Opinion

Netanyahu Among the Lilliputians

Anything goes when it comes to flinging insults at Netanyahu or anyone who expresses admiration for him or Israel. Maybe it’s the result of a feeling of intellectual inferiority

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, March 11, 2018.
Oded Balilty / AP

Those who watched Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance at last week’s AIPAC conference in Washington were surely reminded of the extraordinary oratorical talent that he has used again and again in presenting Israel’s case to the world. Like him or not, he is one of the great world leaders at this time. The respect that other world leaders and statesmen show him is confirmation of that, if such confirmation is needed in addition to the continuing support among Israel’s voters.

For Israelis, no less important than his oratorical talents are the great advances that the country has made during his years as prime minister. Israel is stronger economically and militarily than it has ever been. Israel’s relations with other countries have improved greatly during his time in office. Should he leave it will be difficult to find a replacement of his caliber.

And yet, the attacks on him by Israeli commentators only gain in volume. Even those who were impressed by his performance at the AIPAC conference didn’t fail to predict that this was his last hurrah. Others even denigrated his appearance there. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who once served as his defense minister, went so far as to describe Netanyahu’s appearance at the recent Munich Security Conference — where he held up part of the Iranian drone intercepted over Israel — as laughable. The Iranians surely aren’t laughing.

But attacks on Netanyahu by numerous Israeli commentators don’t stop there. Those who applaud him abroad are also recipients of such attacks from Israel. AIPAC, which over the years has stood by Israel through thick and thin, and contributed to the development of the U.S.-Israeli relationship while expressing support for Israel’s democratically elected government, has now also become the subject of criticism after giving Netanyahu a standing ovation.

According to one commentator it is an “anti-Israel” organization. Even Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, an outspoken and eloquent friend of Israel, isn’t spared. Anything goes when it comes to flinging insults at Netanyahu or anyone who expresses admiration for him or Israel.

How to explain this phenomenon? The fact that he his under investigation and subject to the judicial process that every citizen is entitled to isn’t an adequate explanation. Of course he isn’t above the law, but the judicial process must be allowed to run its course. No need to pressure the institutions involved or prejudge the outcome. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that he has been a great prime minister and the majority of Israelis have benefited during his years in office.

Is it envy or sour grapes? With all due respect to commentators who wallow in criticism of Netanyahu, some of whom may possibly belong to Israel’s intellectual elite, they have given no proof that they can measure up to his abilities.

Time and again they have been proved wrong — when they claimed that he ruined the relationship with the United States, that he was a scaremonger with descriptions of a “nonexistent” Iranian danger, that he  isolated Israel among the nations of the world. Possibly it’s the result of a feeling of intellectual inferiority compared to Netanyahu that leads to these unrestrained outbursts against him. Is it Lilliputians having a go at Gulliver?

The level of the Israeli public debate has really become disgraceful — and the attacks are mild compared to what can be seen on the comment threads to certain Haaretz articles. Protected by the anonymity provided by this newspaper, you can find comments that include slurs, insults and even death wishes. Is this Haaretz’s contribution to free speech?