Opinion

The Caesar From Caesarea

Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t born corrupt. He didn’t enter government to get rich. He came to do what was right, and for several years, he even did so. But then in 2015, there was a metamorphosis

FILE PHOTO: Netanyahu during a meeting with NATO countries' ambassadors to Israel in Jerusalem, January 9, 2018
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Bibi’s voters have turned into a cult. The dismal facts make no impression on them. They don’t care about corruption cases, questions involving the purchase of German submarines, the moral corruption, the incitement against the judicial system, the deterioration of security or of the economy, which is in retreat. As with members of any cult, they follow Netanyahu as if he were the Pied Piper of Hamelin, supporting him all the way.

It reminds me of another cult, the Trump cult. Shortly before the U.S. election in 2016, Donald Trump said even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue, his supporters would still back him. That’s true of Bibi too.

Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t born corrupt. He didn’t enter government to get rich. He came to do what was right, and for several years, he even did so. But then in 2015, there was a metamorphosis. After winning his fourth election, he felt that he had been elevated to the level of Caesar.

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From being a prime minister who came to serve the public, he became an emperor who needed to be served - from meals catered by private chefs to renovations of his villa in Caesarea - at government expense. But there was a fly in the ointment. The moment he became a Caesar, he lost the cautiousness that had characterized him as prime minister. He ignored the fact that he lived in a glass house, scrutinized by a great many eyes.

He therefore dared accept expensive gifts - cigars and champagne - and allegedly had no qualms about making quid pro quo deals with both a major newspaper publisher and the owner of the Bezeq telecommunications firm.

And if you’re just a plain old prime minister, you’d never dream of giving Germany permission to sell advanced submarines to Egypt without informing the army chief of staff and the defense minister. But if you’re Caesar, there’s no problem with it. If you’re a prime minister, you would never dream of making 13 million shekels ($3.6 million) off shares in a deal with your cousin that was related to those same submarines. And why invest in an American company at all? Aren’t there any good investments in Israel?

A Caesar can also make empty promises. He promised to topple the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, to eliminate terrorism in the West Bank, to thwart Iran in Syria and reduce Hezbollah’s missile arsenal. He hasn’t done any of this, and the dangers threatening all Israelis have only grown.

Missiles are flying at the south, and a bit at the center of the country too. Even the BDS movement has grown stronger. There’s no peace, no security and no reason to vote Bibi.

And for the economy as well, these have been four lost years. He tells us that we’re now enjoying record growth, but that’s simply a lie. Growth fell in the second half of 2018 to just 2.2 percent, which translates into a per capita growth rate of zero — in other words, a colossal failure.

And just for his information, the all-time record actually occurred under former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, after the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed. The growth rate in 1994 hit seven percent, thanks to a huge surge in foreign investment and economic ties with countries that had previously boycotted us, from Japan to the Gulf states. The economy has failed to grow in part because Netanyahu hasn’t pushed through any important reforms over the last four years.

He’s acted like a garden-variety social populist who spends money without a thought, much like Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and even Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn. This week, he promised to lower taxes, despite an enormous deficit that actually requires taxes to be raised, unless spending is slashed.

This week he also suddenly remembered the problem of the cost of living, but to lower food prices, he would have to eliminate customs duties and stand up to the farmers, which he is afraid to do.

The Americans understood human nature. After Franklin Roosevelt was elected tor four consecutive presidential terms, they enacted the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1951, which limited a president to two terms. Netanyahu also used to say “two terms and then go home.” But back then he was a candidate for prime minister, while now he’s Caesar.

It’s true that members of the cult won’t be influenced by anything I’ve written here. But perhaps others will agree that today the time has come to replace the Caesar from Caesarea.