Benjamin Netanyahu in the Ynet studios the week before the March 2021 elections

From face of Israel to belligerent opposition leader

After 12 years of ruling over Israeli politics, Benjamin Netanyahu inspires both ardent adoration and profound disgust in a country that has become deeply divided during his tenure; even so, his place in history is secure

News Agencies |
Published: 06.13.21, 11:35
On the international stage, with his polished English and booming baritone voice, the telegenic Benjamin Netanyahu had become the face of Israel.
  • Follow Ynetnews on Facebook and Twitter

  • But on Sunday, Israel was to swear in a new government that would send him into the opposition after a record 12 years in office and a political crisis that sparked four elections in two years.
    7 צפייה בגלריה
    Benjamin Netanyahu in the Ynet studios the week before the March 2021 elections
    Benjamin Netanyahu in the Ynet studios the week before the March 2021 elections
    Benjamin Netanyahu in the Ynet studios the week before the March 2021 elections
    (Photo: Hadar Yoavian)
    Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, remains the head of the largest party in Knesset and is expected to vigorously oppose the new government as the leader of the opposition.
    If just one faction bolts, it could lose its majority and would be at risk of collapse, giving him an opening to return to power.
    The new government is promising a return to normalcy after a tumultuous two years that saw four elections, an 11-day Gaza war last month and a coronavirus outbreak that devastated the economy before it was largely brought under control by a world-leading vaccination campaign.
    7 צפייה בגלריה
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu becomes the first person in Israel to receive the coronavirus vaccine
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu becomes the first person in Israel to receive the coronavirus vaccine
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu becomes the first person in Israel to receive the coronavirus vaccine, December 2020
    (Photo: Screenshot)
    The Knesset was to convene to vote on the new government at 4 pm. It was expected to win a narrow majority of at least 61 votes in the 120-member assembly, after which it was to be sworn in.
    It's unclear if Netanyahu was to attend the ceremony or when he would move out of the official residence. He has lashed out at the new government in apocalyptic terms and accused Bennett of defrauding voters by running as a right-wing stalwart and then partnering with the left.
    Netanyahu's supporters have held angry protests outside the homes of rival lawmakers, who say they have received death threats naming their family members.
    7 צפייה בגלריה
    הפגנה בעד ממשלת השינוי מול ביתה של איילת שקד בתל אביב
    הפגנה בעד ממשלת השינוי מול ביתה של איילת שקד בתל אביב
    Netanyahu supporters protest outside the Tel Aviv home of Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked over her support for the new government
    (Photo: Dana Kopel)
    The Shin Bet internal security service issued a rare public warning about the incitement earlier this month, saying it could lead to violence.
    Netanyahu has condemned the incitement while arguing that he has suffered worse from it.
    His place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years - more than any other, including the country's founder, David Ben-Gurion.
    Netanyahu began his long rule by defying the administration of Barack Obama, vigorously campaigning against the president's emerging nuclear deal with Iran, even denouncing it in an address to the U.S. Congress in 2015.
    7 צפייה בגלריה
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands with US President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords, at the White House
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands with US President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords, at the White House
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands with US President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords at the White House, Sept. 2020
    (Photo: Reuters)
    But he suffered few if any consequences from those clashes and was richly rewarded by the Trump administration, which recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital, helped broker normalization agreements with four Arab states and withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal.
    Netanyahu has portrayed himself as a world-class statesman, boasting of his close ties with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    He has also cultivated ties with Arab and African countries that long shunned Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.
    But he has gotten a far chillier reception from U.S. President Joe Biden's administration and is widely seen as having undermined the long tradition of bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.
    His reputation as a political magician has also faded at home, where he has become a deeply polarizing figure.
    7 צפייה בגלריה
    Benjamin Netanyahu with members of his Likud party
    Benjamin Netanyahu with members of his Likud party
    Benjamin Netanyahu with members of his Likud party, March 2021
    (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
    Critics say he has long pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy that aggravated rifts in Israeli society between Jews and Arabs and between his close ultra-Orthodox allies and secular Jews.
    In November 2019, he was indicted for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.
    He refused calls to step down, instead lashing out at the media, judiciary and law enforcement, going so far as to accuse his political opponents and the judiciary of orchestrating an attempted coup.
    Last year, protesters began holding weekly rallies across the country calling on him to resign.
    Celebrations by his opponents to mark the end of the Netanyahu era began late on Saturday outside his official residence in Jerusalem, the site of weekly protests against the right-wing leader for the past year, where a black banner stretched across a wall read: “Bye Bye, Bibi, Bye bye”, and demonstrators sang, beat drums and danced.
    7 צפייה בגלריה
    הפגנת תמיכה לקראת השבעת ממשלת שינוי בבלפור
    הפגנת תמיכה לקראת השבעת ממשלת שינוי בבלפור
    Supporters of the incoming government celebrate the imminent end to Netanyahu's rule outside the prime minister's Jerusalem residence on Saturday
    (Photo: Amit Shabi)
    But for Netanyahu’s large and loyal voter base, the departure of “King Bibi” as some call him, may be difficult to accept.
    His supporters are angered by what they see as the country turning its back on a leader dedicated to its security and a bulwark against international pressure for any steps that could lead to a Palestinian state, even as he promoted diplomatic deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
    7 צפייה בגלריה
    L-R) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates; and Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Bahrain
    L-R) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates; and Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Bahrain
    L-R: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House, Sept. 2020
    (Photo: EPA)
    While Netanyahu remains popular among the hardline nationalists who dominate Israeli politics, but he could soon face a leadership challenge from within his own party.
    A less polarizing Likud leader would stand a good chance of assembling a coalition that is both farther to the right and more stable than the government that is set to be sworn in.

    Talkbacks for this article 0