It's interests, not personalities that is likely to determine what happens..

 
There may be no better demonstration than the persona and family of Benyamin Netanyahu and the political career of Israel's Prime Minister.
 
Just last week Sara spent 12 hours being questioned by the police about the management of the family households. Reports are that the police are inclined to charge her with criminal wrongdoing. As far as we know, the issue concerns the improper mixing of public and private money and belongings. Over the years we have heard about the funding of family trips by individuals who may benefit from a government decision, allegations about household finance, and the movement of furniture from the official residence in Jerusalem to the private residence in Caesarea. There's also been nastiness and some court appearances involving the household help and Mrs. Netanyahu. She has a reputation for a short temper and outlandish demands, directed against hubby as well as the staff.
 
Recently we've heard about a non-Jewish Australian billionaire, James Packer, who was favored in life by a wealthy grandfather and father, has been through several wives and years with Scientology, and came on to Israel as a favorite place with the prospect of tax benefits, and friendship with the Netanyahus. He has sought, so far unsuccessfully, to receive the status of permanent residence from the Interior Ministry. He owns two residences in Israel and several elsewhere, which he has made available to one of the Netanyahu sons.
 
It's routine for the head of the Netanyahu household, whether that is the Prime Minister or one of his spokespeople, to say that there is nothing to any of these stories.
 
Should the circle of nastiness be expanded to close governmental associates of the Prime Minister, we are currently hearing allegations about a former head of the Prime Minister's Office said to have held a woman against her will and molested her sexually.
 
Many of us might decide that--ego aside--we'd best pass up an invitation to coffee with the ruling family. That's probably true if their name is Netanyahu, Trump, Clinton, Obama, or whoever else has gotten to the top of a country. It ain't easy climbing through the levels of government or other large organization. Those who make it have to sacrifice some of the more pleasant of personal traits along the way.
 
Bibi's public record is distinct from the stories about Sara et al.
 
He's recently passed David ben Gurion as the individual who has served most days as Israel's Prime Minister. 
 
There is plenty of criticism about what he says, and does, and how he speaks in full praise of what he has done and intends to do. However, there is no obvious alternative who seems close to putting an end to his political career. 
 
Occasional polls have found Yair Lapid to be close or even ahead of Nantanyahu in the event of an immediate election. 
 
The Prime Minister has been wrapped in a struggle with the head of Jewish Home over the settlement of Amona. Commentators are smelling an election and a chance for all those fed up with the Prime Minister. But Bibi has been in close scrapes before, and shown skill in wiggling out of them. 
 
Lapid has been unusually quiet in recent weeks. Perhaps he is saving good ideas until an election is more certain.
 
Bibi's governing style is a mixture of bombast and moderation. He is fluent in both Hebrew and English, and typically speaks clearly, with enthusiasm, in support of whatever is likely to serve his right of center political constituency. He expresses support for the interests of Jews wherever they are found, and the concerns of Israelis for a strong defense and national economy. 
 
He meets as regularly with the Russian President as with the American counterpart. He expresses time and again that America is Israel's best friend, but he shows concern to manage the interests of Israel alongside Russians in the Syrian turmoil that is right over the border.
 
He proclaims support for the settlement of Jews in the West Bank, but has limited the expansion of housing for West Bank settlers and Jews of East Jerusalem with a concern for the policy of the United States and other interested parties. With respect to Gaza, he has maintained a balance between blockade and provision of supplies, occasional attacks, but refusal to go all out to crush Hamas and other extremist gangs.
 
He has pushed for the provision of space alongside the Western Wall for non-Orthodox rituals, but has been slow to implement it against the opposition of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox.
 
He waffles between respect for the Supreme Court and its decision that a small settlement built on Palestinian-owned land (Amona) must be vacated, but he has pushed delay to its limit and has supported efforts to draft legislation that will assure the future of other settlements in similar situations, whose fate has not yet been decided by the Court.
 
Israel is a typical parliamentary democracy where aspiring politicians must compete within party circles and move  through minor to moderate and then senior positions. It's not a place where a outsider can rocket to the top on the basis of a popularity contest, as has plagued our rich, but poorly led cousins across the sea.
 
Netanyahu has not played the role of kind and caring uncle, nurturing the careers of younger politicians who might come too close to threatening his leadership. Reports are that Sara has helped, using her sharp tongue to guide Bibi in sidetracking or cutting  off the opportunities of individuals getting too close.
 
The list of individuals tolerated then dumped, or put in offices likely to endanger their continued advancement includes Yair Lapid, Moshe Kahlon, Reuven Rivlin, Yuval Steinitz, Moshe Ya'alon, Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, and Gideon Saar.
 
We also hear that Sara, wife #3, is cautious of who may have her eye on the big man, and has worked to limit Bibi's contacts with politicians who also are attractive females.
 
Sara's story is a national soap opera, with unending chapters. Responses range from annoyance to entertainment, with occasional remarks like, "Poor Bibi," or "He deserves it."
 
The public's response to Bibi's political persona is some mixture of criticisms, fury, and understanding. 
 
The bottom line and most persuasive political metric is that he's been Prime Minister longer than anyone else. There's no end date we should bet upon, and there may be no Israeli politician young enough to match his count of days as Prime Minister.
 
Comments welcome
 
 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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