Netanyahu Can't Convey a Sense of Decorum He Never Had

The prime minister dictates ostensibly clean messages and his associates translate them into dirty messages, contradicting the spirit of his mentor, the late Moshe Arens

Moshe Arens. center-right, sits next to Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, during the former's 90th birthday anniversary.
Lior Mizrahi

Hadar. Almost every politician who eulogized former Defense Minister Moshe Arens this week used this word to describe his style. What is this hadar – which can be translated as honor, dignity or decorum – and why do so many people miss it? And if it’s in such demand, why is the party that purports to be its exclusive manufacturer producing exactly the opposite?

The word hadar is associated with the right-wing Beitar movement and denotes the ability to conduct a hard-hitting political discussion while maintaining a respectful, gentlemanly manner. Call it style. To be fiercely critical, to question the other side’s positions but still view your interlocutor as an ideological rival and nothing more. To engage with the substance of the matter, to look out for your interests but show respect to your rival, to the weak and to the minority.

>> The irony of Moshe Arens, the unfailingly courteous gentleman who brought us Netanyahu

Just to be on the safe side, I asked President Reuven Rivlin, a proud product of the Likud movement, to further clarify the word. “Beitar hadar is the hadar that’s preserved even when you’re at the lowest point. Even in your toughest moments, remember that you were created the son of a king. And hadar is the ability to remember that even if you are the son of a king, you will always treat others with respect, whether they’re close to you or not, whether they’re part of your circle or belong to any other group.”

Moshe Arens certainly met all these criteria, which point out those who do not fit them. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently patted himself on the back for the respectful manner in which he speaks. This is true, most of the time. But Netanyahu has developed a method whereby he dictates ostensibly clean messages and his associates easily translate them into dirty messages.

Particularly in Netanyahu’s last two terms as prime minister, we’ve watched his attack dogs pounce on political rivals and the guardians of democracy. Netanyahu comments with great hadar about former military chief Benny Gantz’s entry into politics: “I don’t get involved with how the left divides its Knesset seats.” But somehow his associates trash Gantz in every way, without being the least bit honorific or dignified about it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eulogises former Defense Minister Moshe Arens during his funeral in Tel Aviv, Israel January 8, 2019.
Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Netanyahu can rest easy knowing that Culture Minister Miri Regev will rip off Gantz’s insignia and portray him as a failed military chief of staff who was only appointed as a last resort. “Benny Gantz said go pick anemones and little Daniel Tragerman was killed,” Regev said with her typical Beitar-like restraint, referring to events at the end of the 2014 Gaza war. This is the same Regev who was offended when Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern said about her: “We know how you got promoted in the army.”

So we have Netanyahu saying only, “You don’t start a hearing before an election if you won’t finish it by the election.” But then we have Likud MK David Amsalem going further and saying, “The danger to Israel is the lack of trust in law enforcement” and “If someone decides to prosecute the prime minister in these delusional cases, millions of people won’t accept it.” Netanyahu says of the left and the media that “they’re scared,” and his son Yair translates this into “they’re traitors.”

The Beitar hadar died long before Arens. And it wasn’t just the slow death of a style no longer suited to the times. Rather, it was brutally chewed up, spit out and supplanted by a completely different approach that venerates a lack of respectfulness, personal attacks and Mafioso-style threats.

The looming prospect of Netanyahu’s indictment has sent him to a new low, but there’s still a long way to go to a conviction, and he could go even lower. Netanyahu can’t convey a hadar that has never been one of his trademarks, but he could rein in his cronies and ensure that his fight for survival isn’t translated into an assault aimed at dismantling the rule of law and government institutions.

His statement during his “dramatic” speech Monday night that “there are judges in Jerusalem” – noting innocence before being proven guilty – was important, but experience shows that his minions view it as mere lip service.