Like you didn't know this was the year of Benjamin Netanyahu: King Bibi, the (almost) almighty, the emperor of the only democracy in the Middle East, the media mogul and the protector of all things Israeli from all things Persian. If any world leader, be it Angela Merkel in austerity-stricken Europe or Barack Obama in the
United States, could trade places for a day with any other leader, the choice would be King Bibi, purveyor of all that is good.
In his last cabinet meeting of the Hebrew year, Netanyahu sang his own praises and listed every key success his government had enjoyed – one for each month. In Tishrei, he brought Gilad Shalit back from captivity – a truly awesome, once-in-a-lifetime act – after half a million people demanded he do so in a rally on Sept. 3.
In Kislev, the government authorized a plan to deal with African refugees – you know the plan, it was the one on display a couple weeks ago when 21 people were left between border fences in Sinai without water.
In Nissan, the Bank of Israel stated that Israel's economy was still growing despite the global economic crisis – four months before it spoke of budgetary constraints and the urgent need for cutbacks.
In Elul, Netanyahu managed to do something no prime minister in Israel has done in the past 30 years: He signed legislation establishing free education from age three – a law frozen since 1984 – thereby saving middle class families up to NIS 800 a month. And In Sivan, he ensured free dental care. Hail to the king, who in triumph brings dental.
But all cynicism aside, this was by far the best year of Netanyahu's career in politics. After all, it’s the year he found love in his political soul mate, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The undying affection, cooperation and mutual respect of these once-bitter enemies has been truly touching in a political world so wrought with cynicism. On a good day, you can see the sparks between them from Tehran.
This was also the year Netanyahu won the elections so thoroughly that he was able to cancel them before they even took place. Much has been written about his decision to disperse the Knesset and go to early elections, a decision he took back about a week later, forming a national unity government with Kadima's Shaul Mofaz.
Was it Bibi going back to his zigzagging roots? Was it all a political ruse to tempt Mofaz, whose party was on the verge of complete collapse, to join his government?
What matters is that one person, and one person alone could and can decide whether or not Israelis vote.
But who really needs elections? This was the year Bibi was finally crowned “King Bibi,” as announced on the May 28 cover of Time magazine. The story inside claims that “He’s conquered Israel” and is the strongest prime minister Israel has ever seen. Since then, the cabinet and Knesset have dramatically expanded the authority and powers of the prime minister. King Bibi is now emperor of the Levant.
This was also the year Netanyahu, successful businessman that he is, became a media mogul. Channel 1 and the entire Israeli Broadcasting Authority is firmly under his direct command, and the crumbling Channel 10 is on its knees begging for a government bailout. Then of course there’s the fact that Israel Hayom – a creature built solely for the task of promoting Netanyahu – is without question the biggest and most influential newspaper in Israel. Netanyahu now has an unprecedented level of control over Israeli media. Tonight's shows will be brought to you courtesy of King Bibi. All hail.
This was the year in which Netanyahu smoked his enemies. He dodged stories and scandals about his opulent life style, prevented the high cost of living and rising unemployment from affecting his political status in the polls, managed to spin the heck out of the social-justice protest movement that troubled him for a minute last summer and managed to make everyone around him look like a downright amateur.
King Bibi now stands tall, with his only tangible enemy being Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich. And she's not even close to dethroning him. Netanyahu is so powerful in Israel, in fact, that in the last two weeks he decided to go on tour and influence the presidential elections in the U.S. King Bibi and Prince Romney. It has a nice ring to it, no?
But the good times can't last forever. “It is hard to overestimate the risks that Benjamin Netanyahu poses to the future of his own country", said David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, in a scathing article published last week. "As Prime Minister, he has done more than any other political figure to embolden and elevate the reactionary forces in Israel, to eliminate the dwindling possibility of a just settlement with the Palestinians and to isolate his country on the world diplomatic stage.”
It’s possible that Tashab (the Jewish year 5772) was too good a year for Netanyahu, who became too powerful for his own good. What with rising unemployment, soaring cost of living and the budgetary strains that portend cutbacks and more taxes, it could be the last year of the king. But man oh man, what a year!
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