Benjamin Netanyahu enjoys hearing words of praise for his actions as prime minister, and when the compliments don't come from others, he takes care of them himself.
On Monday he took part in the memorial ceremony for the 44 people who died in the Carmel fire a year ago. Before the event, Netanyahu's office rewrote the passages to be read by the narrator, Dan Kaner, and added expressions of admiration for the way the prime minister conducted himself during and after the blaze.
When the extent of the fire became clear, Netanyahu indeed took charge, and he turned to foreign countries and companies to help Israel by sending firefighting planes. He then pushed for the establishment of a permanent firefighting squadron, a controversial decision.
But even if Netanyahu carried out his tasks appropriately during the disaster, he made a mistake when he added self-promoting statements to the narration at a state memorial ceremony. That's not the way to do things, just as at memorial services for fallen Israeli soldiers it isn't customary for the announcer to laud the prime minister, the defense minister or the military commanders for carrying out their duties during a war.
The words of praise sounded like an attempt to define the prime minister's status in the public's eyes in the run-up to the state comptroller's report on the Carmel fire. Netanyahu apparently hopes his speedy response to the disaster will overshadow the government's failures in the precautions that preceded it.
But more serious than that, rewriting the narration reflects a problem in Netanyahu's public conduct, a problem that has repeated throughout his career: his desire to reap credit at any cost, his feeling that he is being deprived and that his importance as a leader is not being recognized. On Tuesday, too, instead of admitting his mistake, his office rejected the claims and his political cronies came to his defense against the "media assault."
The problem with this kind of behavior is not just the lack of modesty - "Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth" - but also the prime minister's judgment in more fateful matters. Netanyahu's excessive involvement in cultivating his public image is a cause for concern.
A person who seeks the trust of the public in his decisions on war and peace must act with caution and humility, not with conceit or self-importance, because in the shadow of those traits lurks an avoidance of responsibility.
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