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Mount Meron Disaster Comes at Worst Time for Netanyahu

For the prime minister, the buck has always stopped anywhere but where he is – but Thursday night’s disaster at Mount Meron may have sealed his political fate

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the Mount Meron disaster site last Friday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the Mount Meron disaster site last Friday.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN - AFP

In post-game interviews, the game’s MVP or the rookie who exceeded expectations invariably invokes the pseudo-humble “There’s no ‘i’ in ‘Team’” cliché.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken this cliché to another level. There’s never an “i” in “Team” when things go wrong, but there’s never ever been a “Team” when there’s success or credit to be claimed. However, despite Mr. Netanyahu’s repeated denials and vociferous claims to the contrary, there are three ‘i’s in responsibility.

This is where denial meets reality, where a sequence of mismanaged events, clear political failures, bad governance and daunting personal legal entanglements amount to a full-blown meltdown.

You can attribute responsibility, accountability or blame to Mr. Netanyahu’s reckless mismanagement of the Mount Meron catastrophe overnight Thursday, and you can rightly argue that this tragic manifestation of incompetence, capitulation to political pressures and a general Alfred E. Neuman organizational culture of “What, Me Worry?” did not start with him. But you cannot isolate it from Netanyahu’s patterns of past behavior, his most recent troubles or his current political prospects.

Netanyahu’s entire career is replete with abdication and a Trump-esque stance of “I take no responsibility.” Netanyahu always deflects accountability. That’s his default mode. “I didn’t know about the U.S. sale of F-35s to the United Arab Emirates”; “Obama made me say it, but I don’t mean it”; “What? Never! I’ll never ask to postpone my trial or initiate legislation giving me immunity.”

His knee-jerk reaction will always be to conjure ludicrous conspiracy theories that explain how he was actually set up by a cabal of deep-state actors motivated by sheer patronizing hatred for “the 2 million people who voted for me” (2 million people never voted for him, by the way).

He will never fail to blame others, never consider owning anything. The buck never stops with him, responsibility is for weak losers. He is the ultimate victim.

This was the case with the Western Wall Tunnel riots in 1996; the Carmel forest fire that killed 44 people in 2010; Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014; the acquisition of six submarines behind the Israel Defense Forces and defense minister’s back; the failure to deal with the Iran nuclear agreement (the JCPOA); the initial mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, until vaccines became available; the Mount Meron catastrophe last Thursday night; and numerous smaller-scale crises and failures since he became prime minister again in 2009. “Responsibility” is an alien concept, detached from “leadership.”

The last several months have not been kind to Mr. Netanyahu. Donald Trump lost the U.S. presidential election, and Joe Biden signaled his displeasure with Netanyahu’s ongoing bromance with “45” in no uncertain terms.

A protester wearing a Netanyahu mask at a rally outside the Jerusalem District Court, where Netanyahu is standing trial, in April.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

The last several weeks exacerbated his political predicament. In March, he failed, for the fourth successive time, to win an election, or at least win a clear governing coalition. Widespread, countrywide demonstrations against him continued relentlessly for months, exacting a heavy political price.

His trial, where he is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, has begun and is dominating the news cycle. His chances of forming a coalition – he has until midnight on Tuesday – were slim to begin with and have dwindled further since.

In an attempt to change the narrative and subvert constitutional, legal and political norms, he tried and failed to illegally appoint a justice minister. In Vienna, the United States and Iran – as well as Russia and the European Union – have indicated that a return to the JCPOA is a matter of time.

Netanyahu, who seems to have lost the plot on Iran since the U.S. unilaterally withdrew in May 2018, was left without his supposedly relative advantages.

In the last several days, the political pendulum seems to have swung in his rivals’ direction, with a growing critical mass of public fatigue and resentment directed against him.

Then, five days before his mandate to form a government expired, came the disaster at Mount Meron. Tens of thousands of words have already been written and broadcast with anger and frustration about the ultra-Orthodox autonomy, the dysfunctional, politically driven decision-making process to allow and manage the event as a result of the religious parties’ pressure on Netanyahu. And his inability to stand up to them. How “It was a question of time.” How “Israel never ever learns from mistakes.” And Netanyahu and his public security minister’s reluctance to assume any responsibility.

Mourners on Friday at the funeral of Moshe Ben Shalom, one of the victims of the Meron disaster.Credit: Moti Milrod

His default reaction, assigning blame to the Supreme Court that “failed to intervene in the matter of who’s in charge of the Mount Meron event,” was seen as pathetic and untethered from reality even by some of his most ardent supporters. It precipitated another phase in a meltdown already evident for months, but clearly visible since last week’s failed attempt to appoint a justice minister out of left field.

The man-made disaster at Mount Meron came at the most inopportune political and public moment for Netanyahu. Widely seen as lacking a political path since the March 23 election, Mount Meron may have sealed his fate. Whether his rivals are able to form a coalition is a different story.

His continuous meltdown is natural and human. In fact, that he lasted so long is a tribute to his tenacity and ambition. At the same time, it is a result not only of circumstances and political and legal adversity, but of a broad and deep perception of reality.

Netanyahu is the victim. Always has been in his eyes. First and foremost, a victim of the ingrates. The ungrateful, petty and flawed people failing to see his greatness and appreciate his historic role in steering Israel.

He genuinely believes he is a victim of the “old elites” who despise him out of jealousy and loss of power, of a deep state of unelected bureaucrats out to get him at all costs. A victim of the state prosecutor and attorney general manufacturing bogus indictments against this most righteous of men. A victim of the frustrated left and of George Soros and the New Israel Fund, who fund a vast campaign to dethrone him. An innocent victim of the media, the IDF, the police, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and now President Biden.

It was never about him. Nothing he did, or did not do, had any bearing on this pathological animosity. Sent by providence, rejected by simpleton earthlings. In his mind, it’s all lucidly clear.

Which is why his trial, the recent election, Mount Meron and the JCPOA have nothing to do with his actions or the quality of his leadership. It’s all about the conspiracy to get him out of the God-given prime minister’s office and residence.

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