Opinion

The Birth of Bibi's Tragedy

Netanyahu speaks at a gala for the Jewish National Fund, November 5, 2019.
Mark Israel Salem

Anyone who saw Dan Shadur’s film “King Bibi,” which was broadcast last week on Channel 13 in light of the turbulent events happening these days, could see the metamorphosis of the main character, crammed into 60 minutes.

More than three decades have passed since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu linked his life with ours, and we still haven’t found the way to disconnect from him. The film also teaches us when and how that relationship was poisoned. The camera dives into the eyes of Israel’s ambassador to Washington and later, the United Nations – before his hair was tamed – and finds in them real feelings, like fear, embarrassment and playfulness. Even when he joined Likud and began to work his way up to the leadership of the party, and even as head of the opposition, remnants of authenticity could be seen under the polished American media image he adopted by using tutoring tapes.

The murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin changed everything. Netanyahu was blamed for the incitement that urged the killer on, and when he beat Shimon Peres and became prime minister, the rage on the left – and to tell the truth, among many in the media – turned into burning hatred. Viewers could see the precise moment that eventually led to Netanyahu’s fall: When he realized that he had become a demon, and the left and the media became monsters to him in response. Evidence of this could be heard on Wednesday, when his son Yair told a New York audience that he recalls the media assaults on his father as far back as he can remember, and that at the age of 5, when his father was appointed prime minister for the first time, it was already “a vicious, vile lynch media.”

That same day, Channel 12 journalist Raviv Drucker broadcast WhatsApp messages between former Netanyahu media adviser Nir Hefetz and former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber, both of whom turned state’s evidence in the Bezeq telecom case and are both being harassed. Both are evidence of the plan to insert Netanyahu confidants into positions of influence. While his son says in New York that he went to social media because he couldn’t stand the media’s cruelty toward his family without being able to respond, we learn that reporters, anchors, radio station heads and editors are direct Netanyahu appointments as a result of those very deals – or, as Iris Elovitch, who along with her husband Shaul, is suspected of bribery in the Bezeq case, picturesquely put it, “deals with the devil.”

According to the rules of Greek tragedy, the hero’s main character flaw is what brings him down. It keeps him from realizing his weaknesses and finally leads to his downfall. How, if at all, can Netanyahu be saved from his fate? Aristotle advised giving in to the will of the gods and not evading punishment. Netanyahu preferred to launch a well-orchestrated assault on the prosecution, the police and the attorney general, backed up by demonstrations of support in front of the attorney general’s house. The crude threats against the two men who turned state’s evidence, who used their influence to bring Netanyahu’s people into the media, reached its height when Justice Minister Amir Ohana revealed embarrassing personal information that was under a gag order to terrorize Hefetz.

Netanyahu won. The media has changed. His people in the media are his loyal spokesmen and those who were not mentioned by name are making their way to the top of the industry by satisfying the prime minister, even if they were not appointed with his help. But Netanyahu also lost. We are seeing the climatic moments of his war against the media, which he feels embittered his life, and they are ugly and frightening. When the curtain comes down on his personal tragedy, the sycophant Knesset members, who, like the moon, draw their light from him, will fade with him or change form. But anyone who watches “King Bibi” can expect to find all the hints of what is happening now. And all sides of this bitter battle must learn the moral of his tragedy, and ours.