Analysis |

Don't Blame the Messenger: In Eshel Affair, Netanyahu Doesn't Understand the Rules of the Game Have Changed

The fact that Netanyahu wanted Eshel to be part of his coalition negotiating team proves that the prime minister hasn't yet internalized the primary lesson of this election campaign, which, succinctly put, would be "it's the new politics, stupid!"

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

It was just Natan Eshel's luck that of all the people in the world to whom he could have erroneously sent an email, he ended up sending it to Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich. This embarrassing mistake makes him look like the town shlemazel, or, in modern terms, a combination of Louis de Funes and Mister Bean. The most audacious satire program wouldn't have felt comfortable doing a sketch in which a letter from Eshel to the Prime Minister's Office legal adviser asking for approval to do a little extraterritorial work would accidently reach the future opposition leader.

But Eshel isn't really the story; he's just the errand boy. The problem is the boss who sent him. The fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted Eshel, who was forced to leave public service in disgrace, to head his coalition negotiating team or even to be a senior member of it, proves that the prime minister hasn't yet internalized the primary lesson of this election campaign, which, succinctly put, would be "it's the new politics, stupid!"

The idea that Eshel would be the one liaising between Netanyahu and Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid is the embodiment of the old politics in all its archaic glory. Eshel would surely have been greeted with open arms by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the National Union's Yaakov Katz, Shas' Aryeh Deri or United Torah Judaism's Yaakov Litzman - and probably by Tzipi Livni as well. But not by Lapid, and certainly not by Yacimovich or Meretz's Zahava Gal-On. Netanyahu is having a hard time adjusting to the new rules. But no matter - he'll learn, although as usual it will be the hard way, pressed by market forces.

Contrary to all the denials, Netanyahu had indeed intended for Eshel, his eternal confidant, to fulfill a major role in the complex coalition negotiations that are soon to begin. Only the public outcry of the past few days shoved him aside. As in the past, Netanyahu was revealed in this instance to be an overly dependent leader, disengaged from the outside world, whose senses are dulled and who is subject to manipulation. He lives in the transparent, armored and secure bubble of the Prime Minister's Office, and he thinks that even after January 22 nothing happened and the universe continues to conduct itself as he sees fit. Some questions also need to be asked about the conduct of Eshel's addressee, attorney Shlomit Barnea-Fargo, the Prime Minister's Office legal adviser:

1. Where did Eshel, a private citizen, get off asking for a legal opinion from a public servant, the legal adviser of the most important government office in the land? And here we thought she was being paid to advise her employer, the prime minister. Eshel not only asked for legal advice, he got an answer, to the effect that "there are no restrictions on activity outside the civil service," although she suggested, "as a precaution," as she put it, to also consult with the Civil Service Commission.

2. Barnea-Fargo is the gatekeeper and representative of the rule of law in the Prime Minister's Office. As such, she is obligated first and foremost to R., the victim of Eshel's sexual harassment, the issue that forced Eshel out of the Prime Minister's Office last year. R. is still working in the Prime Minister's Office.

As Yedioth Ahronoth revealed a few days ago, Barnea-Fargo recently met with Eshel. What is R. supposed to think about this display of warm and friendly relations between "Natke" and "Shlomit-how-are-you-and-what's doing?"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, sitting next to Natan Eshel.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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