Right from Wrong: Belittling Bibi’s mastery by calling it ‘magic’

Stunned that this campaign hasn’t been as successful as they’d anticipated, Netanyahu’s naysayers minimize his ability to remain in power by calling him a “magician.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, vote, September 17, 2019 (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, vote, September 17, 2019
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
When Tuesday’s elections for the 22nd Knesset resulted in an a fully expected stalemate between Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party and its key rival, Blue and White, schadenfreude busted out all over.
In an unveiled effort to express their glee, media outlets abroad have been bidding Bibi a cheerful farewell. Never mind that most of these “eulogies” exhibit confusion, if not outright ignorance, about the Israeli electoral process; many analysts at home who understand it perfectly similarly appear to believe that Bibi’s days are numbered – even if those 24-hour units add up to a few years.
It doesn’t take a PhD in political science to realize that the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history – who turns 70 on October 21, perhaps before the formation of the next government – is closer to the end of his tenure than to the beginning.
Nor is this the first time that the academic anti-Netanyahu choir has attempted to write him off, counting on the hackneyed fact that “even a broken clock is accurate twice a day” to prove their predictions right.
To explain Netanyahu’s uncanny ability to defy the so-called “odds” time and again, his detractors expend a lot of energy delegitimizing him. Accusing him of hedonism, hubris and criminality is one method. Yes – they moan – he enjoys expensive cigars, paid for by rich friends. Tsk tsk.
Oh, and he has a thing for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, funded by our hard-earned tax shekels. Outrageous.
Worst of all, he wheels and deals to get positive press coverage. Send him to prison.
Stunned that this campaign hasn’t been as successful as they’d anticipated, Netanyahu’s naysayers minimize his ability to remain in power by calling him a “magician.”
IT’S A NEAT propaganda ploy, because it enables a total dismissal of his actual accomplishments, with an added whiff of the bemused awe associated with an Uri Geller spoon-bending performance. Indeed, in the stroke of a few computer keys, Netanyahu is reduced to the Wizard of Oz – some guy behind a curtain who has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of a public longing for courage, heart, wisdom and a safe Jewish homeland to call its own.
In fairness to the hundreds of foreign correspondents who flocked to Israel this week to report on the do-over election – a result of the surprise impasse created by Yisrael Beytenu Party leader Avigdor Liberman in April – local media outlets also were quick to talk about Bibi’s ostensible imminent political demise through the use of magic imagery.
Happily for Israeli journalists, the idiom “pulling a rabbit from a hat” translates perfectly well into Hebrew.
To grasp the prevalence of the trite literary device whose subtext both buys into and promulgates the notion that Bibi’s leadership is nothing more than a deft sleight of hand, one need only glance at the following sampling of recent headlines:
•    “‘The spell has been broken’: Netanyahu the ‘wizard’ has lost his magic touch and Israel will forever be changed.” (The Independent, September 19)
•    “Israel’s election showed Binyamin Netanyahu’s magic has finally worn off.” (The New Statesman, September 18)
•    “The magician ran out of rabbits.” (En24 News, September 18)
•    “Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu: The Life of ‘The Magician.’” (The Wall Street Journal, July 20)
•    “Israel election: ‘Bibi the magician’ pulls off another trick.” (The BBC, April 10)
•    “Israel 2019: Bibi the Magician, the elections and the road ahead.” (Treccani, March 20)
•    “How Netanyahu ‘The Magician’ Makes Political Threats Disappear.” (Bloomberg, December 7, 2018)
THE TRUTH about Bibi, however, is that he is a master, not a magician. His maneuvering of Israel’s implausible political system – while running the country, conducting measured military operations against its many enemies, chief among them Iran, and diplomatic ones against the BDS movement – is nothing short of miraculous. Denigrating it by suggesting that it’s more a function of trickery than leadership is shameful.
Israelis who engage in that kind of sophistry are ingrates. Some are also ignoramuses with short memories who refuse to recognize that the bulk of Netanyahu’s antagonists abroad were just as hostile to previous Israeli prime ministers. Others oppose his policies – or hate his guts for personal reasons -- and have used every tool at their disposal, including the police and the courts rather than the ballot box, to try to oust him from office.
This is not to say that Bibi warrants no criticism, or that without him at the helm, Israel is doomed. On the contrary, the Jewish state was established five months before he was born. It managed not only to survive but thrive for nearly five decades before he became prime minister for the first time in 1996.
Nor is it reasonable or desirable to hinge the country’s continued resilience and strength on a single leader, no matter how great. If Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is destined for destruction – whether at the hands of its enemies or through internal societal implosion – it might as well pack up shop now and be done with it.
Furthermore, contrary to what appears to be his adversaries’ fear of his magic dust or devious supernatural powers, even Netanyahu is mortal. As is the case with other of Israel’s famed leaders, such as David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, Netanyahu will not outlive the 200,000 or so babies who were born in the Jewish state since the beginning of 2018.
As much of a disappointment as it will be to his supporters if Bibi is unable to head the next government, it will not be the end of the world. Or of Israel.
But there is no doubt that Bibi will go down in history as one of Israel’s and the world’s most influential and consequential leaders of all times. Fox News’s Mark Levin likens him to Winston Churchill with good reason.
UNDER BIBI’s watch, the tiny war-torn Jewish state has become a world power to be reckoned with in every way, and not only the obvious ones, such as military prowess, hi-tech genius and medical advancement. In the industries of cooking, fashion, movie and TV, too, Israel is a global player.
In addition, despite repeated hysterical assertions, Israel is not “isolated.”
On the contrary, Netanyahu has forged working relationships with heretofore unthinkable states, and has created alliances with soon-to-be former enemy Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, through his incessant warnings about the Iranian regime’s race to obtain nuclear weapons.
He also has been as welcome a guest in the White House, since US President Donald Trump assumed office, as he is in the Kremlin. That he has been able to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin not to down Israeli jets on missions against Iranian targets in Syria is mind-boggling.
On the macro level, Israel’s economy is booming to such an extent that the ever-strengthening shekel has presented a problem to local manufacturers. And in spite of its over-the-top prices, the Holy Land is a prized tourist destination.
Ironically, the oft-bemoaned “collapse” of the health, education and welfare systems is due to Netanyahu’s inability to fight the socialist policies of his predecessors and, more importantly, the nanny-state mentality that is hopelessly ingrained in the Israeli mindset. It is not, as many of those who never vote for him seem to believe, a function of his “piggish” capitalism. One apt quip about him from like-minded champions of the free market is that while he has no trouble standing up to the ayatollahs or their UN apologists, he is less of a lion than he is a lamb when it comes to facing the wrath of labor unions.
IT IS WAY too early to determine whether this is Netanyahu’s last election cycle, even without a third round in 2020. Though his bloc is shy of the 61 seats needed to form the next government, so too is that of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White bloc, if the Joint Arab List is removed from the calculation.
The current gridlock will get untangled at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later. But the outcome cannot and should not be attributed to Netanyahu’s “magic” or lack thereof. Rather, it will be the result of painstaking and carefully crafted efforts on his part, which ultimately will or will not bear fruit.