The Israeli police confiscation of cellphones belonging to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s closest advisers is disturbing, to say the least. It violates the right of privacy that is protected for all citizens, but also raises serious concerns about improper police intervention in politics and affairs of state. It’s an extraordinary measure that should be used only in extreme cases.
Harassment of witnesses, for example; Israel’s Penal Law defines such harassment as a grave crime with a maximum punishment of three years in prison. The circumstances are aggravated if said witness is a state witness, which Netanyahu’s advisers are suspected of harassing. And doubly so if the harassing is done on behalf of a criminal suspect, such as Netanyahu, and compounded exponentially if the harassers happen to be the prime minister or anyone acting on his behalf.
Netanyahu’s coterie has tried to dismiss the alleged dispatch of a truck with blaring loudspeakers to the home of Shlomo Filber, a state witness in one of Netanyahu’s corruption cases, as a juvenile prank. Israeli courts, however, have explicitly ruled that “harassment” includes “all acts that are intended to create unpleasantness or reluctance” of the witness, including those that “disturb his tranquility”. On the face of it, the case seems open and shut.
All of which combine to create a complex moral, legal and constitutional dilemma, with good arguments on both sides. Netanyahu, however, was having none of it. He used the Hebrew word usually reserved for terror attacks - pigua - describing the confiscation of his aide’s phones as a “pigua against democracy”. Tantamount, one assumes, to Jew-hating evildoers detonating an explosive device, killing and maiming innocent Jews.
Netanyahu’s hyperbole, typical of die-hard criminals, gave the signal to his loyal legions of ministers, parliamentarians, PR experts, analysts and admiring journalists. They swamped the air waves with torrents of outraged protests against the police move, which, they neglected to mention, is under the strict supervision of both state prosecutors and the courts.
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The confiscation of the phones, they said, marked the end of Israeli democracy and its final descent into a police state. No less. It provided irrevocable proof, they maintained, of the inter-galactic leftist conspiracy that seeks to depose and destroy the best prime minister Israel has ever had.
The gushing outcry is not a solitary incident. Hysteria, self-victimization, moral blindness, lack of self-awareness and a total detachment from reality have become the hallmarks of Netanyahu and his disciples in recent years.
Only thus can reality be turned on its head. And only thus can a prime minister who has dominated Israel for over a decade, whose cabinet is at his beck and call, Knesset is his rubber stamp and legal authorities fear his every word, metamorphose into a helpless, defenseless and innocent nebbish who is being persecuted for no good reason.
Yitzhak Rabin once said that “leadership is not built on cry babies” but he was wrong. Netanyahu’s leadership, like Donald Trump’s, is increasingly based on his incessant grumbles, whimpers and moans. He is the downtrodden victim who is the object of never-ending plots, conspiracies and persecutions, perpetrated by his endless list of enemies. Have pity, Jews, have pity.
Netanyahu’s self-victimization has several immediate tactical benefits. It rallies up the base, which immediately rushes to its leader’s side. It distracts the media from the actual high crimes and misdemeanors of which Netanyahu might be accused. It chills the motivation of police and prosecutors to lock horns with the prime minister and his aides. It might even influence Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit, who is set to announce Netanyahu’s indictments, and could possible have an effect on the judges who will preside over Netanyahu’s trial.
And it’s not just Netanyahu. Cry-babyism has become the defining characteristic of the new Israeli right. The entire world is against them. The Arabs are out to destroy them, the left controls their lives, police and prosecution torment them with no probable cause and the media spreads lies, fabrications and fake news about each and every move they make. Their faux-suffering is so realistic that it has blinded them to the very real hardships and distress of anyone but their own privileged class.
After nearly four straight decades in power, the leaders of the proud and patriotic Israeli right have turned into the mirror image of their frightened Jewish ancestors in the shtetl. Their battle cry is “oy-oy-oy” and their flag bears the image of Chicken Little screaming about falling skies.
They follow blindly in the footsteps of their leader Netanyahu who they depict as strong and resolute. But if renowned British children’s author Charles Hargreaves had written about Netanyahu in one of his magical little booklets, he would have undoubtedly dubbed him “Mr. Crybaby.”