Benjamin Netanyahu Is Losing His Touch

The prime minister, whose fingers are always on the nation’s pulse, has erred in some recent assessments.

AP

Actually, what is the argument about? Why are the opponents of the agreement with Turkey against the deal? To understand that, we must return to the Mavi Marmara incident. What was the issue then? If this was indeed a “terrorist flotilla” as Israel claimed, then the naval commandos who opened fire did what they were required to do (including risking the lives of uninvolved participants in the voyage, an unavoidable corollary of the fighting). If this was a humanitarian flotilla of peace activists who were brutally attacked by well-trained Special Forces and were only defending themselves, as attested to by people on board, there is room for international criticism of Israel, possibly directed squarely at soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.

Naval commandos who were on the deck of the Marmara feel wronged. They told the daily Yedioth Ahronoth: “There is something exasperating about the fact that Israel must compensate Turkey. I was beaten with a metal rod and saw bullets fired by the terrorists flying around me. We have nothing to apologize for.” Opponents of the agreement feel that if Israel is apologizing and paying compensation to the families of the dead, this implies that what was said around the world about Israel after the incident, and shouted by MK Haneen Zoabi in the Knesset, was true – this wasn’t a flotilla of terrorists, and even that IDF soldiers were “murderers.” In fact, it is almost as if the people perceive the prime minister as admitting that IDF soldiers were murderers. The fact that people understand that the agreement is in our national interests doesn’t erase hurt feelings.

Benjamin Netanyahu, whose fingers are always on the nation’s pulse, erred in his assessment this time. Opponents of the deal feel that he didn’t stand beside the people and the soldiers. He abandoned them for a fistful of gas dollars. If the deal had included the return of the kidnapped citizens and dead soldiers, people would have felt that this was a deal signed also with Hamas, and that this shows that the naval commandos were fighting “terrorists,” not Turkish peace activists. Leaving Hamas outside the deal is an admission that it didn’t stand behind the flotilla. This opens the door to claims that the IDF was fighting civilians, even if they were wielding iron bars and using weapons to defend themselves.

Reuters

This isn’t the first time Netanyahu has made a wrong diagnosis of the people’s temperature. Already after the Elor Azaria (the incapacitated-terrorist-shooting soldier) incident he showed that he’s lost touch with the people. His first response, “What happened in Hebron does not reflect the values of the IDF,” changed when he realized that people had quite different opinions on the matter. He quickly updated his response: “IDF soldiers, our sons, face murderous attacks by terrorists who try to kill them.” He then phoned Elor’s father, telling him that “as a father to a soldier myself, I can understand the distress you’re in.” Although belatedly, Netanyahu sided with the people, giving the message that, like them, he doesn’t consider Azaria a murderer but, in the worst case, a soldier who made a wrong decision “in real time, in the field, under pressure, under conditions of uncertainty.”

Netanyahu’s wrong diagnosis regarding the people’s stand on the deal with Turkey will gladden his political rivals. It appears that he’s losing touch with his voters. This explains his demand to remove Zoabi from the Knesset. He wants to silence the person saying out loud what is implied by Israel’s apology. It remains to be seen if the people are satisfied only with Zoabi’s sacrifice, or if the humiliation they feel at being abandoned has caused a rift between Netanyahu and the people, one that will not be easily mended.