The Jewish Talmud, in the Gittin Tractate, tells of Titus, Roman Emperor and vanquisher of Jerusalem, who was headed back to Rome in a ship laded with treasures, including those from the destroyed temple in Jerusalem. When a storm broke out, Titus was convinced that the God of the Jews was trying to take revenge. In his arrogance, Titus called out to God and accused him of attacking him on sea because he couldn’t defeat him on land. God rose to the challenge. He stopped the storm but told Titus that on land, even one of his lowly creations, such as a common mosquito, will destroy him.
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Later, when Titus raised a glass of wine to mark his accomplishments, the small mosquito promised by God entered his head through his nose, and his life turned into hell. For seven years, the mosquito tormented Titus with a buzz that got constantly louder. At one point Titus discovered that the sound of blacksmiths pounding iron could alleviate the mosquito’s noise, but only temporarily. When he could no longer tolerate the buzz, Titus ordered his doctors to operate on his head and take out the mosquito. When they did, the doctors found that the mosquito had grown to the size of a dove. They took it out but Titus, as the Talmud recounts, didn’t survive the procedure.
Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t Titus in any way, shape or form, but he also has a mosquito buzzing around in his head and driving him crazy. Netanyahu’s mosquito is his obsession with the media. He can negotiate with Donald Trump, hobnob with Vladimir Putin, bomb Syria, deter Gaza, lower taxes, celebrate with Mobileye hi-tech whizzes, be the Supreme Leader of Israeli politics and have a lock on the Prime Minister’s Office, but all of these only give him temporary respite, like Titus’ blacksmiths. In the end, the mosquito returns, and Netanyahu can’t find relief. He will set up coalitions, bring down governments and even drag the country to completely unwarranted elections in order to overcome the media and break free of his folly.
After all, it’s not really normal that the prime minister is now threatening to hold early elections because of a public news corporation that he himself set up, until he changed his mind, and to do so less than 24 hours after everyone had agreed that Netanyahu could appoint a commissar who would be able to control the new body. It’s also not completely reasonable that the Israeli prime minister would consistently refuse to be interviewed by Israeli media. It’s not altogether balanced - unless you’re Donald Trump - that he repeatedly uses Facebook and Twitter to rebuke and defame journalists who criticize him or publish damning investigative stories about him. It’s not altogether sober for Netanyahu to spend literally hundreds of hours, as he did recently, telling off Israeli editorial boards that they are biased against him and don’t give him the huge respect he thinks he deserves. It’s a bit daft that he brought down his previous government in late 2014 because of a law that threatened Sheldon Adelson’s Yisrael Hayom newspaper and it’s bonkers for him to publicly admit that this was his reason, as he did two months ago.
Netanyahu’s obsession with the media isn’t new, of course. Like any solid right-winger, he was born with the conviction that the media is leftist by nature and won’t treat him fairly. But his resentment grew and grew during his long years in office, fueled by confidantes and relatives who urge him not to give in, not to be the media’s sucker. His fantastic, come-from-behind victory in last year’s election apparently pushed him over the edge; now he is panicking that the news corporation that he created and that he can control will somehow turn against him. The mosquito’s buzz has turned into a relentless and endless scream.
Some Israeli commentators ascribe Netanyahu’s latest threats to hold early elections unless the law is changed and the news corporation dismantled to the nagging of his wife Sarah and son Yair. Others think it’s a gambit aimed at somehow extracting Netanyahu from an impending indictment on charges of corruption. Still others maintain that Netanyahu is faking it, that his only intention is to bring unruly coalition partners back in line and that he will steer clear of early elections at the last minute. All of which may be true, but misses the main point. Netanyahu’s attitude towards the media is irrational and it’s devouring him from within. That’s scary, of course, but also ludicrous and, one must admit, mainly pathetic.