Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was surprised by the extent of the criticism he received in the press for his decision to cancel a tax on produce, sources close to him said Tuesday.
Israel's largest circulation newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, ran the massive headline: "He caved in," with Netanyahu's picture. All the Hebrew dailies featured commentary criticizing the prime minister, except for the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, which only bashed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
"He didn't expect that the criticism would be so brutal," a source in Netanyahu's office said.
Sources close to Netanyahu said he expected to be treated like a savior, not a flip-flopper, for adopting a position most of the public supported, according to polls that he commissioned.
Likud sources criticized Netanyahu's handling of the situation. They said that his and his staff's strategic planning of the timing and circumstances of the event should have been better.
"If he would have made the shift two or three weeks ago he would have been treated like a hero, but because he did it at the last minute, he looks weak and like someone who gave in to pressure and extortion," said a veteran Likud source, who has been connected to Netanyahu for decades.
"He tried to cut his losses, and in doing so, he damaged himself personally," the Likud source added. "But politically the damage is negligible because there is no serious alternative threatening him, and he is lucky for that."
Other Likud officials privately criticized Steinitz for letting Netanyahu overrule him so blatantly. Some even suggested Steinitz should quit, but the finance minister's associates said he was not even remotely considering that option.
Amid all the criticism, there was also a battle among politicians for credit for succeeding in pressuring Netanyahu to change his mind.
While most of the credit went to Likud MK Miri Regev and Shas chairman Eli Yishai, Knesset economics committee chairman Ophir Akunis, a former Netanyahu aide, boasted that he had pushed Netanyahu behind the scenes to make the shift. Akunis went around the Knesset displaying an article written in May in which he was quoted saying that the produce tax should be canceled.