Netanyahu vs. Netanyahu
Op-ed: The first Netanyahu is a fascinating prime minister with an impressive list of achievements and a lot of knowledge; the second Netanyahu is singlehandedly undermining those very achievements by abandoning the national interest for the political, party and personal interest.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the “Uvda” investigative report is definitely a cause for concern. Because there are two Netanyahus. The first is a prime minister one could be proud of.
In the past few months, I have had the opportunity of talking to people who met Netanyahu at his office. You heard one, you heard them all. We are talking about an impressive, fascinating man with a lot of knowledge. A close friend of mine who participated in a meeting at Netanyahu’s office on a certain issue, which is not at the top of the public agenda, was amazed by his command of the smallest details. His round of meetings with newspaper editorial boards led to similar impressions among some of his biggest opponents of all people. I received a similar impression in the meetings or conversations we have had in recent years. There is much more than meets the eye in this man.
And there is the second Netanyahu. The “Uvda” program, which was aired Monday, only confirmed what has been published in recent years by Netanyahu’s associates. His former associates, to be exact. No, this is not a leftist plot, and it’s not that there are no rightful arguments against the media or against the left. There are. But even if we subtract the biases, something in the prime minister’s bureau seems completely out of order. I doubt there is a single journalist who has not heard similar testimonies. There is no guiding hand from the left. These are concerned testimonies of right-wing people.
The first Netanyahu can present an impressive series of achievements. Israel succeeded in neutralizing itself from the collapse of most Middle Eastern states. Terrorism is continuing, but on a restrained level. There is a lot of talk about a regional alliance. Netanyahu is succeeding in creating it. We can also take pride in the relations with Africa, India and China. Despite the ongoing failure in dealing with housing prices, Israel is enjoying economic prosperity, with a low unemployment rate and an increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews joining the labor market. These achievements are not despite Netanyahu. They are also thanks to Netanyahu.
But the second Netanyahu is singlehandedly undermining these achievements. Something in his personal conduct is making the finest people flee, sometimes in horror. There is no exaggeration here by hostile media. Ehud Olmert, might I remind you, was also punched by the media, although there was an almost direct correlation between his move to the left and the rise in the level of punches. Ariel Sharon may have been handled with kid gloves, but not every prime minister leaning to the left receives such treatment.
And what is worse is that in some of Israel’s basic problems, the second Netanyahu is abandoning the national interest in favor of the political, party and personal interest. This can be seen in the way he is giving in to the Haredim, at the expense of Israel’s highly important relationship with US Jews; in his insistence on creating a crisis with Obama, which only hurt Israel; in the way he is crawling to the one-state reality, although he knows it’s a creeping disaster; in his conduct concerning the media. For several weeks now, he has been trying to destroy the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation as part of his battle against free press. And this week, to add fuel to the fire, he issued the letter against journalist Ilana Dayan.
There is a heated debate within the media. Dayan is not a sacred cow. She can be criticized. The thing is that Netanyahu finds it difficult to understand that what people are allowed to write as part of the media debate should not be said by a prime minister. He is neither Donald Trump nor Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Israel is not Turkey. A prime minister in Israel should provide matter-of-fact answers, even when the questions are annoying, irritating and maybe even point to a bias against him.
As for the media debate, we are living in a different era today. There are enough journalists criticizing the media and its biases, including myself. That’s the reason why Dayan was the subject of blatant, profound and mainly matter-of-fact criticism following her investigative report in 2005 on the killing of a 13-year-old girl by IDF troops in Gaza. That is the meaning of freedom of speech.
That problematic investigative report did not turn her into a radical leftist, just like the investigative report on radical left-wing activists did not turn her into a radical rightist. And when the personal attack on Dayan joins an attack on the media and an attempt to harm journalists, the prime minister is showing signs of losing his senses. That is definitely troubling.
God is my witness that I often try to go back and write about Netanyahu’s achievements. But these achievements cannot hide the flaws, the conduct, the testimonies by former associates, the priority given to the personal interest over the national interest, and it definitely does not justify the prime minister’s attack on a journalist who published an investigative report against him. The second Netanyahu manages to overshadow the first Netanyahu. it’s not just bad for Netanyahu, it’s bad for Israel.