Analysis: Between the posh and the proletariat

Unfortunately for Netanyahu, London Jews cannot vote in Israeli election.

bibi 63 (photo credit: )
bibi 63
(photo credit: )
The Israeli tabloids and talk shows have made opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu's exorbitant expenditures in London the subject of large, red headlines and hours of radio chat fests. But chances are that the Jews back in London will have a tough time figuring out what all the fuss is about. After all, when Netanyahu comes there, they expect him to be treated like royalty. Diaspora Jews want Bibi to go to London more often, no matter what the price. They want him to stay in the fanciest hotels possible and to let his wife get a pedicure, as long as he provides the best public relations for Israel that they believe only he can offer. They would say that for the dozens of interviews he gave, Netanyahu should have stayed at the Ritz, the fanciest hotel in London, and not at the less regal Connaught Hotel a few blocks away. After all, Israeli PR is priceless. Some might even say off the record that they would rather hear Israel's opposition leader explain the policies of a government he hopes to topple in his perfect English than listen to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni tells a Harvard audience in her broken tongue that she opposed her own government's decision to build in Givat Ze'ev. Even if she would stay at a Motel 6. But unfortunately for Netanyahu, the Jews of London cannot vote in an Israeli election any more than the Jews of Kiryat Shmona can select the next king. And the latter are Netanyahu's true constituency as the leader of the Likud Party that purports to represent the poor masses. Even if he is Israel's best spokesman, Netanyahu will have a hard time convincing the people of Kiryat Shmona that it was in their best interests for him to be entertaining British movers and shakers at fancy restaurants in central London during the Second Lebanon War. Especially at a time when they were struggling to entertain themselves in bomb shelters while their homes were moving and shaking for a different reason. That's why the story is so damaging to Netanyahu politically, and that's why several members of his Likud faction have not been rushing to defend him in the press. Much of the media have been dwelling on the question of who paid the bills for Netanyahu's first-class travel, suite, meals, laundry and theater tickets. But assuming that no laws were broken, chances are that Likud voters don't care about solving that mystery. It doesn't matter to the socioeconomically-challenged Likudniks whether the Knesset allocated funds, if some rich Brit forked over the cash, or if Netanyahu paid from his own pocket. What disturbs them is that he enjoyed perks that they can't even dream of. These are the same voters who abandoned the Likud in the last election to protest the cuts Netanyahu made as finance minister and helped extend the party's downfall from 40 seats to 12. Reports contrasting the posh suite at the Connaught with the size of their bomb shelters might make them rethink their decision to return to the Likud after the war. Such reports might even make them think twice about voting at all. Especially considering that the leaders of Labor and Kadima are no less hedonistic than Netanyahu and therefore would not provide an alternative to voters seeking a humbler candidate. Netanyahu and his defenders rightly claim that if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or Labor chairman Ehud Barak did the same thing, it would not have generated nearly as much of an uproar. They are correct in asserting that President Shimon Peres stayed in at least as nice a hotel last week in Paris (although his wife stayed home). But Peres, Olmert and Barak have the advantage that they are not targeting poor voters. They will not have to go to the shouk on the campaign trail ahead of the next election and try to fit in. Netanyahu has always walked a fine line between the wealthy Jews of the world who worship him and the destitute dwellers of development towns who he hopes will return him to power. It is that clash that has left Netanyahu in the predicament he is in today, between the posh and the proletariat.