Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cynicism runs so deep that even when he does the right thing, the moral thing, he is motivated by pure opportunism.
His superficial apology Tuesday night to the family of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan – a teacher whom the police shot and then left to bleed to death during the evacuation of the Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran in January 2017– was as usual mixed up with his personal affairs. “They turned him into a terrorist to hurt me,” he complained, after claiming to have discovered “just yesterday” that the deceased was no terrorist.
Three years, reports by the Shin Bet security service and the Justice Ministry department that investigates police misconduct, dozens of video clips and investigative reports (including some in Haaretz), all without a single bit of evidence pointing to Abu al-Kiyan’s guilt, and still the penny didn’t drop. That happened only when Netanyahu spotted an opportunity to attack the former police commissioner and the former state prosecutor.
If it’s possible to extract anything positive from his display of overflowing wrath on Tuesday evening, it was his apology – with or without quotation marks. When the law enforcement system becomes the prime minister’s chief target of incitement, it’s undoubtedly encouraging news for the Arab community, against which Netanyahu has been inciting for years. Tomorrow, he may yet offer one of Abu al-Kiyan’s relatives a guaranteed slot on his Likud party’s roster.
Just moments before hundreds of thousands of Israelis were forced to pay the price for his failure and that of his government in the battle against the coronavirus, Netanyahu exploited the endless screen time that the television channels give him to address what really matters to him – himself. The excuse for the live broadcast was his “field trip” to Beit Shemesh, one of the 40 coronavirus hot spot where nighttime curfew went into effect on Tuesday.
The real reason became apparent immediately after he finished reciting the shopworn slogans about Israel's wonderful economic situation and so forth. Then, he moved on to the really important issue – his criminal cases. Specifically, the “fabrication,” “obstruction of justice,” and “whitewashing” that he claims occurred during the investigations against him.
This sensational information ostensibly came from a Channel 12 report Monday night by television journalist Amit Segal. The report described the problematic involvement of a former police investigator in a case involving financial improprieties at the prime minister’s residences in which Netanyahu’s wife was a suspect (as readers may recall, Sara Netanyahu was charged and convicted after the attorney general generously closed many other cases against her).
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The report described unforgivable conduct by former Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich in the Abu al-Kiyan case, named former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan a party to concealing the truth in the incident and highlighted the conflict of interest that the investigator in the residences case, then-Superintendent Avi Rotenberg, had. Rotenberg was in a relationship with Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes at the time, a sworn enemy of Sara Netanyahu.
Even using “a blind watchmaker’s magnifying glass” (as Netanyahu often says), it’s impossible to find even a hint of a problem with the investigations against the prime minister in Segal’s report. But amid the endless white noise he creates, and when Ruhama from Sderot and Yankele from Ra’anana aren’t on top of all the details because they’re busy with their daily survival, it’s possible to scatter lies and false accusations, to fill the airtime with statements he made in the past that have now ostensibly received objective confirmation – “tainted political investigations,” “fabricated cases,” “a desire to topple a sitting prime minister” and so forth. Nothing we haven’t heard before.
He is so tone-deaf, so disconnected, that he didn’t blush or hesitate when he termed this story “the Yom Kippur of the police and prosecution.” Contrary to journalists, who sometimes get carried away, one expects leaders to be extremely frugal with their metaphors.
But if he’s already put that metaphor on the table, then it must be said that his management of the coronavirus crisis – the mistakes, the endless flip-flops, the utter failure to set up a contact tracing system to sever the chain of infection – is far more reminiscent of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Now too, people’s lives are at stake.