Analysis

This Shows Where Netanyahu Really Stands on Charlottesville

Why the self-proclaimed leader of the Jewish world couldn't bring himself to come out against Trump's defense of the Charlottesville Nazis

Illustration: Netanyahu, with his mouth taped shut, looks at an angry-looking Trump. Nicol Raidman takes a photo of a cobweb. Bitan serves as a bouncer at the entrance to the Likud club. Yair Netanyahu holds a torch
Amos Biderman

We can’t expect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue a direct, head-on condemnation of the despicable comparison drawn by his buddy and role model Donald Trump, between racists and neo-Nazis and the left-wing activists who took part in the events in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. At the end of the demonstration on Saturday, one of the left-wing counter-protesters was struck and killed by a car driven by a man from the extreme right.

In international politics there’s a concept known as “realpolitik.” Israel has to ensure its strategic interests in the United States. Excoriating a president so soon after the start of his term of office – one who is undoubtedly a friend and ally, even if he’s a racist with anti-Semitic proclivities – will not serve Israel well.

But on the scale of options between a direct attack and thundering silence, there’s still wiggle room for speaking out. A proficient speaker and rhetorician like Netanyahu could have cobbled together something that would have expressed dissatisfaction at the president’s shocking words, which were tantamount to plunging a sword into the heart of American Jewry, without angering Trump. However, the prime minister of the Jewish state, who considers himself to be the leader of the entire Jewish world, initially chose the option of remaining mute. After the protests in Charlottesville and before Trump’s obnoxious press conference in his Manhattan tower, Netanyahu – the fastest tweeter and commenter in the West when it serves his political interests – waited a long time before issuing a reproof that was as limp as it was vague. And even that came only after his voter-base compass to the right, Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, had preceded him. That was sufficient; he had fulfilled his obligation.

Netanyahu is simply incapable of expressing support for any community that belongs to the left, whether it’s in Israel, the United States, New Zealand or on the moon. For him, the “left” is impure, defiled, apostate, carrion, anathema. We heard him spewing hatred and vitriol at “the left and the media” at the rally of supporters in Tel Aviv on August 9. How can he express solidarity with left-wing demonstrators in America – where they’re known as liberals – knowing that Trump shares his deep abhorrence of the same?

And how do we know that this is the reason for Netanyahu’s disgusting silence? Because of his son, and apple of his eye, “Yair Hun,” as he calls himself on his Facebook page. Once again, the young apple with the dirty mouth and wicked fingers has illuminated things for us and helped us understand where Daddy really stands.

In his post, the young Netanyahu wrote that the racists and the neo-Nazi “scums” in Virginia hate Jews and belong to the past. Then, in the same breath, he likened them to the “Antifa” (antifascist) organizations in the United States and the Black Lives Matter movement, which, God help us, are becoming “super dominant” in American academia.

It’s not surprising that Netanyahu, Jr., chose to publish his doctrine in English. Well aware of the kowtowing and self-abnegation that his father has displayed in his meetings with Trump, both in the United States and Israel – he intended his remarks to be read in the White House and in the homes of Ivanka and Jared, and for them to know: Yair is one of us.

No one will ever convince us that the son would have dared to publish a manifesto of any kind that is contrary to the winds that are blowing – from both Dad and by the same token, from Mom, too – at their Balfour Street residence. What the prime minister says inwardly, his son blares outwardly.

So, as of this writing, there are three individuals who support Trump’s comparison of the murderer to the murdered woman, and of the racists and neo-Nazis to their opponents. They are: David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who thanked the president warmly for the understanding he showed for the demonstrators’ motives; Likud MK and deputy government coalition whip Oren Hazan, who wrote “Trump was right” and added that both sides are equally to blame (well, after he told the president, during the reception at Ben-Gurion airport last May, that in Israel he, Hazan, is known as the “Israeli Trump,” he had to live up to it); and Yair Hun-Netanyahu.

Public housing

Apropos home: On the Channel 2 evening news on Wednesday we were given another resounding – and ridiculous – journalistic expose, courtesy of Sara Netanyahu’s super-rich friend Nicol Raidman.

The former participant in a reality program akin to “The Real Housewives” franchise got permission to film the residential wing of the Balfour Street place, which, it has to be admitted, looks bad and in need of renovation. The footage screened was vetted by the Shin Bet “for security reasons, but did include shots of Kaiya’s food and water bowls.

Sara’s choice of the vulgar and obsequious Raidman to publicize the situation at the official residence is mostly a reflection on Raidman herself. She’s completely lost it. Compared to her, Moshik Galamin, who made an election-campaign film about the house, is the essence of style and tact.

Nicol Raidman tours the Prime Minister's Residence (Hebrew).

Why no renovation has been done is unclear. We know that a fortune has been spent in the past eight years on the Netanyahu’s luxurious Caesarea mansion, which is heavily subsidized by Israeli taxpayers, even though it’s for family use only.

The motive for marketing the residential quarters of Bibi, Sara, Yair and Avner (the younger son) at this time is crystal clear: It’s a clumsy, childish attempt to influence public opinion ahead of the forthcoming revelations of what are guaranteed to be the embarrassing details about the lifestyle of the prime minister and his wife. This information will most likely be exposed as a result of the police investigations of Case 1000, involving the “gifts” and other amenities from tycoons, and in the case of the prime minister’s residences, in which we’ll learn about Sara’s sophisticated and creative efforts to allegedly divert taxpayers’ money to cover her own private needs.

But that’s not the point here. Raidman’s camera showed peeling walls, dampness and mold. “I could hardly breathe,” she said, and with typical good taste added, “Terrorists in prison enjoy better conditions than the prime minister and his family have.”

No, Nicole. The problem on the second floor on Balfour Street is not the rot in the walls. What’s really disturbing is the human and moral rot. It’s when one of the tenants, who is the family member considered to be closest to the prime minister’s heart and ear, after the latter’s wife, writes posts the way he did – two weeks ago in Hebrew, this week in English – that it becomes hard to breathe.

Shades of Romania

If it were not the ruling party, the party of the person who’s been prime minister for the past eight years, certain events involving Likud could be shrugged off as insignificant. But anyone with eyes in his head has to be concerned, not to say revolted, at what’s now happening in that party. Slowly but surely, the party is becoming a machine whose function is to create a fountainhead of worship for the Leader and his wife – not yet in North Korean proportions, but already close to Romania in the era before its anti-communist revolution.

The rally of support for Netanyahu at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds last week, which was successful beyond expectations, only whetted the appetite for more of the same. So very soon, on August 30, we’ll see a similar event, this time in a hall near Ben-Gurion Airport, the excuse being a toast in advance of the upcoming Jewish holidays.

The invitation sent to party members states that “the central toast of Likud in honor of Rosh Hashanah” will take place “in the presence of the prime minister and his wife, ministers and MKs.” “His wife” has long since become part of the ceremony. Of the procedure. His wife, thirsty for the love of the public and for the spotlight and the flashes of cameras, is demanding her due, and the man hasn’t yet been born who will dare tell her: Lay off!

Seething, vibrant Likud WhatsApp groups have recently featured an “oath of allegiance to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife,” which members are asked to sign. The source is anonymous. It might be serious, it might be a joke, just someone amusing himself at the expense of the Likudniks. But the fact is that people are pledging in their masses: “I hereby vow and declare that I will always support the prime minister and his wife through fire and water,” etc. Craziness knows no limits in today’s Likud.

But any party member caught making a remark in a public forum that contains an iota of criticism or that challenges the great leader, finds himself fending off petitions calling for his expulsion from the movement. For example, one Likudnik who dared to say aloud – not in the shower – that Netanyahu will have to step down if he’s indicted, will have to defend herself in the appropriate party institution.

Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu embraces MK David Bitan at a Likud rally, August 9, 2017.
Ofer Vaknin

This isn’t satire or esoterica, this is Likud 2017. On the one hand, witch hunts, shutting of mouths and closing of gates; on the other, blind adoration that borders on idol worship. In the face of the premier’s incitement against the media and the “left,” we’re seeing disgraceful silence on the part of ministers and MKs, so-called “leaders,” who are more concerned about No. 1 than about the public that elected them.

The traditional holiday toast, at which one’s presence is mandatory, is only an excuse. The Pied Piper of Likud and the party’s leader in practice, MK David Bitan, admits as much. “It will be a traditional toast, but also another demonstration of support for the prime minister,” he said this week.

I asked him why Likudniks feel a need to express their support for their prime minister and party leader time and again.

“They take the investigations against him personally,” Bitan explained. “It’s important for them to show him that they’re behind him. Also, it’s only natural for a leader in this situation to seek embraces and support from his supporters. That’s what he’s getting and what he will get.”

Bitan was pleased with the Tel Aviv rally, which his crafty mind devised. “It helped very much within Likud,” he told me. “When the media started to report that there were cracks high up in Likud, that not all the senior figures are with Netanyahu, I thought it had to be stopped, and we did stop it. It’s over. Everyone showed up, everyone expressed support. We succeeded in stopping it..”

Let our camp be pure

Bitan is also responsible for the purge now underway in his party. According to reports, and as Bitan said himself, those being evicted are for the most part “new Likudniks.” They’re almost all young, not all of them are Likud voters, and their aim is to transform the party’s Knesset representation by electing more moderate, centrist candidates who espouse nationalist but also liberal views, like those held by President Reuven Rivlin, former ministers Michael Eitan and Dan Meridor, and MK Benny Begin, the elder of that generation. And not just people like them. Members of the group, which claims to have recruited some 12 thousand new Likudniks, have also included among the names of recommended candidates in the upcoming party primary such figures as MK Yuli Edelstein (until recently a resident of a settlement), Yuval Steinitz, Gilad Erdan, Gila Gamliel and Sharren Haskel. Not exactly the “radical left.”

Bitan (and certainly also Netanyahu, who’s hiding behind Bitan’s broad back) sees this trend as a clear and present danger to the party’s character. Dangerous types like these – who can be expected to object to legislation aimed at trampling freedom of speech and at reducing the autonomy of the Supreme Court, for example – have to be purged. In Bitan’s perception, Begin, Meridor and Rivlin types are identified with Meretz and the Joint Arab List, and their possible appearance on Likud’s Knesset slate is akin to a “hostile takeover.”

“If we have to amend the [party’s] constitution to get the leftists out of the party, we’ll do it,” he promised. “We will prevent a coup d’etat. They want to topple the party chairman and elect someone else instead. We won’t let them do that.”

On what basis will he eject full, dues-paying members? “I have ideas,” Bitan said. “There are ways. First of all, people who registered in both Likud and another party are out.”

That’s obvious, I said, but what about people who haven’t registered twice. “There are ideas,” he said, without elaborating. (By the way, it’s was members of the New Likudniks who first turned to the party registrar to complain about the phenomenon of multiple registration.)

Among other things, Bitan plans to block party registration via the internet. The only way to join will be via vote wranglers, machers, heads of workers committees, leaders of party branches and clans. The free voters, those who aren’t connected umbilically to any Central Committee member, will be ousted for good. “Just imagine,” Bitan said to me, “tomorrow these people, who want to infiltrate our ranks, could elect a Meretz person as leader of Likud.”

The new initiative, which Akiva Novick from Channel 10 News reported on Wednesday, would have people suspected of being ideological traitors face an “admissions committee” for a “hearing.” They will be required to declare their acceptance of “Likud’s positions.” Except that Likud has no positions. It has a presently unchallenged leader whose caprices, outbursts and account-settlings are what passes for binding positions. Any potential joiner who doesn’t gush with adoration for Bibi and Sara will be doomed. If there ever is a hearing. In the meantime, their registration will not be approved, and the camp will remain pure and unsullied.

It’s MKs like Yaron Mazuz, Nava Boker, David Amsalem and even Oren Hazan and Miki Zohar, who will lend a hand to every legislative abomination, that Bitan understands – and the understanding is mutual. Sometimes there’s no need for words: A wink or a pat on the shoulder is enough, or a tacit or explicit threat.