Forget the Jews, Is It Good for Netanyahu?

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Emil Salman

Some readers ask why I never write anything positive about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Well, first of all, that’s not entirely true. I was among those whom “Bibi” used to call from New York to inquire what was happening on the political scene in Israel – would the elections be moved up?, and so on. I liked his deep voice and candidness when he said his goal was to return from the United States and get into politics.

I was also among the invitees – once he returned to Israel in 1988 – to those famous lunches of his, at which he would usually forget to pick up the check. But not before he explained that his policy was not what it seemed, and that even Haaretz would support him if he were elected.

The first Netanyahu government – the “great hope” of someone elected, in part, thanks to the slogan “Netanyahu is good for the Jews” – soon ran into all kinds of trouble. His character, already revealed back then, gave a bad name to the hope that a young, upstanding leader had come to power.

At the time, there were unflattering newspaper headlines such as “Bibi sowed hatred and reaped defeat,” or “Netanyahu brought us ‘Bibi style’ and McCarthyist methods.” He reached a crossroad where it became apparent that you can’t fool all the people all the time. The populist slogan “Hayda Bibi” (“Go, Bibi, Go”) became “Out with Bibi.”

Don’t ask what people thought about him in those days. As to who would succeed him, or who could embody an alternative, I found this quote in the archive: “No one could be worse.”

Obviously, the bleak forecasts didn’t quite come true. He is now on his way to becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Early on in his career, he was testy and always scheming, but now he’s made smugness a full-time occupation. He lives it up big-time. He’s the very opposite of camera shy. Before every cabinet meeting, he gives a brief speech to the nation, with his ministers all sitting meekly around the table. He misses no opportunity for a public appearance with his wife, Sara – neither of them especially slim, always freshly coiffed by the state hairdresser.

This week Netanyahu stole the glory from Maccabi Tel Aviv as if he was the real patron of their great basketball victory in Milan. The rumor of a plan to run Tel Aviv’s mayor Ron Huldai for prime minister had the predictable effect. Then, as now, things are measured in terms of how they suit Netanyahu’s personal goals and desires.

What’s good for him is good for the country – always in that order.

The vicissitudes of Bibi’s character are a matter for the psychological sciences. Because Sara allegedly doesn’t like presidential candidate Reuven Rivlin (an MK in Netanyahu’s own Likud party), a fundamental change in the country’s law must be made?

This whole story with the presidency is one of the most disgusting displays ever seen in Israeli politics. Harming the institution of the presidency for personal reasons is about as low as you can go. Netanyahu hasn’t changed since 1996; he’s only gotten worse. He likens himself to Winston Churchill for the latter’s long-term historical vision, but Bibi’s long-term vision extends no further than tonight’s evening news.

Netanyahu did not keep his promise to uphold all the agreements that were signed with the Palestinians, and he is leading the opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state. His first campaign slogan in 1996 – “Netanyahu: Making a Secure Peace” – is still just a bunch of empty words. Sure, it’s all fine in Tel Aviv, but the house is on fire and the gang is dancing.

When it comes to the fate of the nation, Netanyahu is failing in a big way. Instead of advancing an agreement with the Palestinians, he is trying to prove to the world that they are the recalcitrant ones. Or he presents them with demands he knows they can’t accept, like the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. He’s even trying to enact legislation to that effect.

Nothing is moving. We’re living in a fool’s paradise. There’s no terrorism, no war. But this is the time to really do something, and we are not.

Years ago, Netanyahu paid dearly for the “hot tape” affair (when, in 1993, he was forced to confess on television that he’d had an affair with his image consultant, after a videotape allegedly showed them in a sexually compromising position). The time has come for him to realize that one must also pay for the “secure peace” he promised in his first term.

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