Bibi talk: ‘New York Review of Books’ trivializes Israeli fascism

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The latest New York Review of Books includes this excellent piece on Netanyahu’s victory by David Shulman in which the word fascist appears twice. Shulman writes that the election shows that

the Israeli electorate is still dominated by hypernationalist, in some cases proto-fascist, figures.


As Zvi Barel has cogently written in Haaretz, “Netanyahu has succeeded in overturning the principle that the state exists for the sake of its citizens and putting in its place the Fascist belief that the citizens exist for the state.”

The New York Review of Books sells this piece to its readers with two headlines that call Netanyahu “Bibi.” The cover line is here:

Cover line for David Shulman piece in latest NYRB
Cover line for David Shulman piece in latest NYRB

And the actual piece is titled: Bibi: The Hidden Consequences of His Victory.

But guess what: Shulman never calls Netanyahu Bibi in the piece. He uses his actual name, Benjamin Netanyahu. Just what you’d expect from a serious voice on the conflict (Shulman is a Ta’ayush activist and a Sanskrit scholar.) Why would you ever call a leader of proto-fascists “Bibi”? Do Palestinians call Netanyahu “Bibi”– the man who complained that Arabs were voting in “droves”?

James North first explained what the diminutive does for Netanhayu on our site three years ago:

When they call him Bibi, it gives the impression that this is a goofy guy who holds up a Wile E Coyote picture of a bomb at the U.N.; he seems a little bit of a bumbler;  he seems the equivalent in the political sphere of those two thieves who were foiled by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone —  bad but inept and goofy.

Instead of a liar who presides over a nuclear powered colonial state that people are killed for opposing, where thousands are imprisoned and many of them, according to international human rights agencies, are tortured, and where the death of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old innocent young woman, was recently whitewashed.

Why call him Bibi? Because a good number of your older Jewish readers feel affection for him; and the editors of the publication are themselves unable to see him as altogether other than harmless. They should get over this. By the way, David Corn, Howard Fineman and Chris Matthews are also guilty of Bibi talk..

P.S. Shulman’s piece is also remarkable for its quiet call for one vote for all persons between the river and the sea and its announcement of the inevitability of mass violence. On violence:

It seems ridiculous to have to write this, but in case anyone has any doubt: there is no way a privileged collective can sit forever on top of a disenfranchised, systematically victimized minority of millions. We can expect mass violent protests of one sort or another (maybe, with luck, some large-scale nonviolent protest as well). Sooner or later, the territories will probably explode, and the Palestinian Authority may be washed away. At that point Netanyahu will complain loudly that you can never trust the Arabs.

Here is the idealistic statement about the political future:

Perhaps hope lies in a vision of all the territory west of the Jordan River as somehow more than one state but less than two, under conditions of true equality. Already there are groups within what is left of the Israeli left that are thinking creatively, and practically, along these lines. One thing is certain. The demand to fully enfranchise the Palestinians now suffering under Israeli rule will eventually prove irresistible.



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I like this gentleman, David Shulman. A lot.

I also appreciate that he calls Benjamin Netanyahu (f/k/a Benjamin Ben Nitai, Binyamin Mileikowsky) by his full name .

I agreed with James North’s explanation three years ago, and I still do.

I like Shulman. He is a scholar for whom the certainties of Zionism are cheap and meaningless. He understands power and the madness of crowds and how far Israel is from Jewish concepts of morality. He reminds me of Akiva Orr, RIP. For Yossi I the failure of the system… Read more »

Hederman and Silvers at NYRB are stuck. If it turns out “the leader of the Jewish people” is not essentially bumbling but well-intentioned, then what happens to the gentiles’ “antisemitism”?

Hmm… in every Comments section I read, “Bibi” is used as a term of derision.

For headline writers Bibi (four letters) is much easier to print than Netanyahu (9 letters). In fact it need not imply anything other than convenience. (I use the term Bibi rather than Netanyahu for that reason. in regards to Pals rather than Palestinians, I push myself and use the longer… Read more »