Analysis

Sounds Familiar? Netanyahu Tells Likudniks Their Greatest Enemy Is the Media

The prime minister launched his party’s election campaign by touting his own innocence and branding his rivals as leftists beholden to Arabs

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Netanyahu speaks at the Likud campaign launch event, Kfar Hamaccabiah, March 4, 2019.
Netanyahu speaks at the Likud campaign launch event, Kfar Hamaccabiah, March 4, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Hundreds of enthusiastic Likud activists stormed Tel Aviv’s Kfar Hamaccabiah on Monday night, pushing and shoving, crushing and getting crushed, shouting at stubborn police officers who stood in their way while seeking ways to get around them, all in an effort to lay eyes on their favorite rock idol, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Likud, in an exhibition of gross mismanagement — or in a clever ploy to highlight the determination of its supporters, as one too-close-for-comfort Likudnik whispered in my ear — reserved an auditorium with a maximum capacity of 800 for an event that attracted at least twice as many. The hundreds who saw the Promised Land but could not enter it grumbled, cursed and even threatened to vote for the leftist Meretz, but only as a joke.

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Haaretz Weekly Episode 17Credit: Haaretz

“Bibi’s problem is that he is surrounded by idiots,” one of the refuseniks surmised, citing the popular catch-all excuse for any and all mishaps that occur on their hero’s watch.

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But while it was all anger, frustration and an unsavory accumulation of body odors outside the hall, the lucky ones inside were having a ball — as befits a party that has been in power for 10 straight years and is confident, despite Netanyahu’s efforts to raise a galvanizing alarm, that it will rule forever.

When Netanyahu thought he was being daring by proclaiming that achieving 40 Knesset seats is still possible — Likud has 30 in the outgoing Knesset — his fans protested his pessimism. “Fifty” they raised him, but even that impossible goal quickly lost its luster, driving them up and up into the wild blue yonder of  “61, 61,” which would give them an absolute majority. By this time, anyone shouting 50, never mind 40, was immediately shushed in the tone reserved for defeatists on the left.

Netanyahu supporters at the Likud campaign launch event, Kfar Hamaccabiah, March 4, 2019. The Hebrew slogan reads "Netanyahu. Right-wing. Strong."
Netanyahu supporters at the Likud campaign launch event, Kfar Hamaccabiah, March 4, 2019. The Hebrew slogan reads "Netanyahu. Right-wing. Strong."Credit: Moti Milrod

The auditorium sported posters such as “Netanyahu. Right-wing. Strong,” and “Only Likud can prevent a leftist government.” This is emerging as the party’s main campaign slogan, along with the stalwart defense of Netanyahu in the face of the “blood libel,” as they describe it, concocted by the media and its lackeys in the police and Justice Ministry. Many foolhardy attendees were tempted by the generous snacks offered in an adjacent hall, but discovered upon their return they had made a fatal mistake: It’s full, the beleaguered police officers said, while trying and failing to push the crowd back for fear of disaster.

Left with no other choice, the exiled returned to the food hall, where they gazed at a Likudnik walking around with a large picture of Netanyahu at the end of his outstretched hands, like in some Catholic marches honoring a saint. Others listened to a duo of troubadours named Eran Levron and Meir Sinatra — I kid you not — who sang Netanyahu’s staple response to the allegations of corruption against him, “Nothing will happen because nothing happened,” to their own original tune.

When Netanyahu finally arrived on stage, the crowd burst out in cries of “Bibi, Bibi,” as well as “Bibi King of Israel lives and exists.” This song was hitherto reserved for King David and Ariel Sharon, before the latter betrayed Likud and set up the breakaway Kadima party.

Sara Netanyahu, dubbed by her husband “Sara the Beloved,” garnered, as is the custom, her own chants of support. The Likud candidates for the Knesset sat in the front row, though it was clear even to them they were serving as extras in Netanyahu’s one-man show.

Then the crowd broke into a rendition of Netanyahu’s legendary slogan “They are A-F-R-A-I-D,” with “they” meaning Benny Gantz and his military sidekicks (whom Netanyahu continues to describe as “left” even though they’re nothing of the kind), but mainly the media.

The free press, it seems, is the true enemy. All the parties, from Gantz’s Kahol Lavan leftward, are simply the agents used by the media to fulfill their cherished goal of unseating Netanyahu.

“When the media realized it can’t get rid of me fair and square,” Netanyahu said, “they decided to do it the other way.” The media is intentionally concealing the unprecedented achievements of his government, Netanyahu claimed, citing defense, foreign affairs, the economy and even, according to the videotaped promo screened before he arrived, the trains — which by any other account are on the verge of total meltdown.

Netanyahu paid special attention to his foreign relations forte, mentioning a sensational visit to Afghanistan, which was later amended to a far more mundane Azerbaijan. He listed the world capitals and cities in which he is an honored guest, from Rio and Washington to Moscow and Beijing. Paris, London and Berlin, for some strange reason having to do with their displeasure with him, did not make the list.

Netanyahu’s continuous tirades against the media spurred a few of his followers to approach the area reserved for television cameras in an effort to disrupt their live broadcasts and to rail against their plot, which Netanyahu had just attested to, of hiding his stellar achievements.

That wasn’t the only thing that resembled Donald Trump’s campaign rallies. Like his BFF in the White House, Netanyahu has also taken to talking only in superlatives: The situation, he said, “is better than it has ever been before,” on the one hand, and he, Netanyahu, is the most besmirched and maligned prime minister in history, on the other.

“Unlike my rivals,” Netanyahu declared, “I speak from the heart,” forcing his party loyalists to strain themselves not to roll their eyes. Similarly, the Likud promo boasted that “Netanyahu rejects populism” — a daring description for a politician who owns each and every Israeli success but pins responsibility for any and all its failures on someone else, usually the media.

It is the same media that is responsible, apparently, for his investigation by the police and indictment by the attorney general. “The house of cards has started to crumble,” Netanyahu said, by way of referring to the attorney general’s damning 57-page charge sheet and nauseating 60-page account of Netanyahu’s alleged corruption.

Finally, Netanyahu uttered the new catchphrase that, at his direction, now features in every second sentence uttered by his underlings. “Bibi or Tibi,” it asserts, referring to popular Arab MK Ahmad Tibi, as a way to taint Gantz and his other rivals as Arab-serving lefties. “Bibi, Bibi,” the crowd responded, although, in the commotion and hubbub, it could have been “Tibi, Tibi” as well.

To his credit, no previous prime minister before Netanyahu ever described an Israeli-Arab politician as a possible alternative to a Jewish prime minister. As his fans swear, only Bibi can.

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