Netanyahu, Trump need to stop corrosive culture of spin

The question to be asked is, why did Netanyahu have to lie at the start?

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
An unusual event happened last Friday: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a joint statement.
It was unusual because anyone who follows politics in this country knows that these two men do not really do anything together – they don’t work together, and they don’t issue statements to the press together. The one thing they do jointly is fight.
They also don’t put out statements on Friday night after Shabbat has begun, but this time though they had no choice. The Trump administration was submitting a request to Congress to receive approval for the planned sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, and it needed to remove an obstacle – potential Israeli opposition. The best way to eliminate any hassle was by getting both the current and alternate prime minister to jointly declare that they do not have a problem with the planned arms deal.
After both sides played nice and the joint statement was released, the mudslinging returned. Netanyahu issued a statement of his own claiming that talk of the arms sale to the UAE was not part of the original peace deal Israel signed with the Emirates, and that the issue only came up after Gantz visited Washington a month ago.
Watching the prime minister throw him under the bus, Gantz didn’t stay quiet for long, and within the hour put out his own statement revealing what almost everyone had long known: that after he as defense minister learned of the peace deal with the UAE, he also discovered that there were ongoing secret negotiations to sell them weapons. Netanyahu, Gantz announced Friday night, knew of the arms deal, but kept it a secret from the defense minister, the IDF chief of staff and the rest of the nation’s top generals.
How do we know that Gantz was telling the truth? Because Netanyahu himself admitted 10 weeks ago that he had hid the news of the pending UAE peace deal from Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
He explained then in mid-August that he had kept it secret from two members of his own coalition because he feared they would leak it. In other words, two former IDF chiefs of staff – people who literally held some of the country’s supreme secrets in the palm of their hand – could not be trusted.
For Netanyahu, the Gantz statement was problematic. It revealed that the prime minister had intentionally lied to the public when he claimed – after news of the F-35 sale first broke in Israel – that the arms deal was fake news and that he would do everything possible to stop it. Now, not only was he not working to stop it – he had known about it from the beginning.
The question to be asked is, why did Netanyahu have to lie at the start? Why did he have to send his fellow Likud members to the media to claim that the reports were false, and that the prime minister would use all his power to stop the sale when it came before Congress?
Why couldn’t he have just told Israelis the truth from the get-go – that the peace deal with the UAE included the Emirates receiving arms from the United States? After all, he could have easily explained, now that Israel had made peace with the UAE, the country was henceforth part of the good guys’ club, and like original members Egypt and Jordan, the UAE too would now be able to purchase advanced American weapons.
The answer is simple: why not lie? Why not dabble in subterfuge and deception when you can potentially get away with it, and when there is no price to be paid? Why bother telling the truth when you don’t really have to?
SADLY, THIS is the culture of politics being felt today in Israel, the United States and across the globe. It is a corrosive culture that promotes lies, fake news, populism and trickery.
Take the following scenario as an example: imagine you turned on the news when you woke up tomorrow and learned that Donald Trump never really had the coronavirus. Yes, he said he had it, and yes, he had spent a few days at Water Reed Hospital. But his contracting the disease is now no longer true.
My guess is that people would not be overly surprised. They would chuckle, almost half expect it. Why? Because of low expectations. We expect things like this to happen because deep down we suspect that what we are seeing and hearing everywhere is not true.
This fake culture was on full display in the Knesset on Tuesday, when Likud MK Osnat Mark – who regularly trades vulgar comments with her colleagues – read out a fake Facebook post that she said was written by anti-Netanyahu demonstrators. The post was declared fake already weeks ago, and her fellow MKs tried explaining that during the debate. But Mark refused to listen. “I am reading what is written,” she replied.
In other words, even when the fake is revealed, it doesn’t make a difference.
This is a problem. It is a problem for us, for our younger generations, and for our societies. It is true that politicians who lie and deceive have always existed, but this is amplified today like never before owing to the freedom social media affords people, as well as the wave of populism that has been sweeping the globe with as much virality as COVID-19.
What this creates is a reality in which people no longer know what is true and no longer know whom they can trust. And who can blame them when politicians flip facts without batting an eye, saying one thing today and the exact opposite tomorrow.
The F-35s to UAE is the perfect example. Netanyahu could have told the truth, and Israelis – super excited by the peace deal – would have been fine with the arms arrangement. So why didn’t he? Because then he would not have been able to pretend that he is smarter and better than Menachem Begin and Yitzchak Rabin, who had to make concessions to make peace.
Trump had a similar opportunity when he became sick with the coronavirus. After he mismanaged the crisis and failed to advance a responsible policy, he had an opportunity to hit the reset button: exhibit some remorse and admit a mistake or two had been made. Some people in his orbit thought that was exactly what he was going to do. Instead, he doubled down, claiming America was beating the virus (with over 228,000 deaths) and holding mass rallies with no masks and zero social distancing.
Doing the opposite would have been an admission of failure and of mistake. Trump could not allow that.
This problem does not exist just on the Right. Facts are also manipulated on the Left to accommodate a certain narrative, whether it be one that fits an anti-Israel agenda in Congress or one promoting the campaign against Netanyahu.
This problem is compounded by the experience we get when we consume news. Depending on which TV channel you watch, you get a different version of reality. In America this is at the extreme – Fox News says one thing and MSNBC the completely opposite. But the same happens in Israel when it comes to different newspapers and different news channels.
This fake culture creates less and less trust in our government, our state institutions, and society at large. People who don’t trust the government tend not to adhere to what the government asks them to do, and there is no better example than by looking at what has been happening in Israel since the beginning of this pandemic. Groups in society completely dismiss what the government asks them to do, whether it be haredim who illegally reopened their yeshivas, or people who held mass events without prior approval.
The continued decline and acceptance of this fake culture will not end well. We need to stop the spin. We need to admit mistakes, own it, and move on. We need to stop fake news, populism and trickery. We need to put a halt to the passive acceptance of lies and deceit. We need to believe again that truth is what is true, and that there are politicians in whom we can trust. We just cannot afford to let the corrosive culture erode any further.