Netanyahu is no Winston Churchill, no matter how much he thinks he is

There is a facet of the Churchill leadership legacy that seems to escape the prime minister: being able to relate to his subjects and leading by example.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made no secret of his admiration for Winston Churchill, and a portrait of the “British Bulldog” even hangs in his Jerusalem office.
Not only does Netanyahu admire Churchill, but some argue that he fashions himself as the British wartime leader’s modern-day Israeli incarnation.
Churchill sounded the alarm against Adolf Hitler at a time when the rest of the world was trying to appease him; Netanyahu likes to think he took a similar path regarding the Iranian ayatollahs. Churchill stood alone against the Nazis; Netanyahu has said he would do the same against the Iranians.
But there is a facet of the Churchill leadership legacy that seems to escape the prime minister: being able to relate to his subjects and leading by example.
In a move that had a tremendous impact on the morale of the British, Churchill – despite the risks and dangers involved – stayed in London during the worst of the Blitz in 1940-1941. By doing so, he showed Londoners that he related to what they were going through, and convinced his countrymen to follow his example.
Britons saw how Churchill behaved and comported himself during this traumatic time and concluded that here was a leader who genuinely understood and cared about their plight; here was a leader they could rally around.
The surrealistic three-hour debate on Tuesday in the Knesset Finance Committee over whether Netanyahu is eligible for a NIS 1 million tax rebate for the years 2009-2017 is the exact opposite of that Churchillian style.
Why surrealistic? Because in the works of the great surrealist painters, such as Salvador Dali and René Magritte, objects and scenes appear that are completely out of place: a melting clock on a barren tree; a cloudy sky inside an eye. So, too, is the discussion of a massive tax break for Netanyahu completely out of place and time when 750,000 Israelis are without jobs, when tens and thousands of families have lost all sense of financial security and when hundreds of businesses each day are simply closing up shop.
What the people want and need from their leader at a time like this is a sense that he can relate to their pains, woes, worries and concerns. They want to feel that he “gets it.” The farce in the Finance Committee transmitted the exact opposite message.
Don’t get us wrong, we believe that Netanyahu should have all the conditions, benefits and perks needed for him to do his job – certainly one of the most difficult and taxing in the world – comfortably and without financial worry.
His official residence should be handsome and befitting the leader of a serious country, without a concern about mold growing on the ceiling; his car should be the best, with all the security measures needed to fully protect him; and he should have a dedicated plane at his disposal – akin to America’s Air Force One – so that when he flies to Washington to meet the president, he gets there well rested after a comfortable flight. Those who in the past moaned because Netanyahu had a bed installed on his plane for a flight to London were being silly and small-minded.
Moreover, if previous prime ministers benefited from various tax breaks, then Netanyahu should as well.
But not now; not as so many of the country’s citizens are struggling so hard financially. Now is the time to show sensitivity to their plight, to show empathy for them. Pushing through measures now to ensure a huge tax rebate – even if some of it may be justified – sends the wrong signal, at the wrong time. Wait, deal with it on another day – when people’s livelihoods are not collapsing.
As Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich said during the Knesset meeting, “We are hurting ourselves when on a day like today, after a year when the Knesset did not function and during the coronavirus, we meet for three hours on this issue. How do we look? I understand the compulsion, but we can’t be so detached from the sentiment of the public.”
How do we look? Smotrich asked. The answer is simple: completely cut off from the people.