Opinion

Netanyahu Is an Unbridled Liar, but His Supporters Don't Mind

Ravit Hecht
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Netanyahu during the speech where he announced he will request immunity from the Knesset, on January 1, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ravit Hecht

Benjamin Netanyahu’s lying performances could cause anyone with minimal sensitivity to the value of truth to grow dizzy. It’s hard to ignore the steep slope we have descended, from “There will be nothing because there was nothing,” through “What? What are you talking about?” when asked if he would seek immunity from prosecution, to “Immunity is the cornerstone of democracy.”

Now there’s a new slogan, aimed at softening the rigid language for his mouthpieces and courtiers: “Immunity is always temporary.” What more will this land ask of us?

Netanyahu isn’t the only person skilled in such blatant lying, but with him it has reached a stunning level of perfection. Even before we get to being upset or outraged, there’s something shattering and frightening about the complete erasure of reality that results from Netanyahu’s permanent lies. It is such a fundamental distortion of our familiar map – the clear distinction between truth and lies – that it undercuts even people who could have sworn that just a moment ago, Netanyahu said something completely different.

Many of Netanyahu’s opponents view his supporters as a flock of simpletons who swallow his lies like water without even realizing it. But Netanyahu fans know very well what they’re getting. They know Netanyahu is an unbridled liar. They don’t support him despite this but, to some extent, because of it.

In a scene from the movie “King Bibi,” directed by Dan Shadur, a passerby is shown shouting at the camera, “We need a prime minister who will stand up to the whole world, not a sucker. Also someone who knows how to lie a little. We need a maniac as prime minister, a son of a bitch.”

This is an honest and instructive example of how Netanyahu’s supporters perceive his lack of restraint and shamelessness as virtues that are valuable to the nation. His supporters see his “going all the way” to defend himself as demonstrating a willingness and ability to do the same for them, and for what they view as Israel’s vital interests.

Just as Netanyahu doesn’t bow to the dictates of self-righteous morality when it comes to himself (“everyone is corrupt”), he won’t bow to the sanctimonious hypocrisy with which the Western world treats Israel, much less the plots of its enemies and the cunning of its ill-wishers. In exchange, Netanyahu sows existential fears, exaggerates the danger of the enemies rising up to destroy us (though in practice, he tends to avoid war) and insists on tying his fate to that of his supporters.

In his party’s recent leadership primary, he reiterated the slogan, “I fought for you and you fought for me.” In other words, I tell lies for you, and you – who actually do pay for champagne, cigars and jewelry for your wives – will hold your nose and support a position you don’t actually believe in.

The tendency to admire criminality and aggression, which includes subordinating the truth to necessity and stripping it of all value, flourishes in places where people feel themselves powerless against a demonic elite with unlimited resources. Diehard Netanyahu fans, like the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox, are convinced that the left still controls their lives high-handedly, and they must therefore adhere to the code of a guerrilla or a family, because the establishment is still a dangerous, alien mafioso that can’t be trusted.

This is the source of all the deep-state nonsense. It’s also the key to understanding how the right talks about, for instance, former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak – incontrovertibly a very influential person, but nevertheless just a retired civil servant now who every so often voices his opinion at conferences to which he is invited.

Netanyahu – ironically a rich, well-educated Ashkenazi, and, even more importantly, prime minister for more than a decade now – never ceased to cultivate his image as an underdog, a kind of Robin Hood who speaks fluent English and has come to rob the leftists of Rehavia and Ramat Aviv of their treasure and generously distribute it to his supporters, even at the cost of sacrificing himself, as proven by the fabricated cases against him.

Yet the booty is the war itself – the damage, destruction and dismantling. Also the lying, which, unlike in the Orwellian blueprint, doesn’t become the truth. The lie remains a lie. And it has value.

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