Netanyahu Struts the World Stage, but the Sound and Fury Signify Nothing

For Netanyahu, rubbing shoulders with world leaders is perhaps the sole asset he has in his effort to remain prime minister and “protector of Israel” forever

Tzvia Greenfield
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Netanyahu waves as he walks alongside world leaders at Paris unity march, January 11, 2015.
Netanyahu waves as he walks alongside world leaders at Paris unity march, January 11, 2015. Credit: AFP
Tzvia Greenfield

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to sell the public the legend of his greatness as an Israeli leader, sought after by all the world’s leaders. Only a few days ago he met with the president of the United States in Davos, and he was already flying to a short meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On the agenda are supposedly global issues, like Iran and a peace agreement, yet as the years go by, it repeatedly emerges that nothing actually happens and the main thing is the affectation of a being great leader.

The reality Netanyahu is meant to be managing is rolling forward almost by inertia, but in the provincial Israeli context, the story of his rubbing shoulders with world leaders makes a great impression on his followers, and it’s almost the sole asset he has in his effort to remain prime minister and “protector of Israel” forever. Like everything connected to Netanyahu, this is an empty pretense liable to end in disaster.

One can’t help but remember the demonstration by millions in Paris following the terror attack on the offices of weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo. Germany’s Angela Merkel and then-French President Francois Hollande marched in the lead, surrounded by the prime ministers and senior leaders of Europe and the rest of the world (only the Obama administration was absent). The prime minister of Israel was meant to be marching in the third row.

But the Israeli public following the event was amazed to see that Netanyahu wouldn’t be satisfied with crumbs, and like a true Israeli he kept pushing forward. After he managed to shoulder his way into the second row of leaders, he made his way without hesitation to the crowded first row, and within a minute he was a step or two ahead of everyone, including the leaders of France and Germany, marching in effect at the head of this impressive demonstration, as if he was in charge, waving to the invisible masses.

This was and remains the method; what matters is what the TV cameras see. In the homes of his foolish fans the jaws will drop in admiration and they’ll say, “Look what a great leader! Did you see how he alone led that demonstration of millions, and how the masses applauded him? Even Merkel and Hollande – compared to him? Of course he’s the most prominent leader in the world!” If he wanted to, people say, he could easily be elected president of the United States, so all Israelis ought to thank their good fortune that he deigned to be their prime minister.

The image of the prime minister as more than just a local whiz – the kind that succeeds in one-upping Israeli mentalist Lior Suchard – but also an internationally renowned expert is critical to Netanyahu so Likud voters will stand behind him en masse during the tough times, like elections, or exhaustive police investigations.

The more than 20 years his presence has dominated Israeli politics, almost 10 consecutive years of them as prime minister, haven’t taught Netanyahu that a great leader isn’t the one who pushes himself in front of the cameras while really wasting our time, but one who dares to substantively repair and change the situation of his people. Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Abraham Lincoln and David Ben-Gurion didn’t win world glory because they divided their people and caused rifts among their citizens, but because they had the daring to break through the framework of existing conditions and lead their people toward a new and better stage in their development. In Netanyahu, such daring is not to be found.