July 13 to July 19 provided a rare direct peep into how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views his role in Israeli politics, his refusal to admit any sort of wrongdoing, his selective and frequently inaccurate use of facts, his view of current world politics and Israel’s place therein and his contempt for Western liberalism in general and the liberal-leftwing Israeli media in particular.
All this in his own voice, in a rare exclusive interview to Channel 20 on July 13, and an accidental communications leak of part of what he said to the prime ministers of the Visegrad Group (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) in a meeting with them in Budapest on July 19.
Netanyahu admitted in his interview with Channel 20 that he had chosen to be interviewed by it because unlike all the other media channels they would let him speak uninterrupted. He might have added that the two reporters/commentators who interviewed him – Eliran Tal and Shimon Riklin – were unlikely to ask any difficult questions.
Undoubtedly an interview with his nemesis – Raviv Drucker of Channel 10 – whom Netanyahu disparagingly referred to in his Channel 20 interview as a “groisse itona’i” (a “great journalist”) and accused of participating in an illegal demonstration outside the attorney general’s house in Petah Tikva (the demonstration was legal, and Drucker was there as a reporter), would have been much more effective.
So what did we learn from the interview that we didn’t know before? Nothing much. Rather, we got additional proof of what we already knew.
First of all, Netanyahu believes that he is the only real barrier to an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders (totally false) and to the return of the political Left to power (circumstantially correct).
He referred to the two successful attempts of the Labor Party in the past 25 years (by Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 and by Ehud Barak in 1999) to replace the Likud as having been based on false accusations of corruption in Likud, which is also what he accuses the opposition of trying to do today, adding that any attempt to bring about a change of government by means of police investigations against the serving prime minister is a danger to democracy. That is true, of course, if one assumes that the serving prime minister is innocent.
The reality is that even though Netanyahu has not been put on trial to the present on any of the suspicions raised against him, so far none of these suspicions have been proven to be false.
Netanyahu’s manner of warding off suspicion is exemplified by what he said in the Channel 20 interview about his receipt of cigars from his wealthy friends. He argued that according to regulations his receiving a gift from friends is perfectly lawful. He quoted Rudi Giuliani (former mayor of New York and a Trump supporter) in support of his claim, conveniently forgetting to mention that we are not talking about the odd box of cigars, but regular and frequent delivery of expensive cigars worth tens of thousands of shekels, from persons who occasionally required favors from him. The mention of Giuliani is a red herring.
Again, on the issue of the submarines from Germany, Netanyahu claimed that the authorities have time and again stated that he is not accused of anything, and that he is thus totally unconnected to the current investigation. Though no one has accused Netanyahu of having received bribes, since placing orders with ThyssenKrupp for three additional submarines and canceling an open tender for the purchase of vessels to protect the Israeli natural gas rigs was his own decision – contrary to the opinion of the defense minister and the IDF – he certainly has responsibility for the implementation of these decisions, especially since we are talking billions of dollars of public money.
The “goodies” that emerged from the open microphone during Netanyahu’s meeting with the premiers of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were of a different nature. In this case Netanyahu not only expressed his contempt for liberal Europe (which joins his contempt for liberal America and liberal American Jewry) and his preference for conservative, right-wing leaders (even if, as in the case of the prime ministers of Hungary and Poland, they deny that their nationals actively collaborated with the Nazi extermination of the Jews during World War II), but demonstrated a totally unwarranted Israeli sense of grandeur – “the mouse that roared.”
“The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel, which produces technology in every area, on political conditions” – referring to the expressions of displeasure by the EU with regard to Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, its settlement policy in these territories and its attitude toward Palestinian human and national rights. “I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear... There is no logic here. The EU is undermining its security by undermining Israel. Europe is undermining its [economic] progress by undermining its connection with Israeli innovation.”
Netanyahu’s words were reported in much of the international media with little commentary. The British Guardian referred to them as “bombastic remarks, which bizarrely predicted Europe’s future on its attitude towards Israel.” We do not know yet how Europe’s liberal and moderate conservative leaders – those who call the shots in the EU – will react. I suspect the reaction will be one of raised eyebrows and dismay – something like the reaction to US President Donald Trump’s tweets.
There was only one paragraph in what was quoted from Netanyahu’s presentation that I found encouraging.
“We are part of the European culture,” he said to the four premiers. How I wish he would convey the same message to his culture and sports minister, Miri Regev, who seems determined to belittle this culture and replace it with something else.