For weeks, Benjamin Netanyahu prepared for his appearance before the Turkel Committee.
First, he hired the services of Dori Klagsblad, a top-notch lawyer considered the greatest expert on overcoming commissions of inquiry. The attorney briefed the prime minister, prepared a list of possible questions, and drafted answered memorized by the PM.
Next, the team at the Prime Minister’s Office engaged in simulations, practicing not only what the PM will be saying, but how. If only they prepared for the Turkish flotilla the way they prepared for the prime minister’s testimony on the Turkish flotilla.
The result of all of this was catastrophic, of course.
The lawyers’ job is to warn their clients against uttering any needless words and to get it in their head that they must not under any circumstances assume responsibility, neither for other people’s actions and if possible for their own actions either. This is also what the advisors, aides, and PR experts do.
The result is anxiety: A witness who was over prepared always looks like a steak that was on the grill for too long. His face is indifferent and alienated as he shifts from arrogance to panic. His eyes are ashen. This is what Netanyahu looked like Monday when he appeared before the Turkel Committee.
The prime minister’s words were mostly commensurate with actual events: The estimate was that the army will handle the mission on its own. Should problems surface, they will emerge on the public relations front. The PM was able to embark on his important trip to the United States and Canada and leave the defense minister in charge.
Netanyahu missed the essenceNetanyahu’s failure Monday stemmed from a faulty definition of the problem. As opposed to previous commissions of inquiry, the Turkel Committee does not pose a threat for the prime minister. Israel’s public opinion is not expecting a punishment – there was no such expectation until Monday at least. Hence, when facing such committee, one should not shirk responsibility.
The opposite is true: One should assume responsibility and prominently display it. I decided on the policy, I appointed, I backed. Me, me, me. One needs to display leadership – this is important when leadership is present, and even more important when it is absent.
By holding so many rehearsals and by focusing on circumventing potential traps, Netanyahu missed the essence. The public expected an assertive leader who firmly controls his government. This expectation grew this past week in the face of what was portrayed as an all-out war within the defense establishment. Instead, Israelis got a prime minister who’s a freelancer; a pale observer at the edge of the government table.
Ironically enough, Netanyahu’s testimony Monday was reminiscent of images that date back to 1996. Prime Minister Shimon Peres taking part in a televised debate on the eve of elections. Peres arrived after over preparing and after a sleepless night. He shifted from anxiety to arrogance. The rival who took him down was a young, fresh politician. His name was Benjamin Netanyahu.
Following his testimony, Netanyahu realized he is in trouble and embarked on an effort to improve matters. He again faced the cameras, this time to assume responsibility. His aides submitted to interviews, where they explained that the PM’s words were taken out of context. The more they explained it, the more embarrassing it seemed. If the prime minister has trouble promoting himself, how would he promote us? How would he lead us?
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