On the day this week that Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the tenth anniversary of his current run in office, I paid a visit to the only consistently accurate electoral analysts I know: the regulars at the barber shop near the neighborhood's burekas place.
"Rak Bibi!" (Only Bibi!) they called to me, with a lethally ironic tone and a two-stage salute which intentionally recalled Roman legionnaires bellowing "Hail Caesar."
"Rak Sara!" I bowed in reply.
Of the six men in the room - all of them members of Netanyahu's exact target demographic, Mizrachi, hard-working, family-devoted, Likud by birth – the group split into three.
The first two were sick to death of Bibi and Sara and vowed to spend Election Day nowhere near the polling booth. The second two were sick to death of Bibi and were debating whether to vote for the spurned former Bibi loyalist turned Bibi critic Moshe Kahlon, the spurned former senior Bibi aides turned Bibi critics Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, or the former Bibi army chiefs turned shat-on-by-Bibi political amateurs Benny Gantz, Moshe Yaalon and Gadi Ashkenazi.
The remaining two were uncharacteristically silent. Which we all took to mean that Tuesday, April 9, they would swallow whatever might regurgitate itself up from their guts into their mouths, and cast their vote, as always, for Bibi.
They hate him. Even many of those who, at this point, will vote for him.
- Over half of Israelis predict Netanyahu will lead next government, new poll shows
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- Israeli Arabs who refuse to vote are handing Netanyahu victory on a silver platter
They hate him. They hate him, in fact, for many of the same reasons the rest of us do.
And yet, for this sample, that's already two votes more than Netanyahu was likely to score when he announced early elections last December. His campaign victory strategy appears to be showing signs of working, and, if anything, we are about to experience a huge, campaign-climax expansion of Benjamin Netanyahu's guiding approach:
Burn down the house, and the outhouse will be yours to rule.
Rak Bibi. Only Bibi could promise a social welfare bonanza if only we agreed to the terms of energy companies and tycoons for exploiting national gas reserves, and then turn around and treat only energy companies and tycoons to the social welfare.
Rak Bibi. Only Bibi could then crow that "our achievements have been amazing! … Israel is an energy superpower!" while raising gasoline and energy prices higher and higher for the people in the barber shop. Only Bibi could beam to voters in campaign commercials: "Look at the highways! Look at the intersections! Look at the trains!"
Yes. Do look at the trains. The ones that don't move. And while you're at it:
Look at his neglect of the elderly, the disabled – and despite no end of promises to the contrary – even of Holocaust survivors, on whom the prime minister has adopted an obscene strategy of running out the clock.
They hate him. And still he gets those votes.
Rak Bibi. Only Bibi, facing announced indictments in three separate graft cases, could remain securely in office having declared in 2008 that because then-prime minister Ehud Olmert was "sunk up to his neck in investigations" for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and despite the fact that Olmert had not yet been indicted, Olmert "has no moral or public mandate to decide fateful matters for the state of Israel, because there is, I must say, a real and not baseless apprehension that he will make decisions on the basis of the personal interest of his political survival, rather than on the basis of the interest of the nation."
Olmert had to step down. And went to prison. But Bibi?
Rak Bibi. Only Bibi at years end, with indictments against him suddenly now certain, could have called for early elections, just weeks after having have declared convincingly and without reservation that with a security crisis on the Gaza border:
"In times like these, you do not topple a government. It's irresponsible … In the middle of a battle we do not play politics. The security of the nation is beyond politics, and the security of the nation is also beyond personal concerns."
Now we know that, when and if Bibi wins, extreme-right MK and potential coalition kingpin Bezalel Smotrich intends to introduce legislation to exempt the prime minister from prosecution. Legislation which Netanyahu could only succeed in swiftly passing, by holding early elections for a new government.
They hate him. But he can still depend on them in big numbers.
Rak Bibi. Only Bibi, barely a week before the election, could suddenly reverse his years-long, no-negotiations Gaza policy which saw some 1,200 rockets and innumerable airborne firebombs launched just in 2018 against Gaza-border communities (or, as Netanyahu calls them, They Don't Vote Likud Anyway).
Ironically, or not, only when Gazans began to protest against Hamas did Netanyahu act to ease his astonishingly brutal and collective punishments against the people of the Strip, where drinkable water and more than rudimentary electric power is a thing of the past.
At the same time, only when elections dawned did Netanyahu change his treatment of protests at the Gaza border, where extensive use of live sniper fire by IDF forces have resulted in the deaths of more than 40 Gaza children and over 230 adults, with nearly 30,000 Gazans injured, many of them with permanent and severe disabilities.
And Adelson's Israel Hayom, in a manner reminiscent of U.S. Communist newspapers in the days of the Hitler-Stalin pact, changed its tone in a flash, from "Hamas is Hitler's spawn," to the laudatory Sunday front page reading "Hamas reins in demonstrators" and "Toward understandings between Israel and Hamas: Easing [of conditions] in return for total calm."
Rak Bibi. Only Bibi, we all now know, is willing to do anything to anyone, and certainly anything to Israel as a whole, in order to stay in office.
And still they vote for this man.
No wonder they hate him. Only Bibi could believe that working and middle-class Mizrachi Jews would see him as one of them, instead of the privileged, American-reared Ashkenazi princeling they so know he is. But there he was Monday, declaiming in a news conference that "They called us chach'chachim (a slur denoting North African Jews), asafsuf (rabble), baboons, kissers of amulets and muzuzot, and now they call us 'bots.'"
Only Bibi will burn down the house.
Only Bibi could have smashed to smithereens the bipartisan U.S. support on which Israel once relied. And back-stab and alienate a generation of young Diaspora Jews. And then coddle and blind-eye the Trump Republican and Eastern European authoritarian beneficiaries of white nationalist anti-Semitism.
And then complain about foreign interference in Israeli politics. Except for Sheldon Adelson and Donald Trump and Sean Hannity and the presidents of Brazil and Honduras and God knows where next.
And then, as he effusively thanks Trump for this campaign favor and that, continue to speak in the name of all Jews everywhere.
He doesn't even try to hide it anymore.
Rak Bibi. Only Bibi - who often boasts of and exalts his wife's profession as a psychologist - would furnish as proof of his campaign's characterizations of opponent Benny Gantz' insanity, weakness, paranoia, implied sexual deviance, and mental fragility, a report that Gantz has in the past seen a, wait for it, woman psychologist.
One thing's for sure. Amid overcrowded, violent schools, overcrowded, understaffed hospitals on the verge of collapse, trains and highways paralyzed and housing prices prohibitive, if you vote for Bibi this time, you'll get the outhouse in the bargain.