Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu built great expectations when he tweeted, an hour before the Knesset’s winter session opened, that he was about to deliver an “interesting speech.” The media and political elites waited expectantly. But what we saw from the Knesset podium were the same old tricks from the same old Bibi, which were even staler than usual.
The punch lines (“Not a stolen country, a golden country!”) were weak. The self-glorification (“What a wonderful decade!”) was hackneyed. The whining about the media, which undermines freedom of expression, was warmed-over hash reheated for the thousandth time.
The speech was also a spectacular display of effrontery from the man suspected of bribery in two cases, 2000 and 4000, that revolve around allegedly criminal intervention in the media market. And it hit the peak of chutzpah when delivered by a man who tried in the past (and may still be trying) to destroy two media outlets, Channel 10 television and the public broadcasting corporation.
The inevitable sparring with the opposition also never got off the ground. Netanyahu once again termed his rivals “sourpusses.” And the pauper from the villa in Caesarea, which is maintained with great largesse by the state, even complained about “people who dwell in luxurious living rooms and lofty towers.” That was apparently a reference to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s luxury apartment in the Akirov Towers.
Netanyahu never mentioned the word “elections.” But that doesn’t mean that in mid-November, once the runoff elections for mayoral races are over, he won’t dissolve the Knesset on some pretext or another.
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What’s really sour here is the stench given off by this government. But in any event, it will complete almost a full four-year term, a great political achievement for the man who heads it. Barring a war, heaven forbid, it no longer has anything to do.
There’s no doubt that Netanyahu’s mind is already focused on his Likud party’s next campaign, but also on the day after the election. One name he did mention in his speech was Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, chairman of the Kulanu party, whom he credited with the “major achievement” of lowering both housing prices and unemployment. Netanyahu isn’t usually generous in handing out credit, except when doing so serves his needs.
In contrast, the name of his Likud colleague, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, somehow escaped him, even though he bestowed lavish praise on the “unprecedented revolution in transportation” that occurred during the past wonderful decade, his decade (“trains, tunnels, roads, tunnels”).
This praise proved a jinx. He had only just finished speaking when the train on the brand-new line between Ben-Gurion Airport and Jerusalem got stuck in one of those vaunted tunnels.
Tzipi Livni, delivering her first speech as opposition leader during the current Knesset, was very downbeat. Like Netanyahu, she was appealing to her base, the center-left. She called the prime minister a “criminal suspect” and declared that “corruption is a way of life” for the state’s current leadership.
She didn’t hesitate to bring Netanyahu’s family into the mix. (“The state doesn’t belong only to you or your family.”) It’s about time. Netanyahu’s family is fair game. His wife is accused of aggravated fraud in a case that involved stealing public funds. His son Yair, whose bodyguards and drivers are government workers, regularly spews hate speech against half the country.
Livni’s speech included all the requisite elements: the Declaration of Independence, support for the media and a defense of state institutions like the State Prosecutor’s Office and the army, which are under attack from Netanyahu’s flunkies – MKs David Amsalem, David Bitan and Co. But that was also more of the same, nothing we haven’t heard before.
Perhaps Livni and her colleagues in the opposition should have tried a different tack – mocking a government which, on matters of national security, looks like a helpless government, one with no answer but empty bluster to the incendiary kites and balloons from the Gaza Strip. Instead of fighting Hamas, Likud is fighting the army chief of staff. Instead of finding a solution for the communities near Gaza, the education minister, a member of the security cabinet, is abusing the defense minister.
“That debate which is a source of pride and strength for a democracy sometimes becomes a parody of democracy,” President Reuven Rivlin said in his speech. He was referring to Israeli society as a whole, but he could just as well have been referring to Israel’s government in the run-up to the 2019 elections.