Netanyahu Is No Magician – and He Never Was One

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, last month.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, last month. Credit: Yonatan Dindel / Flash90
Zehava Galon

So Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expired. He couldn’t pull one rodent or another out of his hat, like a successful recommendation of Naftali Bennett as prime minister that would have let him retain control of the option of a fifth election.

Netanyahu’s magic has worn off. He knows it, and it’s time for us to realize it too. Some political commentators have been calling Netanyahu a magician since 1996, when he defeated Shimon Peres in the direct election for prime minister, seemingly against all odds.

But they forget that Ehud Barak demolished him three years later, and that in 2001, Netanyahu let the premiership slip through his fingers when Ariel Sharon nabbed it. They forget his dismal performance regarding the Gaza disengagement, when he voted for the pullout four times because he didn’t have the nerve to take charge of the rebels.

And above all, they forget how Ehud Olmert – Olmert! – creamed him in the 2006 election, leaving him with just 12 Knesset seats, Likud’s poorest showing ever.

Both Netanyahu's admirers and haters have become infatuated with the illusion of him as invincible, a force of nature.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Netanyahu has never been a magician, just a creator of illusions. He has an authoritative baritone, and he uses it well. Illusionists makes things appear different than they are, but in reality, they do nothing. Like Steve Jobs, Netanyahu emits a reality distortion field, but when the illusion evaporates, we’re left with inferior products covered with lots of stardust and all the buzz that a talented publicist can create.

Without question, Netanyahu is the most talented publicist in Israel’s history. No one can take that from him.

But wait a minute, does anyone remember anything that Netanyahu really did? He uses lots of phrases like “I instructed” and “I ordered,” and nobody checks whether the instruction was carried out. Netanyahu is good at hitching a ride on things that already function quite well without him – does anybody really believe that an “instruction” from Netanyahu is needed for the army and Shin Bet security service to arrest terror suspects?

To effect any real change, you have to fight for it. But fighting for it leads to confrontations, and Netanyahu fears confrontations, especially with his base. He’s always thinking about the next election and so can’t bring himself to do anything that would put his chances at risk.

The Mount Meron disaster is further proof of that. The last thing Netanyahu needs is a quarrel with the ultra-Orthodox, so he didn’t quarrel with them and dozens died. Now he’ll try to obscure the consequences. That’s something he’s good at.

Sharon, on the other hand, fired the ministers from the Shas party one morning without blinking. As long as Netanyahu is with us, there will be no change here. There will be noise, and a good deal of fireworks, and useful distractions, but nothing will change, because Netanyahu is only there for the sake of Netanyahu.

Our problem is the idea of Netanyahu the magician, the idea that he’s invincible, a force of nature. The reality is different, but his admirers and haters have both become infatuated with the illusion. A whole generation of groveling politicians has grown up on this magician idea. Take Ayelet Shaked, who was caught saying that Netanyahu and his wife are dictators. But given the chance, she’d be glad to prostrate herself at their feet.

It’s good that Yair Lapid has received the mandate. This is how a leader behaves: He keeps a close eye on the illusionist’s hands and knows that his pockets are empty. He notices the beads of sweat and doesn’t blink. When we pay attention and watch closely, he has no power over us.

The day will come, and it’s coming soon, when we’ll wonder at the power that this man held over us and realize that it came from our fear of the “magician” that we ourselves built up.

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