Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. In January 1992 the Star gossip sheet published a transcript of conversations between Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton and a woman named Gennifer Flowers. Exactly a year later, in a dramatic televised statement, Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he was being threatened that if he didn’t drop out of the race for Likud party leader, a videotape would be released of him having sex with a woman not his wife.
In his decision to take this brave step, armed with the forgiveness of his betrayed wife, Netanyahu knew that Bill and Hillary Clinton’s interview with “60 Minutes” had helped them turn the tables and win the race. Netanyahu, meanwhile, won the Likud primary, and the rest is history.
There’s no doubt it was a serious gamble that relied on the public’s penchant for forgiving a man who cheats on his wife. In fact, the moment where Bill Clinton acknowledged “causing pain in my marriage” is what achieved the turning point.
Hillary was the one left licking her wounds after blurting out in the interview that she wasn’t “some little woman standing by my man.” Still, to this day there are evil rumors that Sara has stuck with Bibi against his will under a draconian agreement.
You need a lot of courage to gamble with the public’s sympathy, and of course, with a strong woman as a partner. Hillary deftly handled the Gennifer Flowers crisis. Sara, who is at least as ambitious as her husband, agreed to the appearance that exposed her publicly.
But what Netanyahu and Clinton survived and even turned into an advantage isn’t something that anyone can do. This is exactly what Netanyahu was counting on when his campaign began to dispense like poison gas the story of the Iranian hacking of Benny Gantz’s smartphone, including heavy hints about what might have been pilfered.
At first he distanced himself from the story and declared that the Shin Bet security service hadn’t briefed him on it. Then when he saw he wasn’t impressing the public, he faced the cameras and demanded that Gantz reveal which embarrassing details the Iranians had.
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But according to the latest polls, the number of people who feel that Gantz is more suited than Netanyahu to be prime minister is greater than the reverse, and Gantz’s party has halted the drop and widened the gap with Likud. A Channel 13 poll finds that more than 50 percent of Israelis believe a new investigation should be opened to examine the extent of Netanyahu’s involvement in the submarine affair.
Political analysts who had a lot to say after Ehud Barak raised suspicions against Netanyahu quickly silenced themselves when it turned out that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had been too quick to exonerate Netanyahu in the submarine case. To his chagrin, Netanyahu told his people to leave the story of Gantz’s phone for the headlines, as Haaretz’s Yossi Verter reported last week.
But the only one still pumping up this nonstory is Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, journalist Shimon Riklin, who’s always ready to make a mockery of himself for his boss’ sake. “Gantz lied in all the interviews,” Riklin tweeted. “The Iranians have videotapes and they’re very, very embarrassing. And a note of caution to the sloppy Gantz: If you continue to lie, I’ll tell the truth about you.”
Soon enough it turned out there was no demand for these goods. After all, Netanyahu had defused this booby-trapped package against Gantz by his political survival more than a quarter-century ago after he had that affair. Israeli society has matured, and that’s good news.
Even Netanyahu’s voters are sick of his style, and their curiosity is growing to find out what’s hiding behind the smokescreen. Therefore the Kahol Lavan campaign will continue to focus on the submarine affair. How will Netanyahu react? There are two weeks left to find out.