The truth must be told, although many will read this and rage: Bibi is back on the balcony. As he was then, in October 1995, at Jerusalem’s Zion Square. The same hand-waving; the same false comprehensive accusations against imaginary, demonic enemies; the same demagogy, the same incitement; the same body language and forced smiles; the same sarcasm; the same manipulations.
The crowd in Jerusalem was frantic. It saw the Oslo Agreement as treason against the state. The Kahanists, who proudly held a fake picture of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in an SS uniform, received smiles and friendly slaps on the back. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife.
The crowd which filled Pavilion 1 at the Tel Aviv Convention Center on Wednesday evening was completely different. Most of it was connected in some way or another to the system controlled by the Likud party—Central Committee members, city council members, political appointments in governmental and public authorities, contractors living on agreements with local authorities and ministries.
“We're the people of Israel,” one of them told me, and he was right. There were mostly men over the age of 40 there, but they were not the only ones. There were religious and secular Jews, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, residents of central Israel and the periphery, quite a few women—and even members of the LGBT community. Two of their flags were waved proudly alongside flags of Israel, and no one protested, not even the Haredim who were there.
A large part of this public looks at Netanyahu with real admiration. They love him and love his wife. After the event—which concluded with the singing of two anthems, “Hatikva” and the Likud’s election jingle—Netanyahu came down to the audience. People cried as they approached him. They begged for a selfie with him. They begged for a selfie with his wife, Sara. One of the assistants of a senior Likud member told me later that they looked at him the way 12-year-old girls look at Justin Bieber, no less.
But others were in a hurry to leave. In his speech, Netanyahu quoted something he had heard from “one of you” on Wednesday. “They don’t want to bring you down,” that person had told him. “They want to bring us down, all of us.” Those words were heard loud and clear. Each and every one of them, so the theory went, stand to lose if Likud loses power. One will lose a job, another will lose his livelihood and someone else will lose his connections. All together, they will genuinely fear for the state’s fate if it’s under the rule of a different party.
Netanyahu isn’t telling them the truth when he describes the investigations against him as a plot devised by a hidden enemy (the media? The Left?) to replace the government. The Netanyahu cases are being investigated by a police commissioner who he appointed. Only a person who has lost his mind can attribute left-wing views to Roni Alsheikh. The decisions on the cases are being made by an attorney general who he appointed, a man who served under him as cabinet secretary. Whoever ascribes left-wing views to Avichai Mandelblit is living in a fantasy world. The media’s influence on their decisions is smaller than the media’s influence on Netanyahu’s decisions.
Neither the Left, which is quietly dying, nor the media concern him. Mandelblit, Alsheikh and the investigators concern him. They are the ones he is directing his arrows at. You won’t dare touch me, he’s telling them, because the people support me.