I'm trying to imagine Benjamin Netanyahu watching Channel 2's interview with President Obama. In his best fantasy, he knows he'll never get anything similar. The honor, the politeness, the respectability, the tough questions which are asked carefully and those not asked at all.
Netanyahu is probably closing his eyes and trying to imagine the hateful and hating Israeli media giving him just a pinch of what it showers with such abundance on a president, who always seems to him alienated toward the Israeli interest.
Radio broadcaster Razi Barkai told me in an interview last week that the Israeli press was going too far in its hostility toward the prime minister. Indeed, Netanyahu rightfully earned every ounce of criticism, distrust, contempt and cynicism which most of Israel's journalists feel toward him – but if this circle of hatred has gone out of control, it's time for self-examination not only on his part, but on the media's part as well.
The flattery used toward Obama is not an Israeli phenomenon, and it most certainly is not exclusive to the Israeli media. The world adores power, and when the representative of this power arrives for a visit or invites his "subjects" to his home, the initial instinct is to bow down to the king.
In this case, when the president has also played hard to get during his first term, his current surrender generates an ecstasy of admiration. The rules of the ceremony – from the Ben-Gurion Airport reception, through the ingratiating interviews to the pleasant and savory remarks which will be made in the speeches – are all preplanned kitsch.
The Americans, who are the world's biggest experts on this kitsch, are the ones setting the tone. The Israelis gladly join the choir. So why don't the Israelis show a bit of this respect, even if slightly fake, toward their ruler? Look, Netanyahu can say to himself, in the United States, in a prestigious magazine like TIME, I am Bibi King, and here, in my own kingdom, even Yair Lapid doesn’t give me the time of day.
It's true that a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and Netanyahu, rather than Obama, is the one we should be getting answers from, and it's true that Obama is sometimes disrespected by Congress, and in general the grass is always greener on the other side – and yet, beyond the obvious, there is something troubling in the Israeli prime minister's weakness in the face of his party members, his current and future ministers, his wife, the media and the public in general. How is it that the most stable prime minister in the history of local politics has also become the least popular and least valued by so many diverse parts of the Israeli public?
This question has quite a few answers. I believe that the most correct and full answer is the leadership. The huge gap between the leadership appearance and the conduct of being dragged by others, between the pathos in the flowery language and the little hiding behind it – is what undermines out leader's leadership more than anything and denies him the respect every prime minister deserves.
Much to Netanyahu's misfortune, there are now new leaders in the political arena, who have identified this weakness in him. After the coalition agreement was signed, Lapid said that he wants to lead. If Lapid manages to create leadership from the electric chair of every government, from the least desired and least popular position, he will easily surpass Netanyahu in the next elections.
Until then, show Obama respect. He is about to arrive for two days filled with gestures and tricks, which will provide the battered host with some moments of comfort and glory as well. If Netanyahu understands that this ceremony ends on Friday morning, and if he is wise enough to turn his third term into one in which the prime minister is a true leader of his people, even the hostile media may give him credit, and perhaps even interviews in the same atmosphere Obama enjoyed last week as he faced the Israeli news anchor of Channel 2.