Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is behaving like a false messiah and in ways that are damaging to Israel, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said in an interview on The Jerusalem Post Podcast to be released on Thursday.
“Instead of dealing with problems and claims inside Israel, and to do it in Hebrew, Netanyahu chose to publish them in English and show the world what he thinks in Israel,” he said.
“I must remind you that Netanyahu was the prime minister half a year ago, so I thought it was a shame,” he added.
Hendel, a former spokesman for Netanyahu, resigned in 2012 after reporting Netanyahu’s bureau chief Natan Eshel for sexual harassment of a worker in the Prime Minister’s Office. He has been a vocal critic of Netanyahu since entering electoral politics in 2019.
Netanyahu posted a video in English last week on Twitter, where he has two million followers, with the message that “Israeli democracy is under threat,” referring to bills that institute term limits, ban candidates on trial for alleged crimes from being prime minister, expand police ability to search a home without a warrant and court orders to remove incitement from social media, which have not yet passed into law.
Israeli democracy is under threat. WATCH: pic.twitter.com/POijp8dEOv— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) December 16, 2021
The bills, Netanyahu argued, will lead to a situation in which he cannot run for the country’s leadership and “deprive millions of Israelis of their choice for leadership.”
“This is not even a slippery slope; this is a chasm,” he said. “It’s the Grand Canyon, where the fundamental rights of democracy are just buried – down the stream they flow and disappear.”
Netanyahu said he was speaking out “because I think it will affect all other democracies... Speak up before it’s too late. What will start here will very quickly be passed on to you.”
Senior coalition officials wrote a letter to Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy this week, emphasizing that Netanyahu’s message was in English and calling for a motion to the agenda to discuss how the opposition leader is using social media “for disseminating slander against Israel around the world and [giving] additional material to those trying to harm us.”
Hendel called the video “quite shameful.”
“I think he called Israel North Korea in English,” he said. “I remember times when Netanyahu and I would criticize people from the extreme Left, anarchists who used different claims against Israel, like Breaking the Silence and other organizations that belong to the BDS movement.”
Breaking the Silence publishes testimony from IDF veterans claiming war crimes, but it does not consider itself part of the movement to boycott Israel.
Hendel also called Netanyahu’s claims “fake news,” saying Netanyahu’s own coalition proposed a bill similar to the new one allowing police searches without a warrant as a step to combat high crime in Arab-Israeli communities.
Hendel also took umbrage with Likud MKs putting the North Korean flag next to their names on Twitter to protest what they feel are antidemocratic policies.
“I thought when I saw this that it is a redline that he crossed, a step that is too far,” he said.
Netanyahu’s video is another example of how the opposition leader believes that “if he’s not prime minister, no one can sit in his holy chair... this is not the State of Israel, and the Zionist dream does not exist anymore,” Hendel said.
“He shows this when he forces his Knesset members to vote against Zionist bills,” such as the “family reunions bill” that would continue the practice of blocking Palestinians from being able to immigrate to Israel after marrying Israelis, he said.
Hendel compared Netanyahu to Shabtai Zvi, a 17th-century false messiah with a massive Jewish following who eventually converted to Islam, bringing thousands of Jews with him.
“What I see is a kind of Shabtai Zvi, where people think whatever he says is the truth,” he said. “It’s a kind of cult... If he [displays] the flag of North Korea and tells the world this is North Korea, people believe it because Netanyahu says it, and I think that’s dangerous for Israel.”
An edited and condensed interview with Hendel will be published in this week’s Jerusalem Post Magazine, and the full interview will be on the next episode of The Jerusalem Post Podcast, available on JPost.com and all major podcast platforms on Thursday.