How Facebook posts can be used as a gauge of Netanyahu’s mind-set

Twenty-six Facebook posts in a week, four of them having to do with Lapid.

Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with elite commando troops on November 27, 2018 (photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with elite commando troops on November 27, 2018
Facebook is a peephole into a politician’s soul.
Well, maybe not exactly, but looking carefully at what politicians post on their Facebook accounts gives a good indication of how they want to drive the conversation: what is preoccupying them; what – if they could only mold reality as they could the contents of their social media accounts – they would have the public think about.
And a careful look at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook page over the last week – November 22 to November 28 – shows that Netanyahu wants the public to keep three things in mind: that he is Mr. Security, that he is Mr. Diplomacy, and that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is a scoundrel.
Let’s start with Lapid.
Of the 26 Facebook posts Netanyahu put on his page this week, four had to do with Lapid. That’s a lot, and all of those posts had to do with revelations that as finance minister from 2013 to 2015, Lapid met secretly with Yediot Aharonot publisher Noni Mozes, that same Noni Mozes of Case 2000 fame, with whom Netanyahu allegedly met and cut a deal to get more favorable media coverage.
One of these posts included a 2009 newspaper clipping – before Lapid entered politics – of a cigar-holding Lapid meeting over a bottle of whiskey on a Tel Aviv beach with Netanyahu’s media nemesis, Raviv Drucker of Channel 10, and a shirtless Ofer Shelah, who today is a Yesh Atid MK. The subtext was that Drucker has long been in intimate cahoots with Lapid to bring Netanyahu down.
Twenty-six Facebook posts in a week, four of them having to do with Lapid. None of them dealing with Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, political wannabe and potential kingmaker Benny Gantz; none, even, about former defense minister Avigdor Liberman or irksome coalition partners Naftali Bennett or Moshe Kahlon.
That says something. It says that the political rival who Netanyahu believes needs to be taken down a notch is Lapid; that at this particular point in time – with an election just around the corner, though nobody yet sees exactly where that corner is – Lapid is the one Netanyahu is most preoccupied with.
By amplifying through his Facebook post to his 2.3 million followers the reporting about Lapid’s meetings with Mozes, Netanyahu is trying to cast the Yesh Atid leader in a hypocritical light: “How can he accuse me of malfeasance in meeting with Mozes, when he did the same?”
Though there may be something to Netanyahu’s argument, he has to be careful. By singling out Lapid, he is also elevating his status. By going after the Yesh Atid leader, he is making it seem that he is the politician that Netanyahu most fears.
And, of course, that is good for Lapid.
One of the biggest challenges facing Lapid – who in 2012 went from Channel 2’s anchor booth to the head of a new political party, and a year later to head the Finance Ministry – is to convince the nation that he has gravitas, that he is cut of prime ministerial timber.
This explains much of what he does – from traveling abroad to meet foreign politicians, to visiting Sderot during rocket attacks, to commenting in the international media on Israel’s security and diplomatic affairs without, like Livni or former prime minister Ehud Barak, absolutely trashing Netanyahu.
Not only is Netanyahu articulate in English, Lapid is signaling, so am I. Not only does Netanyahu look good in a suit and tie and have charisma, I do, too.
Lapid’s struggle is to show that he is no lightweight compared to the prime minister, and by devoting so much attention to Lapid, Netanyahu risks elevating him to his own weight class in the eyes of the public.
WHILE LAPID merited four mentions in Netanyahu’s Facebook posts this week, the prime minister’s newest job – that of defense minister – was the subject of nine of his posts.
In one post he is appointing a new deputy chief of staff, in another he is holding his first meeting with the IDF’s General Staff. Now he is eating lunch at the IDF’s induction center with new Armored Corp recruits, then he is conversing with soldiers from the Commando Brigade during a late night maneuver.
Netanyahu, judging from his Facebook posts, is jumping into his newest ministerial portfolio – he is also foreign, health, and aliyah and integration minister – with a passion, sending the message that he is taking it seriously and not just holding on to it in a caretaking capacity until he appoints someone else or an election is held. He likes this role.
He likes it for a number of reasons. First, he likes it because he understands its critical importance and understands the country’s defense dilemmas and situation. Second, he likes it because it may go a long way to burnishing his credentials as Mr. Security.
To a certain extent, Netanyahu is a political anomaly. He has never engendered the same type of affection from the masses as did David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin or Ariel Sharon. “Bibi, king of Israel” has never been chanted in the country’s public squares with the same passion or ardor as “Begin, king of Israel,” or Arik, king of Israel.”
The prime minister’s immediate family, especially his wife, is not beloved of the nation. His name is now closely tied with three different affairs still under investigation. Yet despite all that, he has been in power for almost 13 years over two terms, and – if the polls are to be believed – will sweep back into power in the next election as well.
Why? How does this happen?
One key reason is his ability to radiate a sense of security, a sense that when he is in power, there is less of a likelihood that anyone’s loved ones will be killed in a terrorist attack.
And the figures bear this out. In the nine years from April 2009 to April 2018, during Netanyahu’s second term in office, 146 people – or an average of some 16 a year – were killed in Israel in terrorist attacks. In the decade before that – from mid-1999 to 2009, when he was not in office – 1,183 people, or an annual average of 118, were killed in terrorist attacks: 16 vs 118.
Some, however, will argue that those periods of comparison are unfair, and that that is like comparing apples and oranges, since the years 2000 to 2009 include the Second Intifada, a period of mind-numbing terrorism.
Granted, so look at Netanyahu’s first term in office, from June 1996 to July 1999. During that period 70 people were killed in terrorist attacks, an average of 23 a year. In the three years immediately before that – during the heyday of the Oslo Accords under Yitzhak Rabin and then Shimon Peres – 168 people were killed in attacks, or an average of 56 a year: 23 vs 56.
Now people don’t necessarily know those numbers; they don’t walk around with those grisly figures at their fingertips – but they sense it, they feel it in their guts. And that, more than anything, explains Netanyahu’s lasting electoral appeal to the public.
What the recent events in Gaza have done, however, is dent that armor.
True, only one person was killed in the salvo of 460 rockets fired from Gaza in two days earlier this month toward the South, but the residents of the South are traumatized by years of rocket fire and months of incendiary balloons that have made their lives a smoky hell. Even though the number of people killed by terrorism is down, they are definitely not feeling anything close to secure – and that feeling among a large swath of the public is something that Netanyahu can ill afford.
As defense minister he can try to win back some of that aura, he can better control the message. Pictures of him on Facebook surrounded by generals with new recruits, or with commandos with their faces covered in masks on a late-night training drill, could help restore his security image among the public.
ANOTHER LARGE segment of Netanyahu’s Facebook space this week was dedicated to the visits of Czech President Milos Zeman and Chad President Idriss Déby – three posts each.
By the attention devoted to Déby, one could be excused for mistaking the visit of this leader – a dictator of what the International Monetary Fund said was 26th-poorest country in the world, and which Freedom House characterized as the 18th-least-free nation in the world – to that of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1979.
But there are good reasons for Netanyahu’s plug.
First of all, establishing relations with Chad is significant, even if it is poor, dictatorial, landlocked, and lacking freedom. It borders Libya and Sudan, and ties with it could afford Israel the opportunity to monitor what is coming south out of Libya, a major feeding ground for terrorism, from Islamic State to al-Qaeda and even Boko Haram.
Second, it casts Netanyahu in that light in which he wants to be seen: as the quintessential statesman, the leader who is bringing nations large and small to Israel’s doorstep. That is also why he devoted three posts on his Facebook page to the visit of the Czech president.
Most politicians, but especially Netanyahu – who is someone very controlled and careful – do not just randomly post on Facebook without forethought. The prime minister’s postings this week gave a good indication of his campaign strategy and what will likely be his key campaign messages, as the country staggers toward an election.