Bibi (Prime Ministr Benyamin Netanyahu) is a caricature of Israel, both as viewed from within and without. He is loved and hated, admired and loathed, perhaps in about the same proportions among Israelis and those who watch Israel. Being the archetype of Israel helps to explain his longevity at the top, currently without an obvious candidate likely to replace him in the near future.
He is a walking and talking manifestation of what makes people admire Jews or become anti-Semites. His power of articulation, in both Hebrew and English, is part of his mystique and essential to understanding his political success, his international standing, and those who praise and despise him.
Bib's detractors say that his rhetoric adds to the antagonisms between Jews, between Jews and Arabs, between Israelis and everyone else. His supporters either like his rhetoric as expressing their views, or assert that he may speak in excess but acts as a moderate.
For his detractors to the right, his problem is not acting the way he speaks.
There are recent examples of his speaking as an extremist, but acting as a moderate.
He expressed himself on both sides of the divide about the soldier who killed a severely wounded Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, i.e., an early condemnation and then a telephone call to the soldier's father, in which he expressed his concern without supporting what the soldier did. Then he jumped (verbally) on Deputy Chief of Staff General Yair Golan for suggesting anything close to Nazi behavior in what Israelis do, but a short time later shook the General's hand and said that the issue was behind them. He acted the same way a couple of weeks later when Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon spoke in behalf of free expression. Bibi condemned Ya'alon's comments as they applied to the IDF (soldiers should accept discipline and not speak out) while Ya'alon was still in the midst of his speech, and a day later said that the problem had been dealt with.
He's now been in the midst of maneuvers to broaden his government, currently holding on to power by a margin of one vote, with right wing Likudniks threatening to email@example.com
The media has been filled with speculation about what he was offering Yithak Herzog in order to bring Zionist Union/Labor into the government, along with the clamor of Zionist Union Knesset Members that they are firmly opposed to any such agreement. Then was noise about offering something big to Avigdor Lieberman, perhaps Ya'alon's job as Defense Minister, Lieberman ridiculed the idea, but then showed signs of warming up.
Now commentators are saying that Lieberman's entry is a done deal, and they are quarreling as to how disastrous or insignificant it will be.
They're all bargaining, with Bibi playing with both the right (Lieberman) and left (Herzog).
Nothing is done until it's done.
It's easy to guess that all of this is more of Bibi's rhetoric, and that nothing will come of it. Pretty much like Bibi threatening mayhem if another missile comes from Gaza, prior to the air force bombing a Hamas facility late at night when no one is likely to be hurt.
Bibi is at the head of a complex and argumentative society. He has to bend in one direction or another to keep his government afloat. His principal nemisis is Oren Hazan, a young loudmouth said to have a professional background as a pimp. That's not as nasty as former President Moshe Katzav's conviction for rape, and Hazan's activity is said to have occurred in Bulgaria, beyond the reach of Israeli prosecutors. Hazan's won his place high enough on Likud's list to get into the Knesset on account of Bibi's efforts to scuttle the Knesset career of an earlier nemesis, Moshe Feiglin. Feiglin annoyed Bibi by persistent efforts to expand a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount and throughout the West Bank. Hazan isn't all that different in his efforts, even while his elegance is not even a shadow of Feiglin's.
Bibi's bluster to the right is wise in the context of where Israelis sit politically. Voters are firmly to the right of center, largely due to the failure of those on the left to produce anything close to an agreement with the Palestinians. It doesn't hurt the right when actions of UNESCO support Muslim rights to Jerusalem holy places without taking account of Jewish history, and when the US, France, and other western governments keep up the drum beat in support of a Palestinian state, despite a record of Palestinians rejecting everything but Israel's elimination, and an uptick in Palestinian violence.
Recent polls show a collapse of support for Zionist Union/Labor, which may reflect the leftists among that party's Knesset Members continuing to push for yet another effort to reach agreement with Palestinians. Party leader Herzog has also been hurt by a police investigation of campaign finance violations, and a quiet personality that lacks any hint of political charisma.
Alongside Bibi's condemnation of the Palestinian leadership are his comments on both sides of the prospect of a Palestinian state, and more verbal support for settlement in the West Bank than actual construction.
Bibi's international standing isn't all that different from his place in Israel. He has sizable audiences of those who admire and those who detest him. Overseas Jews as well as non-Jews divide between enthusiastic support, and seeing him as fouling whatever chances Israel has of doing well.
Prominent in what is said about him were his efforts to oppose the deal about Iran's nuclear program, and his speech in Congress, loved by Republicans and ridiculed by Democrats. That came against a background of Bibi's not so hidden support (along with his patron Sheldon Adelson) of Barack Obama's opponent in 2012, and many reports of incompatibility between the two national leaders.
Opponents see Bibi meddling in American politics, and somehow breaking the rules of the game, but overlook the US record of meddling in other country's politics, not so long ago assassinating other governments' officials who did not operate as America wished. .
Indications of Bibi's status came in wide media coverage of his Congressional speech , and several occasions of standing applause. Not all of those applauding were Republicans.
Surveys find Bibi among he most well known and most admired people in the world. On some of those he has scored higher than Barack Obama.
Think of the Jew in world history. Admired by many for excellence in many fields, beginning with the spirituality and morality expressed in the Hebrew Bible and carried over by Jewish radicals to the New Testament and Christianity, and hated for some of that same success and the prominence it has provided. One can look at the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or the wedding scene in Goodbye, Columbus (authored by the Jew Philip Roth) for the nastiness engendered by Jewish success.
If Bibi isn't a microcosm of all that, he's as close as anyone currently prominent.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem