Gershom Gorenberg

Gershom Gorenberg is a senior correspondent for the Prospect. He is the author of The Unmaking of Israel, of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 and of The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. He blogs at South Jerusalem. Follow @GershomG.

Recent Articles

Netanyahu Lost. But Did Anyone Win?

A guide to Israel’s election: what the results mean, and what happens next

Ariel Schalit/Associated Press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses his supporters at party headquarters after elections in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, September 18, 2019. The news from Israel’s second election (so far) this year may be confusing, so let me start with the simple version: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost. It’s not clear at all what happens next, except that Netanyahu is much further from his heart’s desire—immunity from prosecution. A third election is possible. In a moment, I’ll explain why, and explain what to look out for as this strange game continues. But first, a reminder of how we got here: Israel held early elections in April. Netanyahu’s main goal was to put together a right-wing coalition that would pass two laws: the first giving him immunity, and the second to keep the Supreme Court from overturning the first. Initially, it looked like he’d won: His own Likud Party plus its usual allies—...

Netanyahu's Desperation Is the One Certainty Left in Israel

The surprise new election shows just how unpredictable a legally cornered leader can be.

At 12 midnight on Wednesday night, time ran out for Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government. At that moment, the law required Israel's president to start looking for another member of parliament to build a coalition and become prime minister. At 12:09 a.m., parliament voted to hold new elections. As if stuck in a national version of Groundhog Day, Israelis will go back to the polls on September 17. The current term of parliament will last all of five months and eight days, by far the shortest in Israeli history. With new elections set, the law says that the current lame-duck government stays in power. Netanyahu remains prime minister. And a small, news-addicted country woke in the morning to collectively ask, “What the ----?!” After coffee, that question became more coherent and broke into two: How did this happen? And what happens next? On the surface, the answer to the first question has nothing to do with the threat of three major indictments for graft hanging over...

In the Approaching Last Act, Netanyahu Is Disgraced—or Israel Is

Netanyahu's tragical drama, decades in the making, could now end one of two ways. 

The tragical history of Benjamin Netanyahu may be reaching its denouement. The questions is what will lie shattered on the stage in the final act—Netanyahu's ambition to be king, or Israel as a democracy. That may sound too Shakespearian for our age of tweets, horse-race reporting, and constant irony. Shakespeare lived 400 years ago, and isn't around today to write the histories of our rulers with the tawdry grandeur they deserve. Still, if we lesser beings can't report in iambic pentameter, we must at least pay attention the grand arc of political stories. In the first act of Netanyahu's drama, he was a young man. The second son of a right-wing Zionist historian, he'd spent his early years alternating between Israel and the United States. It seemed he'd settled on the latter country. He had an MBA and a promising business career; he'd changed his name to Ben Nitay to make it easier for Americans to pronounce; he'd divorced the Israeli wife of his youth and remarried in the...

If We Thought Anti-Semitism Would Fade Away, We Were Wrong

The myth of the controlling Jew is so deeply part of Western history that demagogues of any political camp can exploit it.

Tucked into Rome's old Jewish Quarter is a small, well-curated museum telling the history of Jews in what was first the capital of the West's greatest empire, and then the capital of Western Christianity. During my visit not so long ago, a sentence from a single caption carved itself in my memory. During the 15th century, it said “In Italy, the persecutions [of Jews] were fomented by friars minor such as ... John of Capistrano.” I knew that name, albeit in a different form: When my parents retired, they moved to a beach town in southern California. The neighboring town was San Juan Capistrano. It's a quiet, prosperous place known for the swallows that return there on the same day every March. The name always struck me as melodious. I looked up John of Capistrano. He was a “powerful preacher,” sent by Pope Nicholas V to subdue “the disbelieving Jews” in various lands, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia . He demonized Jews, accusing them of “...

The Israeli Election: Triangulation Failed. Ignoring Minority Voters Was a Disaster.

And there might be a lesson here for people in other nations hoping to unseat an authoritarian-minded leader in an upcoming election.

Oded Balilty / AP Photo
Almost as soon as the polls closed in Israel, media outlets elsewhere produced predictable stories treating “Israelis,” all of them, as a monolithic mass marching in lockstep to give Benjamin Netanyahu his fifth term, or declaring yet again that Israelis are moving rightward. Yes, Netanyahu was re-elected. This is tragic and dangerous enough, without adding clichéd generalities. (If you want to know why I find the clichés irritating, imagine that you are, say, an American at a dinner party in New Zealand and the polite progressive sitting to your left asks you, “So why did you people elect Trump?”) Barring unexpected glitches in building a coalition, Netanyahu will indeed stay in the prime minister’s office with a coalition of six parties. Those parties hold a slightly narrower majority in parliament than they did last time. If Netanyahu works to bury a two-state agreement or weaken the judicial system, it won’t be a move rightward but...

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