Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks that rather than being disconnected, politicians today are “overly connected” and at the mercy of the Internet and its power of “instant referendum.”
In an interview with Harvey Levin on Fox News’s OBJECTified that aired Sunday night, the prime minister said his sons keep him up to date on what people are saying about him online.
When Levin, the founder of celebrity gossip site TMZ, asked him if his life can leave him feeling disconnected, he gave a resounding no.
“There’s no chance of that,” he said in the interview, which was filmed in Jerusalem in May. “I have two men, my sons at home
, and they follow the Internet, they tell me what young people think, they tell me what their friends think, and sometimes I wish that they wouldn’t, because I’d like to be disconnected from what is happening now in our world.”
When Levin pressed him to elaborate, Netanyahu said: “What you have is the Internet has created this thing of instant referendum. What happens is you have political leaders who are constantly bombarded by polarized opinions, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.”
Rather, he added, “I like the idea of representative government – you’re elected, you’re given a period to exercise that power, and then they can throw you out.” Netanyahu is currently serving his fourth – and third consecutive – term in office.
“The problem today for politicians is not being disconnected,” he said. “They’re overly connected and they’re completely at the mercy of these shifting tides of opinion.”
The hour-long program, the fourth in the first-ever season of Levin’s new show, covered every chapter of Netanyahu’s life,
from his childhood, first in Jerusalem and then in Philadelphia, through his time living in the US and on to his political career. He was candid and forthcoming, telling stories from throughout his life, though he shared mostly well-trodden material. The show tried to ramp up the drama with intense, theatrical music playing throughout the interview, but it felt silly when the focus was two men sitting on a couch. The interview was punctuated by a wealth of archival videos and photos, though the transition back and forth often felt choppy.
Netanyahu, always articulate and eloquent, brought out some of his favorite tropes, including his pride in the Israeli-bred cherry tomato.
Levin asked Netanyahu about meeting Obama and the former US president’s visit to Jerusalem amid their prickly relationship.
“It was great, great,” Netanyahu said. “We disagreed on a few things – Iran, Palestinians, small things,” he said, tongue in cheek. “But we also found areas of agreement and I think of mutual respect, and I didn’t mind when I disagreed – I made it clear.”
While the show included footage of Netanyahu meeting with US President Donald Trump
, the prime minister didn’t discuss that visit, which occurred more than a week after the episode was filmed.
The prime minister told Levin that he had a “wonderful childhood” and “never spoke politics at home” – something he laments he can’t say for his own children.
Early on, he told Levin that he and his brothers didn’t “have the faintest idea” growing up that the country was surrounded by enemy nations, though later he said it was in his “consciousness at three” that Israel was “completely defenseless.”
The show was at its most emotional when Netanyahu described the moment he had to tell his parents that his brother Yoni had been killed during the 1976 raid on Entebbe.
“I didn’t want the news to reach them through the news,” he said. “So I drove for seven hours, in this horror.
I parked the car not far from my parents’ home and walked up the path that led to their house.”
“There was a big window in their living room and I could see my father pacing back and forth with his hands behind his back,” he continued. “And all of a sudden, he turned his gaze and he saw me and he had this... ‘Bibi, what are you doing?’ and then immediately understood, because he had heard about the news of the rescue,” Netanyahu recounted.
“There was this horrible shriek that he gave, then I heard my mother shriek, and so... it was like a second death.
It was actually worse.”
While the show had its heavy moments, there were certainly also lighter ones, particularly when Levin asked Netanyahu about his role in rescuing the passengers of the Sabena hijacking in 1972. At the time, Netanyahu was an IDF commando in the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, serving under Ehud Barak.
“You want the true story?” he asked Levin. “This guy taps me on the soldier, this guy who was a security guy, and he said ‘Bibi, you gotta stop the operation,’ and I said ‘What’s the problem?’” Bottom line, the guy told him: “I thought the minute I’d get to Tel Aviv I’d go to the toilets, and I landed and you grabbed me. So I have to go.”
Netanyahu, ever pragmatic, asked him: “Big or small?” and he said “Big.” Then, Netanyahu said, he jumped off the plane and told Barak what was going on. “He said, ‘Now!?’ He said ‘Big or small?’ ‘Big.’ “So he jumped off the plane, got under the airplane, did whatever he needed to do,” said Netanyahu, “and then we resumed this thing and then we broke into the plane.”
Netanyahu spoke often of his family and his wish to give them a normal life and to dissuade them from entering politics. The tradition at home, he said, is “we have Friday night dinner and then Shabbat lunch, and before that I always read a portion of the Bible.” There’s one rule at these meals, he told Levin.
“No politics?” Levin asked.
The prime minister called his wife, Sara, “the pillar of the family,” and said “it hurts me a lot more when they attack her than when they attack me.”
It’s clear Levin did his homework on Netanyahu, reading up on the leader and his impressive background, though it’s unclear if he even knew the prime minister had a daughter, asking at one point if “either” of his children had shown interest in entering politics. Netanyahu himself speaks very little of his daughter, Noa, from his first marriage, who lives in Mea She’arim and is often described as estranged from her father.
The prime minister said that when he was voted out of office in 1999, he took his family to Disneyland in California, “then we went to Australia, and we were lost on a beach for, I don’t know, two weeks – no politics, no phones, different time zones – it was absolutely magnificent.”