Netanyahu vs Sinwar: Egocentrism personified in Gaza war

The person-centered approach to the war politics

Marco Lawrence/Majalla

Netanyahu vs Sinwar: Egocentrism personified in Gaza war

The war in Gaza has shown how political discourse can turn a falsehood into a media narrative to help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar hold their grip on Israel and Gaza, as they have put their political survival ahead of broader interests.

Netanyahu is facing significant opposition to his rule with hundreds of thousands of Israelis taking to the streets to protest against him and his government. And Sinwar is censured by many Palestinians in Gaza, including Hamas civil servants, for his decision to attack Israel on 7 October.

The military offensive has offered Netanyahu a respite before a potential jail term if convicted of fraud, bribery and breach of trust in three cases filed in 2019. Sinwar is still the man pulling the strings behind the Hamas military tactics more than six months into the war.

As the former resorts to impassioned war discourse on social media, the latter has chosen a different approach — one of silence. Since 7 October, Sinwar has refrained from delivering any speeches or issuing any public statements. Silence carries a potent symbol of disdain for the enemy.

But it could be also interpreted from the perspective of political psychology as a sign of weakness to mitigate the risk of assassination. Instead, military or political spokespeople deliver the verbal message on his behalf, constructing a Sinwar’s frame for the war.

Netanyahu and Sinwar are keen on maintaining key socio-political tools to keep their rule and maintain the framed media narrative

The war's macro-themes

To strengthen their politically-motivated narratives in the public perception, both Netanyahu and Sinwar use macro-themes for this war. Netanyahu champions the phrase "The Complete Victory".

In contrast, Sinwar, embracing a policy of silence, has instructed his movement to issue a document in January titled "Why the Al-Aqsa Flood?" in a desperate bid to justify the group's horrendous attack on 7 October, which killed hundreds of Israelis, mostly civilians, and led to the kidnapping of about 240 others. 

Read more: Ehud Olmert to Al Majalla: Netanyahu-led government wants Armageddon and endless occupation

This contrast highlights the political efforts of each leader to justify their strategies amidst the conflict. They have both used semiotic levels of language thus to establish an undisputed necessity even if Netanyahu faces accusations of committing genocide and Sinwar is widely seen as the criminal mastermind behind the mass murder of civilians, including children.

In the eyes of their supporters, they are two charismatic leaders. Netanyahu is Israel's longest-serving prime minister. This status has earned the nickname "Bibi the Magician" because of his ability to be an ever-present figure for many years in Israel's complicated politics. For his fans, mainly among right-wing, far-right and settler groups, he's also the "only one" capable of preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state, as he started bragging about in recent months.

A man pushes a bicycle along as he walks amid building rubble in the devastated area around Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital on April 3, 2024

For his part, Sinwar also uniquely inspires his supporters with his commanding presence and history of activism. A resident of Gaza once told me that Sinwar could scare people with just a glance. His involvement in political and armed resistance against Israel, including enduring 23 years in prison until his 2011 release in a prisoner swap, underscores his appeal among his fans.

In both cases, this political charisma also helps an egoistic autocrat—in Gaza's dictatorship of Hamas under Sinwar and Israel's smart authoritarianism under Netanyahu—to remain relevant and survive politically. 

Political charisma also helps an egoistic autocratin Gaza's dictatorship of Hamas and Israel's smart authoritarianism under Netanyahuto remain relevant and survive politically. 

Both Sinwar and Netanyahu use another political macro-theme: legitimacy. The former cites Hamas's election win over Fatah in 2006 and his leadership election to lead the movement in the Gaza Strip in 2017, while the former argues that he's a democratically-elected prime minister of Israel.

This concept of legitimacy—crucial for both Sinwar and Netanyahu—falsely legitimates their feeble positions despite unmistakable public anger and dissatisfaction.

German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) defines legitimacy as the "single most effective device for regulating the flow of diffuse support in favour of both the authorities and the regime".

Read more: Hamas might have miscalculated in Gaza

Religion is also part and parcel of a constructed war narrative of an autocrat. Both Netanyahu and Sinwar's movement have religionised the war. They want to demonstrate to their followers and the public that they are executing God's will and that the victory will be theirs if they just keep patient.

They have glorified the Jewish and Islamic past and cited verses from the two scriptures, bestowing a supernatural narrative upon their war politics. Who can cast doubts about a divine victory?

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