Benjamin Netanyahu, for better or worse, is the axis on which the 2019 elections revolve. As it should be. Ten consecutive years at the Prime Minister's Office are a long time: an entire generation of voters doesn't remember at all—or only vaguely remembers—the State of Israel without Netanyahu at the helm. Some can't imagine an alternative.
The voter is asked to make decide on two separate questions. One: What did Netanyahu do to governance in Israel during the years of his tenure; the second: What did governing do to Netanyahu. Not only has the State of Israel changed over the past ten years, Netanyahu has as well; he is changing, and with him the government is changing and consequently the state itself. His whims become our norms, and so forth.
Dan Almagor wrote (and Rachel Atas sang) the march about Chaimke the brave soldier: "All the soldiers march with their left foot forward / Only my Chaimke marches with the right / Because all of the soldiers / Yes, all of the soldiers / Shamelessly march with the wrong foot / Only my Chaimke, / Only my Chaimke / marches with the right foot forward"
The years he accumulated on the job are taking their toll. On the plus side, he has learned the limitations of military power; honed his rhetoric skills with world leaders and with the people at home; became an expert at the political game; learned the secrets of social media.
On the other hand, he lost what was left of his innocence; he became a complete cynic who scorns his fellow politicians, his voters, any ideology (even the one he claims to sanctify), and most importantly he scorns state institutions, its gatekeepers, and the rules of the democratic game, all which brought him thus far. Everyone's taking bribes, everyone's corrupt, everyone's an idiot: There is no one else but him.
This is a destructive tendency even when the man is right, even when he is an island of greatness in a sea of losers. Even more so since this is not the situation, as the looming criminal cases will testify.
He exempted himself from differentiating between truth and lies. A recent notable example of this was the decision on the timing of the elections. When he was opposed to calling early elections, he kept throwing hints about a sensitive security situation. And then, when he changed his mind, the security issue evaporated. He called early elections because of the indictments, and now he's claiming there must be no decision about the indictments because of the upcoming elections.
A more outrageous example was his reaction to Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the American forces from Syria. The US only has 2,000 soldiers in Syria, but the size of the military presence is not the point. It is the message that came with it: Iran can do whatever it wants in Syria. The other message: Israel is getting billions of dollars from Washington, it should shut up.
Netanyahu phoned Trump. Okay, Trump said, the pullout will be gradual. Instead of 30 days, it will take 120. And I'll send you my national security advisor, John Bolton. I don't listen to a word he says anyway.
A massive achievement, Netanyahu's close associates informed the media.
But the most troubling change Netanyahu had undergone is that in the heat of his battle against the attorney general, he became a clown. He released two campaign videos last week: in one he compares himself to Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona's star player and one of the most famous sportsmen in the world. As any true soccer fan knows, Messi is a complicated man. He is near genius with his feet, but he's not too smart. A year and a half ago, he and his father Jorge Horacio were convicted of tax evasion and currency smuggling to the tune of millions of euros. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay a 2.1 million euro fine.
"The truth is that I knew nothing. As my father explained, I was devoted to playing football, I trusted my father, I trusted the lawyers he had chosen to run things and I had no idea about anything," Messi said in court.
Luckily for him and for us, he won't go to prison. Under Spanish law, he could serve his sentence by doing community service.
So which Messi does Netanyahu aspire to be? The soccer player? Not a chance. The convicted felon? The one doing community service? The one paying a fine? Perhaps the man who had no idea of the offenses he was committing? It sounds familiar. (It's a good thing he didn't compare himself to Cristiano Ronaldo.)
In the second video, Netanyahu compared himself to an amputee. The attorney general cuts off his arm, just like in Saudi Arabia. It would've been better if instead of making fun of the disabled, he worked to raise their disability benefits.
The closer Election Day draws, the more videos of Netanyahu's intimidation we're going to see. The left, the Arabs, the New Israel Fund—they will all threaten to bring us to ruin. At this point we get Netanyahu the entertainer: a horror movie and a comedy in one. And it's no more than we deserve.