Opinion

The Demagogue’s Defense That Netanyahu and Trump Share: It’s a Witch-hunt, and God Will Vindicate Us

Netanyahu, the avowed atheist, now calls on God to help and defend him. But until that divine sign of favor is revealed, he’s going to use his bully pulpit to attack the rule of law – and the basic intelligence of every Israeli

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking on International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre in Moscow, Russia January 29, 2018.
\ MAXIM SHEMETOV/ REUTERS

Listening to Benjamin Netanyahu spin and spin induces nausea. How many hours did he and his spinmeisters work on the details of his live televised response to the indictment charges the Israeli police recommended Wednesday? He included all the top hits of his heroic past (his achievements on behalf of Israel’s security, the famous 1972 Sabena hijack rescue he participated in, his UN speeches, then security again, then the red phone - his 24 hour availability to deal with crises)?

His dressers worked overtime to match the color and sheen of his blue tie and white shirt with the colors and perfectly aligned Israeli flags behind him. How much time did they spend rehearsing his body language – confident, but wounded, but at the same time, strident, and not the least bit frightened? How stupid does he think the Israeli public really is?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Jerusalem, in this picture grab taken February 13, 2018.
\ POOL/ REUTERS

According to the police, Netanyahu serially abused his office for personal and political gain. Last night he also abused the symbols of the state and of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu portrayed himself as the nation’s hero targeted by calumny, opening with his service in IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal Unit and his annual defense of Israel at the United Nations – a yearly tirade really intended for the Likud Central Committee, throwing in how he loves his family and it hurts him when they are attacked (no need to recall the criticism of his family has been in response to their abusive, repulsive and hateful behavior).

He ended by owning Israel’s attaining unprecedented status as a mini-world power on his watch, and his promised deliverance with "the help of God."

All the while, like any good propagandist, he repeated his mantras, that these investigations – 20 years of 15 different investigations – will amount to nothing, that his enemies want to bring him down over "cigars" because they can’t beat him at the ballot box; this from a man who got all of 25% of the vote at the last elections.

Netanyahu accelerated his campaign to undermine the police, to discredit them for standing up to him, and helpfully reminded us that police recommendations are usually worthless. He tried, oh so hard, to neutralize the bombshell of the night; that Netanyahu lobbied for a law that would save hundreds of millions of shekels for ex-pat businessman Arnon Milchan at Milchan’s behest – the same Milchan who is suspected of buying favors from Netanyahu with a million shekels worth of gifts.

He compared himself to Shimon Peres, who once interceded on Milchan’s behalf with the American authorities. (Someone should tell him that Peres is dead, and it’s too late to consider charging him with any wrongdoing.) He should have compared himself to Ehud Olmert, his predecessor in the Prime Minister’s office, who ended his career in prison on corruption charges.

A key part of Netanyahu’s spin is to focus on the outcomes of his actions rather than the illegal activities that he allegedly engaged in.

He highlighted that his efforts to secure favorable coverage from the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot in exchange for weakening its freebie competition, Yisrael Hayom, did not come to pass. The "Milchan law" also did not pass. In other words, Netanyahu’s not only corrupt, he’s inept in his corruption – and he’s using that as his defense.

According to the police, Netanyahu received presents worth one million shekels from Milchan. This million shekels (around $280,000) is what Netanyahu and his spineless flacks are calling mere “cigars."

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017
Sebastian Scheiner (AP)

How long does the average Likud voter have to work to earn one million shekels? It doesn’t matter. He’s counting on the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" mentality: his supporters won’t hate him for corrupting his office to live the good life; they want to live the good life fantasy through him.

But more importantly, when Netanyahu became Prime Minister, the scale of the presents from Arnon Milchan increased dramatically. That means the payoffs increased when Netanyahu’s power increased. That looks unmistakably like bribery. You know, power corrupts, and absolute power...

Netanyahu further explained that he brought his own government down rather than pass a law preventing the Sheldon Adelson-backed Yisrael Hayom being distributed for free (that was after his Yediot scheme fell apart).

Is it legitimate to cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of shekels to organize new elections – in order to keep your own fanboy newspaper intact? Only when you don’t value democracy or the press (except for the newspaper your sugardaddy bankrolls).

Netanyahu defended himself by explaining that it was clear Milchan hadn’t bought influence because the PM acted to close the Channel 10 television channel that Milchan partly owned.

He conveniently didn’t mention that the Channel 10 news department has devoted significant energies to investigating government wrongdoing over the years, and has been a steadfast, often acerbic, critic of Netanyahu’s policies. Is it legitimate for a Prime Minister to try to close down a television station because it routinely challenges his positions? Only in a dictatorship.

Corrupt leaders can only stay in power when spineless enablers act on their behalf. Where are the moral commitments of Naftali Bennett, of Moshe Kahlon, of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties? The fury will be vented on Yair Lapid, a government witness to Netanyahu’s machinations for Milchan when he was Finance Minister, who’s an easy mark since he is a rival for the PM’s seat.

Netanyahu was the first to call for former PM Ehud Olmert to step down when police recommendations were formulated, but don’t expect Netanyahu to accept that the same rules apply to him. This level of hypocrisy is so familiar we don’t even notice it.

Like any good demagogue, Netanyahu won’t show remorse. He used his bully pulpit immediately to whine about how the “people’s hero” has been endlessly persecuted by the police. The police against the Likud? This is as surreal as a Republican president questioning the loyalty of the FBI.

Netanyahu has not yet been charged, and if and when he is, he will deserve his day in court. The problem is that men like Netanyahu, who confuse themselves with the state they are meant to serve, have no boundaries.

Netanyahu’s last words were an appeal for God’s help. It is up to the citizens of the State of Israel to demand that more worthy leaders take his place, and the places of those who are propping him up. And if God is listening: then help deliver us from Netanyahu.

Don Futterman is the Program Director, Israel of the Moriah Fund, a private foundation that works to strengthen Israeli democracy. He can be heard weekly on TLV1’s The Promised Podcast