Bibi See, Bibi Do: Netanyahu's Political Mimicry of Bennett

The phenomenon of the two party leaders trying to outdo each other has become grotesque in recent weeks.

Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference announcing a coalition agreement, May 6, 2015.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the United States last November. He said at one of his appearances that he did not rule out a unilateral move in the West Bank. It was announced in the evening. In the morning, Naftali Bennett attacked him, saying, “It is a prize to terrorism.” Netanyahu awoke in the morning U.S. time, which was afternoon in Israel, and issued a clarification: What’s the fuss? I didn’t mean unilateral withdrawal. I was misinterpreted. Well, I thought, it was just coincidence.

Right-wingers in December began attacking the way in which the Shin Bet security service investigated suspects in the Duma murder. Bennett surprisingly backed the Shin Bet one morning on Army Radio. He said we have to prevent a second Duma. A few hours passed, and Netanyahu, who had kept silent until then, issued a statement: “The attacks against Shin Bet officials are unacceptable,” he said. “All Shin Bet activities are conducted according to law.” Well, I thought, another coincidence.

In February came the chief of staff’s “scissors speech.” I don’t want soldiers emptying magazines on girls with scissors, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told high-school students. Bennett once again surprised everybody that Saturday night when he backed the chief of staff on television’s Channel 2. Netanyahu had maintained a deafening silence until that point. On Sunday morning, Netanyahu opened the weekly government cabinet meeting by backing Eisenkot. Well, I thought, it no longer looks so coincidental, but let’s move on to the next page.

And then came the story of Elor Azaria in Hebron. Netanyahu was probably sick of people saying that he waits to see how Bennett reacts. He issued a swift statement, before Bennett: “What happened in Hebron does not represent the values of the Israel Defense Forces,” Netanyahu said, adding that the IDF “expects its soldiers to act coolly and in accordance with the rules of engagement.”

However, Bennett read the right-wing mind better. This time he attacked from the right and asserted that the soldier is not receiving backing. And just like that, Netanyahu changed course. Two days after the soldier “did not represent the values of the IDF,” Netanyahu issued another statement that every soldier deserves backing. The next day Bennett said that he had already spoken twice with the soldier’s family. Netanyahu digested the sensational information and three days later also called the soldier’s father. The examination “will be professional and fair with your son,” Netanyahu promised the father of the soldier charged with manslaughter.

The phenomenon has become grotesque in the last weeks. The army, backing Netanyahu, is promoting a tactical deal with the Palestinians that would allow them to strengthen themselves slightly, and the army will take reversible limitations upon itself in everything regarding operations within Palestinian cities. Bennett listens, attacks and oops – Netanyahu stops.

Bennett’s message since the current terror wave began has been that “it is not a result of despair but rather of hope.” The 16-year-old youth who goes out to attack Jews with a kitchen knife in his hand is basically doing it, it turns out, only because he didn’t lose hope for a Palestinian state. Some weeks have passed, and Netanyahu adopted this illogical message, practically violating intellectual rights. Netanyahu put it in his own words: “As I’ve said before, terror is not a result of despair but rather of hope,” he said. Amazing.

Now comes the latest round. Bennett gently condemned the deputy chief of staff for making a mistake. A few hours barely passed before Netanyahu also announced that Yair Golan had been wrong. Netanyahu even used the same phrase: The deputy chief of staff was wrong. It was as if someone was doing it just to spite Bennett.

I don’t want to assert that Bennett is basically the prime minister. He is not. I also do not intend to doubt the political logic of this strategy. Netanyahu has proved that he knows politics. I only want to ask one small question: Does Netanyahu not have a little bit of self-respect? Essentially, after I saw his picture with Mosh, his make-up artist, it seems to me that I already know the answer.