Despite Media Blitz, Israelis Refused to Believe Netanyahu on Train Crisis

The public is angry at the prime minister rather than the transportation minister for the chaos caused by the political crisis over whether or not train work should continue on Shabbat.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem September 4, 2016.
Ronen Zvulun, Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has emerged from the Shabbat train-work crisis with head in hands. The overwhelming majority of the public sees him responsible for the chaos, traffic jams, and the suffering of tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers. The anger and frustration are directed at him, not at Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. 

The stream of briefings and press releases in addition to the hasty dispatching of his advisers and aides and two of his ministers (it’s always the same two ministers, by the way), to the various media studios so that his talking points would resonate, didn’t help Netanyahu in the least. The people didn’t buy his version of Katz deliberately weaving a plot to harm passengers, soldiers, the prime minister and the government. Apparently they don’t credit him with such sophistication. This bottom line obligates Netanyahu to learn some lessons en route to the next stop in this journey, which apparently didn’t end on Sunday.

In the year-end summaries that will surely come, there will be a place of pride for Sunday’s scene in the cabinet room where the transportation minister sat like a reprimanded child, his face ashen, to the right of a prime minister who was attacking him without mentioning his name, after 48 hours in which he had been accused of everything other than treason. Now Netanyahu expects him to sign a letter of surrender and essentially yield his authority to manage the country’s transportation system. Otherwise, he is threatening to fire him. 

Political sources in Likud claim that Netanyahu was on the verge of sending Katz a dismissal letter on Saturday night, but then thought the better of it. He apparently heeded the advice of his associates, who warned him that firing Katz, after the entire Likud leadership of recent years has found itself forced out and full of hatred and resentment, might be one step too far.

Plenty has been written and demonstrated about Netanyahu’s imperial/royal mood, especially since the last elections in which he won a huge victory practically by himself. But there is no remark that so clearly crystallizes that mentality as what he said Sunday to the Likud ministers. “Katz tried to make me a putsch,” he said. These are not words one usually hears from the leaders of democratic states who head democratic parties and struggle with internal rivals. 

All the politicians, activists, and people from the Prime Minister’s Office who were interviewed Sunday on the Shabbat-work issue were interested parties. They all had personal interests (like for example, hopes for a ministerial promotion), and personal accounts to settle. 

Here is where Transportation Ministry Director-General Keren Turner, 37, barely two months on the job, stood out. She radiated credibility, humility and integrity. Her version of the unfolding of events just before Shabbat came in was totally logical, it made sense. It totally contrasted with the pathetic, stressed appearance of Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, the previous night on Channel 2. He looked and sounded just like a Likud Central Committee member. Katz was smart to stay quiet and let Turner present his ministry’s professional position.

How many people in the political arena would have been prepared to swear on their mothers’ graves that by Sunday morning Katz was going to be transitioning from being a minister back to being an MK? Not because of the railway work and the Haredim, but because of two remarks made during a report on him by the “People” program on Keshet Saturday night. 

The first remark was by his wife, Ronit, who shared with reporter Haim Etgar the couple’s plans to occupy the prime minister’s residence in the future. “I don’t connect to being called ‘Ma’am,’” said Ronit, in a broad hint at someone else who insists on being so called. And if that weren’t enough, her husband followed her lead and delivered his own jab at the woman who occupies the residence and her husband. “Don’t worry,” he told viewers. “[Ronit] knows how to behave anywhere.” 

Indeed, don’t worry. We will hear about this yet.