It isn’t easy judging Israel’s Prime Minister. In part, that is on account of his complexity, with lots of positive and negative things possible to say about him. In part, it is also on account of his reflecting the complexities of the Israeli society, and how it chooses to deal with its problems.
There must be a list of positives associated with a man who is close to serving longer than any other of the country’s prime ministers.
On the other hand, there seems certain to be somethings indictable coming out of more than a year of police investigations into several allegations, along with those concerned with close associates.
Israelis are inclined to quarrel about the quality of decisions he has made in maintaining political support in a long term at the top, and still leading in polls inquiring about the country’s favorite choice of candidates.
His wife and son are also tainted. While he expresses pride and support for them, we’ve heard stories of Sara the screamer who causes household employees to flee, and Sara the materialist concerned to wring something for herself out of the household budget, and to ask for more from givers of gifts. Against Bibi’s claims of fake news is our capacity to judge the sources, both media and individuals who have experienced the problems in the First Family’s residence.
Ha’aretz has begun publishing cartoons of their son, a 26 year old unemployed college graduate, who has become known for insulting expressions, alongside cartoons of his mother, and father, all portrayed in ways to invite ridicule.
Bibi’s friends express no surprise in what they see as distorted by a left wing and elitist newspaper. Yet the audience for Ha’aretz represents an important slice of Israel’s society.
Bibi’s prime attraction is his capacity to express himself. He’s articulate in both Hebrew and English, and is sharply focused in the messages he delivers. A number of people claiming to be friends of Israel have asked, Who can replace him?
The simplest response is that there are at least a half-dozen possibilities among prominent Likudniks who could take advantage of the party’s continued support and most likely do as well as policymakers, even though none of them may be as good in two languages as the man they’ll replace.
Critics remind those seeing Bibi as necessary for Israel’s survival about all the irreplaceable people in cemeteries.
The strongest criticism heard against Bibi’s policymaking is that he is an extremist in promoting settlements and opposing any possibility of dealing with the Palestinians.
On the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, we were reminded of Bibi’s incitement, that may have had something to do with pushing Rabin’s killer over the edge.
Against accusations of Bibi’s extremism are two points that get to the complexity of Bibi and Israel’s situation.
One is that Bibi is far more moderate in what he does than in what he promises. In this, he’s somewhere close to the outer edge of politicians who are required to exaggerate, dissemble, or lie, in order to keep a diverse constituency on their side. We should not be surprised to hear left of center international figures accuse Bibi of lying. They all lie, and it’s a simplistic accusation easily thrown at someone whose policy is unattractive to the liar (e.g., Barack Obama), talking about lying.
Bibi pretty much represents the nature of Israel’s long standing policy with respect to aggression from Arabs. He has pursued something less than an effort to rid Israel of the threat once and for all. The country is in the Middle East, and must cope with the consequences without dreaming of a region free of Muslims, some of whom are aggressive.
Accusing Bibi of scuttling all chances of a deal with the Palestinians does not take account of the Palestinians’ record in demanding a turning back of history, endorsing violence, and rejecting a significant list of opportunities.
More appropriate than accusing Bibi of scuttling peace is recognizing the self-damaging practice of the Israeli left in putting too much faith in the Palestinians, while a substantial slice of Israeli voters seem to have put the possibility of reaching an agreement with them on the shelf or in the trash.
The problem of the Palestinians can be summarized by the experience of a Palestinian friend. He’s a social scientist, who has surveyed the Israeli Arab population, and has found that a majority would fight to defend their country, i.e., Israel. When asked if he has published the findings, he says that he can’t even talk about them among members of his family.
The point is that too much of the Palestinian (and Israeli Arab) societies are frozen in a rejectionist mode, perhaps dreaming of going back to a time that may never have existed as they imagine it, and also dreaming of the near future without the presence of a neighboring country (i.e., Israel) that has gone from nothing to one of the most advanced in the world.
That seems odd alongside a majority of Israeli Arabs who seem satisfied with their citizenship, but that’s a problem that Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have to sort out among themselves.
We’ll have to wait, perhaps for years, before there is anything we can call judicially final, about Bibi’s and Sara’s encounters with the police and public prosecutor.
It’s already clear that claims from him and his supporters about the triviality of the charges, are worth as much as Donald Trump’s repeated claims about fake news. Even if a number of the incidents reported seem trivial, their accumulation is not. We can think about death by a thousand cuts. And some of the incidents, including individual gifts to Bibi or Sara, seem sure to surpass any effort to claim that they are expressions of friendship. The so-called friends giving them stood to receive something from the government that Bibi heads.
Even assuming that we can accept Bibi’s record of policymaking, the question is, at what point do substantial signs of personal or family corruption, and that of close associates, outweigh his value as a policymaker?
Judging Netanyahu touches the issue of ascendant anti-Semitism, often presented as opposition to the policies of the Israeli government, and sometimes as opposition to Israel’s existence.
If we rational folk can dismiss as intellectual nonsense what is taught on many elite, selective, and expensive campuses, and expressed in media read by the teachers and graduates of those campuses, we’re left with judging a man whose actions and expressions may have contributed to the ascendance of anti-Israel/anti-Semitic expressions.
The bottom line is complex and confusing. Israel has done well under Bibi’s leadership, but the stench of corruption appears to come from something real, that ought to be dealt with by those having the responsibility.
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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