Analysis |

Netanyahu Is in Distress, and His Pre-election Media Blitz Proves It

When the prime minister’s plans go awry and the polls don’t brighten, he opts for dustups with interviewers and silly gestures that delight his base

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Netanyahu at a Jerusalem theater, last month
Netanyahu at a Jerusalem theater, last monthCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose moaning bellowed out of our radios Monday morning, was at his absolute worst: crude, lying, taunting, humiliating and slandering. Not something pleasant to listen to with your morning coffee.

But mostly he sounded stressed out and frustrated. Like the neighborhood bully who grabs a club and heads to the market to look for victims, Netanyahu came for a fight, this time with Aryeh Golan of Kan Bet radio and Efi Triger of Army Radio. And other interviewers will be waiting for him down the road.

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Netanyahu usually reserves his blitz of interviews for the very final stretch of the election campaign. We’ve gotten used to a prime minister who boycotts the media, taunts it and incites against it, then remembers at the last second to visit every trivial show with his aggressive shtick. That breathes life back into Likudniks who are sitting on the fence and wondering whether to hop off and vote Likud.

This time he has reasons to launch the blitz earlier: For quite a while now Likud has been stuck at 28 or 29 Knesset seats in the polls. That compares with the 36 to 40 seats he set as a realistic target, speaking in a Zoom meeting with representatives of a party supposedly representing the self-employed. And he has made that projection more publicly too, in front of Likud legislators.

He’s stuck, and his bloc – including Naftali Bennett’s Yamina – has been weakened, from 60 to 58 Knesset seats in polls including Monday’s survey released by Radio 103. In that Zoom meeting over a month ago, Netanyahu announced that the pandemic was over. Well, more than 1,000 people have died since. What’s it got to do with him? It’s Benny Gantz, Avichai Mendelblit; they’re the clerks, the lawyers.

Netanyahu is stressed and easily pressured into action – as Ariel Sharon said about him – because his plan is going all wrong. Unemployment has hardly budged, nor has the number of COVID-19 cases. The R number – the average number of people each patient infects – is now back at 1, and in 10 days we’ll all feel the results of the mass Purim parties that Amir Ohana’s police were unable to stop.

This future will make it hard for Bibi to carry out the final stage in his March plot: a carnival of a reopening a week before the election.

Netanyahu is in distress, and when he has his back up against the wall he fights. For now, his advisers have found him a new joke, empty and pitiful: The Sa’ar-Bennett-Lapid alliance is “suffering.” When we were children we would respond to such foolishness with a “ha ha.”

Well, we can tell him there’s no shortage of suffering in Israel, real suffering, no quotation marks: the families of the thousands of dead, the hundreds of thousands of unemployed, the business owners who’ve lost everything, the poor whose poverty has only deepened. He’s apathetic to this suffering, his heart is hardened to it. All he can see is the loss of his dear Knesset seats.

Yifat Shasha-Biton, who defected from Likud to Gideon Sa'ar party Credit: Emil Salman

“When the infection rate rises, we’re down; when the infection rate goes down, we go up,” he explained. His corrupt calculus is merely for his own interests and to win politically. It’s never for the public good or, God forbid, for the good of the country.

His two interviews on the morning news shows shared a narrative: The interviewee sought a sophisticated provocation to make the media rise up against him. When the media busies itself with him, criticizes him, reproaches him and insists on reminding him that he’s the prime minister of Israel, he seems to grow stronger. This certainly happens among his base, which also has its dead and unemployed among them. This worked for him in the past, so he’s trying to do it again.

And this is how we’ve returned to the idiotic gesture that he has already pulled out of his hat for Yonit Levi on Channel 12 News and Udi Segal on Channel 13. On Army Radio he insisted on repeating his foolish “na na na na na na,” and on Kan he upped the ante. When asked how we’ve reached such a shocking number, 6,000 deaths, despite the deluge of vaccines – he was furious and responded: “Ask the Shashot and the pakot and the paka paka and the shasha shasha.” He was making fun of a political rival, Yifat Shasha-Biton; “paka paka” means empty chatter.

Not a word of compassion or empathy – and we’re not even talking about an apology for the string of failures – he was incapable of saying any of this. As he usually does, he blames others.

Monday morning, the scapegoat was Shasha-Biton, the chairwoman of the Knesset coronavirus committee and a member of Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party. Let me remind you that he transferred the committee’s authority last summer to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee headed by United Torah Judaism. The great majority of COVID-19 patients and deaths came after that.

The grating sounds of “na na” in the interviewers’ faces were planned. It seems to work with the Bibi-ists, according to his research. Are the interviewers making things hard for him with his failures, mistakes and lies? He responds: “na na na.”

After all, everything is paradise, he has brought millions of vaccines to Israel with his own hands. What do all these sourpusses want from him? He has turned into the lead singer of everything is wonderful, because if it isn’t, how can he win the election?

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