Bibi vs. the Punching Bag

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Leumit Health Care Services.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Leumit Health Care Services.Credit: Alex Kolomoisky,AP
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

A day after Benjamin Netanyahu gave an interview to TV Channel 12 News, Naftali Bennett gave one to the same channel, also for the main evening news. What a difference!

While Bibi was goal-oriented, with an immense passion to rule, with a clear message he repeated incessantly, Bennett came with a confused message and contradictory statements. Instead of a frontal attack on Bibi, he mentioned Bibi’s past achievements, saying that “there is no need to shun him or kick him,” only to replace him “in a dignified manner.” A classic case of a victim of bullying. That’s not how someone dying to be leader speaks. That’s how someone who’ll be the first to run to the boss for a job speaks, assuming the boss is placated.

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Bennett speaks in lofty terms of morality and values, but he never mentioned the main reason why this election is being held: because Bibi is accused of serious transgressions such as bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Neither did Bennett mention that Netanyahu is responsible for the deaths of 5,400 people, victims of the coronavirus, because all his decisions were based on an attempt to defer or cancel his trial. Instead, Bennett said that 5,400 people have died, without pointing a finger at the person responsible, even though he knows who was responsible for not closing the airport on time, who allowed the entry of people from Brooklyn with no testing or isolation, who allowed the Haredim to continue holding weddings, keeping yeshivas open while gathering in large crowds, and who did not allow the chain of infection to be broken.

Bennett leaves all this unsaid because he wants to serve under the person who is responsible for the disaster. That’s a contradiction the public understands well, and it has brought him, according to public opinion polls, down from 22 to 10 projected Knesset seats, with a possible further decline. Everyone knows that voting for Bennett means getting Bibi, so why not go for the original?

And the original is giving a fight. He arrived at the interview with anchor Yonit Levi with one clear message, which he delivered again and again. “We’re the first to exit the corona crisis, we’re leading the world in vaccinations, I’m bringing in the ‘green (all-clear) passport,’ I’ll make Israel’s economy first in the world.”

He’s saying all this while his rivals, Gideon Sa’ar, Avigdor Lieberman and Yair Lapid aren’t capable of delivering one clear message on TV. Every time an interviewer interrupts them with a question, they follow his lead and forget the message. That’s the opposite of how Bibi works. It’s not just because they don’t understand television, but because they’re not as hungry for power as he is. For them power is an option. For Netanyahu it’s an obsession.

That’s why he has no problem lying in every interview he gives. This week he repeated the most blatant lie, saying that “we’re the first to exit the epidemic,” while there are dozens of countries around the world, including many Western countries, that overcame the epidemic a long time ago, with everything open and working, without any vaccinations. There are 38 countries with fewer than 10 fatalities, compared to 5,500 here. Bibi says he’ll boost the economy to first place in the world. That’s ridiculous. He’s the one who brought us to the depths we’re in, with no budget (he lied about that too), with an enormous deficit, horrible unemployment, and the world’s highest number of days in lockdown and with closed schools.

His campaign against the rule of law also has a heavy economic cost. A country becomes risky and is shunned, with investors fleeing, when it becomes corrupt and its institutions enfeebled, with public servants intimidated and persecuted. This is exactly what Bibi is doing. He’s weakening and systematically destroying the police, the state prosecution apparatus, the courts, the budget division at the treasury and the institution of the state comptroller.

These are the gatekeepers who afford protection to local and foreign investors. As soon as this protection vanishes, so do investors. Poverty arrives, gaps grow and the economy collapses. This has happened in Africa and in South America. It is now happening here.

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