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No Longer Mr. Security, Netanyahu Reinvents Himself as a Social Populist

If I could ask Bibi 2003 about Bibi 2022, he would shake his head in contempt

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, last week.
Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, last week.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

Our world is one of images. It doesn’t matter what you really are, only what your image is. Once it’s set, that’s it. It can’t be changed. It’s yours for life. It doesn’t matter if you’ve changed along the way, become a completely different person.

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Bibi Netanyahu is a living example of this. He built an image for himself as “Mr. Security” and “Mr. Economy,” despite being neither. During his tenure as Israel’s prime minister, Iran approached the nuclear threshold, incendiary balloons set fields in the Negev ablaze, we had a knife intifada and car-ramming attacks, and Gaza rockets that targeted Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as well. Bibi’s response to these security crises was cowardly on one hand and hysterical on the other. The successful operation against Palestinian Islamic Jihad proved that he is not indispensable. He’s no longer Mr. Security.

It’s even clearer in the economic sphere. In 2003, as finance minister under Ariel Sharon, he carried out important reforms that created rapid growth. That’s how he got the label Mr. Economy. But that was years ago, and everything has changed.

Ten days ago, he presented an emergency plan to fight the high cost of living, but what an embarrassment! His presentation, filled with lies, deceit and dangerous promises, had one target: the ballot box. Common to all of the “program”’s provisions is spending that would lead Israel into a huge deficit, a lowered credit rating and a financial crisis. It turns out that the new Bibi has adopted a populist approach in which every problem can be solved by throwing public money at it. The prices of gasoline, electricity, water and property taxes are too high? He’ll subsidize them all, without caring about the waste and the deficit. He proved his total lack of responsibility in 2020, when the budget deficit climbed to 10 percent of gross domestic product.

Bibi Version 2003 cut government benefits, privatized companies, encouraged workforce participation, reduced spending and slashed the deficit. Bibi 2022 is an unrestrained social-populist. He calls for high subsidies and huge deficits. Labor Party lawmaker Naama Lizimi is Margaret Thatcher by comparison.

Netanyahu also has an excellent formula for reducing food prices: reducing import fees. You could die from laughter. He didn’t do this during all his years as prime minister, out of fear of demonstrations by farmers, and now he’ll cut them? We all know who really reduced import fees on food: Avidgor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett. It’s the same for housing costs. Bibi promises to reduce the time it takes to obtain building permits, which is great, but he was prime minister for 12 years straight and didn’t do so – why should we believe him now? He’s also promising free education from birth, but he didn’t do that either when he was in power.

And if the tens of billions of shekels that his “program” would cost the state aren’t enough, Bibi would also introduce generous tax cuts – less property tax, less income tax and less corporate tax. After all, voters don’t like taxes.

How will we pay for all of this goodness? “Through tax surpluses alongside streamlining the national budget.” Is there no end to his trickery? Tax surpluses are temporary, and they should not be wasted. The world is headed into a recession now, after interest rates have been increased, and budget surpluses will disappear.

It’s also important to remember that we have a huge national debt, of about 1 trillion shekels, on which we pay 40 billion shekels ($12 billion) a year in interest, so surpluses should be used to pay down the debt. “Streamlining the national budget” is also a lie. It’s always good to make things more efficient, but that’s not the funding source on which expenditures are based.

If I could ask Bibi 2003 about Bibi 2022, he would shake his head in contempt. Bibi 2003 knows that today’s Bibi is no longer Mr. Security or Mr. Economy. He’s only Mr. Trial.

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