Analysis |

Is This What Netanyahu Risked His Legacy For?

The prime minister risked his government, and apparently also his freedom, not to fight Israel’s enemies or jump-start the economy, but for flattering pictures of his wife Sara on Walla news

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit.Credit: AFP
Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasts in his speeches of having fought and been wounded for Israel and of working to bolster its security, economy and international standing. At least, he did until 8:30 P.M. Thursday. In his self-pitying speech, Netanyahu changed direction and announced that he intends to destroy the state and its institutions in response to his indictment.

To Netanyahu, remaining in office is above everything, and anyone jeopardizing that is a traitor, a saboteur. In his eyes, those who dared to investigate and indict him should themselves be investigated, and presumably imprisoned for undermining national security.

In response to being charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Netanyahu accused outgoing State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and unnamed police investigators of a coup against him, no less. You have to replay his remarks repeatedly, clean your ears and rub your eyes, and it’s still hard to believe that Nitzan, of all people, who has always seemed the squarest, grayest and most dedicated of all bureaucrats, would head the group storming the Bastille, occupying the Winter Palace or throwing barrels of tea into the sea. That Nitzan is really a radical anarchist who incited Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and several police officers to work to replace the government.

Really, Bibi? Do you really believe this nonsense, which stars in all the talking points of your political servants and your mouthpieces in the media and on social networks? Let’s imagine the scenario: Shai Nitzan sits in some office on Jerusalem’s Salah al-Din Street, bored to death by the endless paperwork, the exhausting meetings, managing hundreds of criminal and civil lawyers. So he turns around, cleans his glasses, straightens his tie and tells his cronies: “I’m retiring late in 2019; let’s stir up a fuss before I go. We’ll oust Netanyahu and get tons of favorable headlines.” And Mendelblit listens, fidgets, deliberates, worries and finally says, “Why not? Let’s fabricate some case or other and get rolling.”

This story is unconvincing. Even Netanyahu’s die-hard fans, who spout off day and night about the prosecution’s evils, have to ask themselves honestly, what motive would prosecutors and police detectives have for undermining the prime minister? What did they think they would gain from it?

After all, even if Netanyahu resigns, Nitzan won’t replace him at the head of the cabinet table. Neither will Brig. Gen. Coresh Barnoor of the Israel Police, who according to transcripts of the interrogations was the chief interrogator. At most Nitzan will be a commentator in some television studio and earn his living as a private attorney until receiving a judgeship, while Barnoor will become a talk-show host on Army Radio. Not bad, but would anyone carry out a coup for that?

No, Bibi, your story is neither convincing nor credible. You are a victim not of errant policemen and prosecutors, but of your insatiable pursuit of respect.

You were elected prime minister four times. You broke the record for the longest time in that office. You’ve been hosted more often than any other Israeli by world leaders, the U.S. Congress and the UN General Assembly. But it will never be enough for you.

All this stature is dwarfed in your eyes by a television pundit’s barbed comment, a critical headline in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily or an aggressive op-ed by a Haaretz columnist. And the compensation, which was never enough, lay in expensive gifts from billionaires and an obsessive desire to control the media – to determine what would appear in the headlines, how the picture would look and where the article would be placed.

The prime minister risked his government, and apparently also his freedom, not to fight Israel’s enemies or jump-start the economy or solve Israel’s social problems, but for flattering pictures of his wife Sara on the Walla news site and flattering articles in Yedioth. The truth is, it’s sad. And it’s even sadder that Netanyahu is clinging to his job, and is now willing to destroy the institutions of the state to remain in it.

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