh, in Gaza and the West Bank—which is actually a somewhat more complicated issue than he made it out to be, if you can believe that—going on to tell a story about his recently deceased father.
When Netanyahu was six years old, he went outside and found his father, “a great historian of the Jewish people,” working in the garden, planting baby trees. His father asked for his help, and together they weeded out the weeds, poured water, and put down fertilizer for the saplings.
The next year, he found his father in the garden again, and again his father asked him to help pull out the weeds. “But father,” baby Bibi said. “We weeded out the weeds last year!” Sagely, his father told him, “You have to keep weeding the weeds out.”
“Today, 60 years later, they’re gigantic trees,” Netanyahu said. “Israel has grown like that too.” Twist!
But then, because this was Davos, and Davos is nothing if not a self-congratulatory clusterfuck of technocratic capitalist triumphalism, he waved his hand, invoking the liberating potential of “science” and “technology.”
“You have to give people choice. You have to give people the freedom to see other possibilities, and not to cloister young minds with this extraordinary and savage dogmas,” he said.
Fifty years from now, he continued, modernity will win out over medievalism. “Ultimately, people prefer the benefits of freedom, choice, and pluralism,” he proclaimed. (That this should prove true is far from obvious.)
“You have hope,” he said. “They should have despair.”