As Election Day nears and the criticism of him mounts, Benjamin Netanyahu is returning to the troubling and threatening patterns of behavior that characterized him during his early years in politics and his first term as prime minister. Once again, he is spouting conspiracy theories and accusing his political rivals of treason.
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The state comptroller’s report released earlier this week, which depicted the prime minister and his wife as clench-fisted misers when it comes to their own money, but extravagant spendthrifts – to a degree that raises suspicions of criminal behavior – in their use of public funds, jarred Netanyahu from his complacency. After having sent party members, his attorney, his media advisor, the family barber and a well-known interior designer to every television station and social media network and siccing them on both the former manager of his official residence and the former president, it was Netanyahu’s turn to respond to the criticism in his own voice. His response returned him to the days when he stood on a balcony in Jerusalem’s Zion Square as the streets below seethed with murderous incitement against then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The victim of his incitement this time was Tzipi Livni, whom Netanyahu accused of being “a danger to the country” and of having pulled the state comptroller’s strings in an effort “to sneak into the Prime Minister’s Office.” From there, he went on to claim that Livni and her colleague at the head of the Zionist Union ticket, Isaac Herzog, seek to establish a Hamas-run state in the West Bank.
It’s possible to enumerate all the falsehoods uttered by the prime minister. He himself conducted negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom he paints today as an enemy of Israel; he kept Livni on as a senior minister in his government until the day he decided to call early elections; he personally chose Joseph Shapira as the comptroller in order to weaken the institution of the State Comptroller’s Office. But Netanyahu’s lies, twisted and worrying though they be, pale beside his depiction of the leaders of a rival party as abettors of terror and dangerous to the country.
Netanyahu can’t offer a straight response to substantive criticism of his performance, so he responds to it instead by denying the legitimacy of the people running against him. Such behavior is characteristic of a leader who specializes in incitement, and is liable to lead to another political assassination. It provides yet another answer to the question of why Israel’s government must be replaced.