From hasbara hero to legal system censure - analysis

How did Netanyahu, once renowned for his diplomatic capabilities, change course over the years regarding the image of Israel that he projects to the world?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a name for himself by becoming Israel’s top explainer abroad.
Using his impeccable English, Netanyahu became a frequent guest on American television programs like Nightline when he was a diplomat in Washington and Israel’s ambassador to the UN in New York. Netanyahu seemed to love clashing with his Arab counterparts on American TV, and defeating them in debates the way so many of his predecessors with poor English never could.
In his biography on Netanyahu, Ben Caspit recounted how when he returned to Israel and entered politics, Netanyahu’s fellow young candidates saw him practicing karate when he was about to go on television to raise his adrenaline levels. They caught him making the moves in the studio when he did not know he was being watched and later mocked him for it.
The success of Netanyahu in hasbara – Israeli public diplomacy – led to him becoming a household name around the world, deputy foreign minister, and ultimately, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
That is why it is so ironic that when he now appears to be at the twilight of his political career, Netanyahu has declared a high-profile war against the legal establishment that experts warn could cause great damage to the country’s image abroad.
Those who engage in selling the Jewish state nowadays focus not only on Israel’s hi-tech innovation as Start-Up Nation, inventing items that have improved the world from Waze to the cherry tomato, but also talk about the strength of Israeli democracy and its legal system.
An integral part of defending Israel is saying correctly that the Israeli legal system is among the world’s most respected, and that everyone can get a fair trial here whether his name is Muhammad or Menachem Mendel.
Now Netanyahu, right or wrong, is making the job of Israel’s professional and armchair diplomats harder by telling Israelis and the world that the legal system is flawed and unfair to people who have right-wing views and happen to be prime minister.
The case is now being made on social media and news shows in the US that Israel’s prosecutors and police are pursuing a vendetta against the prime minister.
Tuesday night's demonstration he organized and pushed people to attend is sending that message loud and clear, not only to Israeli voters in the next election but to the wider world.
Netanyahu has gone from hasbara hero to legal system censurer, from making Israel look good to the world to the opposite – but at least he has come full circle.