Benjamin Netanyahu won his first election in 1996, after being 25 percentage points behind Shimon Peres in the polls only six months earlier and having the entire Israeli media arrayed against him, blaming him for the death of the slain Yitzhak Rabin.
He persevered for 10 years after losing power in 1999, and despite leading Likud to its worst election result in 2005, rebounded and returned to office in 2009.
He is one of the most consummate political operators and campaigners, not just in Israeli politics but in any modern democracy. He didn’t need to enter what police called a “bribe-tainted relationship” with the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes, in the forlorn hope of receiving favorable coverage from the Israeli tabloid.
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He won three consecutive election campaigns despite Yedioth’s enmity. But he couldn’t help himself.
His meteoric rise to national prominence as a dashing and eloquent diplomat in his early thirties would not have happened without the glowing reports on his UN speeches and performances on American television. Yet he has never recovered from the way the Israeli media turned against him with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
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Netanyahu should have been satisfied with beating the predictions of Israeli journalists so many times. Instead, he has convinced himself that all his woes are due to the media. Just like his belief in the cult of hasbara (or public diplomacy) and that if only Israel explains itself better to the world, everyone will be won over, he’s convinced that his image, as presented by the media, is the source of all his setbacks.
In private meetings, he harangues astonished columnists and editors from around the world: “When you write about Israel’s successful economy and high-tech sector, you never say thanks to whom it all is due.”
A Bibi-worshipping, freesheet tabloid paid for by his benefactor Sheldon Adelson and distributed in the hundreds of thousands across Israel wasn’t enough. He needed more and pursued his archenemy, Mozes, in the hope of buying his favors.
The avaricious relationship with producer Arnon Milchan may have brought the bonuses of crates of pink champagne and boxes of Partagas cigars. But underpinning the “friendship” was the hope that Milchan as a shareholder in commercial television stations could get the news shows to finally show him his due respect.
“I need my own media,” Netanyahu drilled in every conversation with his patrons. He froze Ron Lauder out of his circle when the billionaire president of the World Jewish Congress refused to force the journalists of Channel Ten, in which he had a controlling stake, to stop investigating his affairs.
If it weren’t for his obsession of having his own media, Netanyahu would have a good chance of beating the charges on just accepting “gifts.” He was always a luxury-loving, parsimonious, entitled hedonist. Israelis know that, and those who support his policies are willing to forgive that. The attorney general would hesitate before indicting a sitting prime minister over gifts.
But the foundations of the bribery charges against Netanyahu and his co-conspirators Mozes and Milchan were laid in his unquenchable thirst for the media’s affirmation and adoration.
He may soldier on for months after the police’s damning recommendations to indict – but ultimately it will be his downfall.