Netanyahu is dividing Israel to save his own skin
Every further moment that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clings to power by the skin of his teeth and rails against the justice system, without let-up and without compunction, he inexcusably deepens the ruptures in Israeli society. His indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust makes grim reading, made worse by his despicable and baseless attacks on the police and the general prosecution, portraying himself as the victim of an “attempted coup.”
Netanyahu may be protesting his innocence with pathos and self-belief, but after four years of police investigation he should be doing so in front of a judge, rather than abusing his power and attempting to undermine the justice system. If he retained the slightest shred of concern for his country and its people, he would have quit public life when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit first announced the corruption charges.
I have never believed that Netanyahu entered politics to enrich himself, or even solely as a vanity project, but these have become the driving force behind much of his desire to stay in power, in addition to avoiding spending time behind bars. The saga as it unfolds resembles a Greek tragedy in which the personal failures of the hero lead to his inevitable downfall. If, instead of embarking on a catalogue of vile and venomous attacks on his investigators, the general prosecution, the Left and the media, he had looked in the mirror, he would have seen the reflection of someone who has been in power for far too long and as a result has been contaminated with greed, arrogance, and an obsession with every word spoken and written about him and his family.
The long read of Netanyahu’s indictment exposes someone who, even at the height of his power when he faced no serious challenge to his leadership, was already expending considerable time and energy plotting with media moguls to ensure favorable coverage. Every page of the detailed and well reasoned indictment reveals someone who has become, and perhaps deep down has always been, a narcissist; someone who, beyond the self-belief that any leader must possess, nurtures a deep sense of entitlement and disregard for the rules that govern the rest of society.
This narcissism also led him to embark on vicious attacks on his critics and those entrusted with the safeguarding of law and order. Like all narcissists, he has also ended up believing in his own narratives and, worse, his own lies. It is not that he denies that he — and his wife, who has already been convicted of misusing thousands of dollars in public funds — enjoyed expensive presents, about $200,000 worth, mainly in the form of cigars and champagne from wealthy businessmen with strong vested interests in Israel’s media. He would like us to believe that these were innocent gifts from friends
The long read of Netanyahu’s indictment exposes someone who, even at the height of his power when he faced no serious challenge to his leadership, was already expending considerable time and energy plotting with media moguls to ensure favorable coverage.
But how many of us are naive enough to believe that there was not at least an immoral link, or at least expectations, between his acceptance of those gifts and his ministerial role in adjusting government regulations to benefit those who were so generous to him and his wife? Is he simply lying? Or does he believe that he was entitled to such perks because of his service as a prime minister with a relatively modest salary, compared with the wealth of his benefactors, and that this somehow justifies such corrupt behavior? Whether he is detached from reality, corrupt, or both, it makes him unfit to govern.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg of the charges against him. Netanyahu is also accused of blatantly abusing his ministerial power by giving regulatory benefits worth hundreds of millions of Israeli shekels to Israel’s most powerful media moguls in exchange for favorable coverage by their outlets. That he recorded some of the conversations he held with them on this matter is further evidence of his paranoid state of mind regarding his relationship with the media.
With this indictment, one chapter of the Netanyahu corruption chronicles has closed, and now the charges are to be dealt with by the judges, the only people entrusted with ensuring that he will be treated fairly and according to the law. Nevertheless, the prime minister’s venomous reaction against law enforcers is unforgivable, and should itself be the subject of criminal investigation, as would such behavior by any ordinary citizen. In a lengthy and horrifying speech immediately after his indictment, Netanyahu revealed his dark and sinister inner world, portraying himself as the victim of the system, persecuted by the “deep state” and his political rivals, and calling for a move to “investigate the investigators,” with not a word of remorse or of self-reflection, or a shred of acceptance that at the very least he has made some bad calls and demonstrated a serious lack of judgment.
But nothing; he has expressed zero regret, let alone repentance. Instead he has embarked on something that might be considered even worse. He is urging his supporters to take to the streets with placards reminiscent of those once displayed in demonstrations he played a key part in, and which created the atmosphere that led to the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. If, heaven forbid, anything similar should happen to anyone from the police or the legal team who dealt with his case, the responsibility would fall directly on Netanyahu’s shoulders.
The man who likes to portray himself as the defender of Israel is now the one ready to sow the seeds of civil war in order to avoid his corruption trial. To prevent him from doing so, his opponents, as well as his supporters, must unite.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg