PR for Internal Consumption

Netanyahu's PR, which plays on the paranoia and deepest fears of the ghetto , is working - but only internally.

If the Israeli public employed the classification system famously used by Napoleon Bonaparte - who made light of the courage and cleverness of officers who were recommended to him, focusing instead on the question "But are they lucky?" - there is no question that not only would Defense Minister Ehud Barak drop to the bottom of the popularity scale, but so, and to the same degree, would Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Getty Images

It is hard to be certain which of them is the schlemiel and which the schlimazel, or whose luck is worse. But one thing is clear: Every time those two grab the steering wheel - whether together or separately - they find themselves battered and bruised, limping from mishap to fiasco, from screw-up to snafu, and from there to all kinds of bad luck that have not yet even made it into the slang dictionaries.

It wouldn't matter if it were only them. The problem is that those two get all of us into trouble: Shortly after the journey begins, the entire Israeli bus finds itself overturned on the side of the road with its wheels spinning uselessly on top.

In order to understand why public opinion surveys nevertheless tend to fault the ticket taker more than the driver, you have to get to the bottom of the difference, which does exist, between Barak's schlimazel personality and Netanyahu's schlemiel personality. The former, despite his great expectations, sees every initiative blow up in his face. But the latter has no intention of succeeding, and never did have.

In his ambition to perform spectacular pirouettes that will take the region's breath away, Barak repeatedly finds himself on the boards. Netanyahu gets even more battered, but somehow looks less ridiculous, since he repeatedly tries - and repeatedly succeeds - to prove his standard opening argument: The floor is crooked. It was, still is and always will be. Or as he summed up his own failure of statesmanship this week, "Once again, Israel faces hypocrisy."

For Barak bad luck is random, an accident (even if it is a multivehicle pileup ). For Netanyahu, bad luck is a worldview, a psychological situation assessment, almost an ideology - the decree of "Jewish" fate. That is precisely the difference between Barak's premature assertion in the city square - "This is the dawning of a new day" - and what Netanyahu told the Likud Knesset faction this week: "Benighted medieval forces are rising up against us ... A wave of hatred is flooding us ... They are trying to grip us in an iron vise of missiles and terror." Perhaps these words were a boastful "I told you so," or perhaps they were a type of vision: a pessimistic vision that, whether consciously or not, fulfills itself every day as long as the prophet of destruction - this Job, who scratches himself with a potsherd - continues to serve as prime minister.

Is it by chance that during the term of "Mr. Public Relations" of all time, Israel has become one of the most ostracized and misunderstood countries in the world? Ironically, the person who built his entire political career on being a fluent spokesman for Israel's righteousness to the outside world changed the direction of the loudspeaker the moment the responsibility became his. He has turned into the great rebroadcaster of every external threat for internal consumption - into a person who repeatedly plays on the paranoias and deepest fears of the ghetto mentality.

In that sense, Netanyahu's PR has in fact succeeded, but only internally: The national PR man has once again succeeded in explaining to the domestic consumer, who is wallowing in his fears and hatreds, that there really is a reason for the sense of siege, isolation and persecution: The world is hypocritical, the wave is getting stronger, the vise is closing in.

Ostensibly, his reason for doing so is clear: to obviate the need for action and to avoid personal responsibility. For if this is a deterministic existential situation, there is nothing to be done: There is no point in further shaking up the ship that is being flooded in any case, or in trying to navigate it. All that remains is to sit and curse the entire world. But in that case, one question arises: Why did Netanyahu want to be prime minister, and for a second time yet?

After all, he can be a "concerned citizen" at home, too. So why is he behaving this way? Where is he actually trying to lead us? What does he want to promote, if anything - even according to his own lights? The answers to these questions have long since gone beyond the political realm. They apparently belong to the realm of the soul. And not only Netanyahu's.