Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau
צילום: משה מילנר, לע"מ
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu is out of tricks

Opinion: PM is master of painting himself as victim of endless conspiracies, but in announcing his indictment, AG Mandelblit sought to preempt any such efforts, leaving embattled leader with no more gimmicks to rely on

Dr. Baruch Leshem |
Published: 11.26.19 , 00:00
One of Benjamin Netanyahu's most useful talents is his ability to separate his public persona from his personal one.
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  • In 1996 as he was preparing to face Shimon Peres in a crucial televised pre-election debate, Netanyahu was visibly nervous.
    His pallor was evident as he frantically attached post-its with one-line slogans on the desk before him, but as soon as the cameras came on, a different Netanyahu appeared - calm, confident and self-assured.
    בנימין נתניהובנימין נתניהו
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: AP)
    The Israeli public is most familiar with this version of its prime minister.
    Persistent reporting over the years depicting Netanyahu as weak, easily swayed and manipulated by his wife and son are hard for his supporters to believe, as his television appearances show him standing tall, with a steady voice, fending off criticism and the legal and political challenges.
    Netanyahu enjoys the appearance of a leader. This has contributed to his longevity in the role, despite his conflicting narratives, or even lies.
    Performance is everything, as other leaders 'made for TV' have learned. Their public judges how they speak and not the substance of their words.
    But everything changed on Thursday when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit read out his indictment of the prime minister.
    הצהרה אביחי מנדלבליט על תיקי נתניהו הצהרה אביחי מנדלבליט על תיקי נתניהו
    AG Avichai Mandelblit reads out indictment of Netanyahu on three separate cases
    (Photo: EPA)
    Mandelblit decided to indict Israel's leader on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases.
    In his televised reaction to this news, Netanyahu took to the podium looking frightened, one might have felt pity for him.
    There seemed to be no more rabbits he could pull out of his hat, no more tricks or diversions at his disposal to make the new elephant of indictments in the room disappear.
    Since dealing with the prime ministers' criminal cases, the attorney general seemed insipid, weak in the face of Netanyahu's onslaught on the judicial system, including the police and the state attorney. As these institutions were being dragged through the mud, Mandelblit seemed helpless.
    Being well-organized and meticulous has helped Mandelblit to ascend to the senior posts he had held as chief military prosecutor, Cabinet secretary and most lately, attorney general.
    A person with that kind of talent and ambition is sure to covet a seat in the High Court of Justice.
    His judicial temperament was evident as he read out the charges facing Netanyahu. He was reserved and spoke at length and in detail, as he presented his arguments well.
    But a well laid out criminal charge was not enough for Mandelblit, who has had a close working relationship with the prime minister and knew he is not one to be confused by facts.
    The attorney general understood he had to make the case to the public as well, to curtail Netanyahu's plan to run for prime minister once again, during which any legal establishment would be sacrificed on the altar of political success.
    A recurring theme in Netanyahu's campaigns has always been identifying an enemy, a bad guy, who would be the object of public ire and distract voters from logical arguments, by evoking their emotions.
    As he had successfully done in politics, depicting Shimon Peres as the man who would divide Jerusalem (1996) or Benny Gantz as the man who would let the Arabs into the Cabinet and risk the entire country, so he has done in his public campaigning, identifying former police chief Roni Alsheikh as public enemy number one and State Attorney Shai Nitzan as a far-left operative trying to bring down a right-wing leader.
    Former Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheikh Former Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheikh
    Former Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheikh
    (Photo: Israel Police)
    Trying to preempt Netanyahu's go-to strategy, Mandelblit said in his speech on Thursday: "Such serious charges against an incumbent prime minister is a sad and difficult day for the Israeli public and for me personally. I had the privilege of working with Mr. Netanyahu and admiring his many talents and abilities."
    Mandelblit's point is that there is no personal agenda in the decision, nor is there a political one.
    The attorney general is a religious man, who was handpicked by Benjamin Netanyahu himself to be Cabinet secretary and three years later, to become attorney general.
    He cannot be portrayed as a left-wing Arab-lover, so the prime minister opted to attack the State Attorney Shai Nitzan instead, giving him powers that some have attributed to Sara Netanyahu – the ability to sway the weak attorney general's position. But this might be a bit too much to swallow, even for the Likud electorate.

    תמונות השנה EPA  2019 בנימין נתניהו שרה נתניהו חיבוק נשיקה ליל בחירות אפרילתמונות השנה EPA  2019 בנימין נתניהו שרה נתניהו חיבוק נשיקה ליל בחירות אפריל
    Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu embrace on election night, Sept. 17, 2019
    (Photo: EPA)
    Another position promoted by Netanyahu in the recent election campaigns was that a bribe can only mean money therefore a bribery charge is outrageous because no cash had ever changed hands.
    The general public, not entirely versed in the law, may be easily persuaded to believe that notion. But the attorney general pre-empted that attempt as well, by articulating the value of what Netanyahu gave and what he received in the three corruption cases: hundreds of thousands of Shekels worth of champagne and cigars, favorable press and publicity in exchange for billions to his benefactors in regulatory policies.
    Netanyahu's campaign for the third election in less than a year is already prepared: his main talking points will be the conspiracy to oust a prime minister by an attempted coup perpetrated at the state prosecution, The Iranian threat and the danger of a Blue and White government with Arab support.
    He will be able to make use of these tools only if convinces the voters he is still a viable candidate with a moral leg to stand on.
    The attorney general put a damper on those plans even before releasing his learned opinion on the legality of a prime minister under criminal indictment running for reelection.

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