Think about it: The many faces of Benjamin Netanyahu

"It is also exaggerated to expect our prime minister to submit a balanced legislative program that simply does not exist."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening session of the Knesset, October 15, 2018 (photo credit: ESTI DESIOVOV/TPS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening session of the Knesset, October 15, 2018
(photo credit: ESTI DESIOVOV/TPS)
On Tuesday evening, at Yaakov Weinroth’s funeral, the prime minister was one of those who eulogized the outstanding and extraordinary haredi defense attorney who had been his attorney, friend and wailing wall for many years – and who passed away after a long struggle against cancer.
It was Netanyahu at his very best; human, humane, sensitive and modest, completely devoid of his habitual swagger. I must admit that I shed a tear or two in the course of the eulogy that was broadcast live on Channel 11.
That very same morning, Netanyahu visited Kiryat Shmona, together with Deputy Minister of Health Yaacov Litzman, for the opening of a private medical center in the northern town. Netanyahu had heard the news about Weinroth’s death before his arrival, and even though it did not come as a surprise, given Weinroth’s visibly deteriorating health in the past few years, he was clearly upset, and took the opportunity to say a few words about the man, as well as some pleasantries about his, his wife’s and Litzman’s love for the North.
A women in the audience, who had started heckling Netanyahu soon after he started speaking, complained about the fact that the government had reneged (back in May) on a previous promise to reopen a front emergency ward in Kiryat Shmona, attached to the Ziv hospital in Safed, which had been closed down in 2013, preferring to support the private project, now being opened with all fanfare.
The woman – Orna Peretz – a lifelong Likudnik (though she apparently now supports Kachlon), who has been accused of being a social activist working for NGOs subsidized by the New Israel Fund, and has also been reported to be suffering from brain cancer (however, with all the fake news going around, it is difficult to verify whether these biographical facts belong to the Orna Peretz who heckled Netanyahu, or some other real or imaginary Orna Peretz), was hushed by Netanyahu who hurled at her: ”You are simply not interesting – you are boring us.” The fact that Kiryat Shmona and its environs urgently require a front emergency ward, and does not have one because of Netanyahu’s government, is apparently “boring.”
Irrespective of the circumstances, this incident reveals another Netanyahu – who has no patience with people who criticize him or his policy and do not express blind admiration for him. He is not wary of mocking, shaming and inciting against them.
The accusation of “boring” calls for the following comment. Toward the end of September, Netanyahu delivered another one of his beautifully structured, brilliantly worded and delivered, but totally predictable and therefore boring speeches at the UN General Assembly. It is always about the danger that a nuclear Iran poses to the world in general and Israel in particular, though the examples he brings to prove his point keep changing, and are occasionally sensational, while uncovering highly secret intelligence information that ought to remain secret.
But it is always the same message, which Netanyahu didn’t invent. Dr. Ephraim Sneh started sounding the warning regarding the danger of an Iranian nuclear capability 26 years ago when he served as minister of health in prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s second government. (He served as deputy minister of Defense in prime minister Ehud Barak’s government). But it isn’t enough repeating the diagnosis – one must offer a long term, viable cure and solution beyond demands that others act, which Netanyahu never does. He never does it with regard to Iran; he doesn’t do it with regard to the unresolved problem of the Palestinians, who will before long constitute a majority in the territory west of the Jordan River; he doesn’t do it with regard to the gradual disintegration of the cohesion of the Israeli society (well that is really too much to expect, since he himself keeps contributing to this disintegration).
So, we are left with beautifully structured, brilliantly worded and delivered, boring UN speeches that will never go down into history, because they fall far short of Winston Churchill’s brilliant rhetoric, which Netanyahu openly admires, but which unlike Netanyahu’s speeches, somehow always managed to strike one with awe, excite and inspire – blood, toil, tears and sweat – and were never boring.
But to return to Netanyahu’s speech at the opening of the Knesset winter session. In the UK, such speeches are all about the government’s plans, and legislative agenda for the coming year. But that is apparently too much to expect of our prime minister, even though he speech was titled: “Announcement by the Prime Minister on the activity of the Government since the previous session, and the Government’s plans for the next session.”
It is really unreasonable to ask Netanyahu to speak of his government’s plans to continue to weaken the foundations of the Israeli democracy; to weaken the old elites in the Israeli legal system, its institutions of higher learning and cultural institutions; to weaken the free media and to do everything possible to ensure that he himself is not stopped from running for a fifth term of office because of the investigations being carried out against him; and that if he is reelected, nothing will endanger his seeing this fifth term through without being indicted.
It is also exaggerated to expect our prime minister to submit a balanced legislative program that simply does not exist. The fact that new elections will probably be held within the next six months makes such an expectation even more fanciful.
And so, after Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, and President Reuven Rivlin both gave moderate speeches calling for unity rather than disunity, and for concentration on activities to the benefit of the citizens of Israel, rather than on fiery speeches and divisive legislation, what we got was an election speech, which completely disregarded all of Edelstein’s and Rivlin’s pleas.
Netanyahu lauded the achievements of his government, which no one denies exist – roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (although unlike Mussolini’s Italy the trains don’t run on time...), everyone (well, nearly everyone) traveling abroad, while creating the impression (for those with a short memory, or too young to really remember) that before he returned to Balfour Street in 2009 we rode camels, never won a single Nobel Prize, had no hi-tech, did not develop a network of public and private colleges side by side with high-quality universities, did not desalinate sea water, had no sophisticated arms industries, won no wars, etc. etc.
Netanyahu swaggered, mocked, sneered and insulted and slighted the opposition – especially the Jewish opposition. We are to him a bunch of sour pickles, detached from the people, who do not see what is going on around us in our “cool” state, complain in our fancy living rooms in Tel Aviv high rises about our state having been stolen from us (no, it was not stolen - it was legitimately and legally taken over, but the result is equally devastating), and shall never be returned to power (a partial inventory of what Netanyahu had to say).
All I can think of saying to this Netanyahu – not the one who eulogized Weinroth so beautifully (why can’t he make more frequent appearances?), and not even the one with the brilliant but boring General Assembly speeches – is, “No, my reverberating friend, You are not the beginning and the end! There’ll be spring every year without you. Israel still will be here without you. There’ll be fruit on the tree and a shore by the sea...” (a sample from Elisa Doolittle’s song addressed to Professor Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” with a small adjustment). I would add “and a little more calm, sanity and unity – without you.”