As I opened my newspaper last Wednesday, I expected the main headline to refer to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s UN speech – not because I was impressed by its content (I am always impressed by the delivery), but because it seemed to me to be “politically correct” to give it its rightful place.
However, the headline in Haaretz was about Netanyahu’s having allegedly tried to assist Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan purchase part of TV Channel 2 at a time when he was receiving expensive gifts from him. The story about Netanyahu’s UN speech merited a small headline below the main headline, with a referral to page four.
I never really felt that Netanyahu as prime minister represents me, most of what I stand for, or the basic norms of conduct I was raised on (my parents were American-born liberals). I also doubt whether he cares about the welfare of Israel’s citizens as individuals, as opposed to the state as a collective, or is leading Israel in a desirable direction. In short, I differ with Netanyahu both with regard to personal norms and ideology.
However, for better or worse, he is the prime minister, and no matter how badly I want to see him replaced, there is a difference between fighting him mercilessly on personal and political grounds, and delegitimizing the office he occupies after following a proper, even if sometimes murky, democratic process.
As Yom Kippur approaches I have been thinking about whether I – as a liberal social democrat – have been over-harsh in my criticism of Netanyahu for the past 29 years (I wrote my first critical article about him toward the 1988 elections), or whether he earned my wrath, through his public and private conduct, and total refusal to explain and/or defend himself in a totally honest and open interview.
“There will be nothing because there is nothing” is an empty slogan that says almost nothing except that Netanyahu is either totally ignorant of the accepted norms, law and regulations, or a rogue.
I have frequently thought that it might be a fascinating experience to confront Netanyahu in a private and confidential tête-à-tête. But that is, of course, impossible. The man seems to be in almost totally isolated from the real world, and if you don’t happen to belong to the community of his blind worshipers (mostly loyal members of the Likud Central Committee and Channel 20 reporters) – forget it.
The only time I ever managed to get an informal chat with him was at a conference on Israel’s water issues we both attended in 2001 or 2002, at a time when he was no longer premier, had resigned from the Knesset and had not yet been appointed by Ariel Sharon as a minister. I believe he was temporarily engaged as an adviser to hi-tech entrepreneurs.
What would I ask Netanyahu during such a tête-àtête? Well, in the order in which the various issues emerged in my consciousness, first of all I would ask him how as the son of an historian he does not feel he ought to be more careful with historical facts, or whether he believes that it is legitimate to invent “alternative facts” in order to make a point.
Next I would ask him why after the first confrontation with the law about his and his wife’s alleged charging of personal expenses to the state (it concerned their moving out of the official prime minister’s residence after he lost the 1999 election to Ehud Barak) he didn’t ask Sara to sit down with a representative of the State Attorney’s Office and learn the details of what a public servant is entitled to receive from the state, and what is considered private expenses, to be paid for by the public servant from his own pocket.
I would then ask for details about the shabby state of the prime minister’s official residence, and why – according to his experience – the state refuses to pay for basic repairs. And if the state’s position on this issue is one of inexplicable stinginess, why he and his wife haven’t decided to execute the repairs at their personal expense, given the apparent fact that they seem to have no qualms about the getting the state to cover many of their personal expenses.
Then I would move on to political issues. Is his contemptuous public treatment of liberals, social democrats, human rights activists, other non-right-wing, non-Orthodox Jews, and Palestinians (both Israeli and West Bank residents) merely a matter of political tactics, or does it reflect a deep-seated ideology? If the latter, then one cannot escape the conclusion that the comment by “the old man with a new beard” to the effect that there are disturbing signs of budding fascism in the current government, is not a figment of Ehud Barak’s imagination.
Does Netanyahu really believe that Israel can continue to alienate the majority of US Jewry and still remain a Jewish state in the sense that it is the state of all Jews? Does he really believe that his turning his back on the western European states rather than confronting their criticism (which usually reflects sincere concern for Israel’s status as an enlightened, democratic state) and sucking up to non-liberal rightwing leaders, some of whom are latent or not-solatent anti-Semites, really serves Israel’s long-term interests?
Then there is the Iranian issue. Though there is no question that Iran poses a major security headache for Israel, and possibly even an existential danger (I believe that former Labor MK and minister Efraim Sneh was the first to speak of this openly, in the early 1990s), does he really believe that any of his masterful speeches – in the US Congress and the UN General Assembly – have really contributed to Israel’s long-term security? Does he not fear that bragging about Israel’s technological and scientific achievements (most of which, I dare say, were generated by persons who do not vote for the Likud), and constantly referring to Israeli superiority and the Jewish genius, merely fuels the rising waves of antisemitism around the world? Has he ever considered humility and admission to mistakes and fallibility as a better public relations tactic?
Finally about the “Hun.” What does he really think about his son Yair’s irresponsible and sometimes outrageous tweets? Doesn’t he think that the “child” is really old enough at 26 to start living an independent life, away from the nest? And what is the opinion of the Third Lady (according to Israeli protocol) of this as an educational psychologist?
If I had a chance to speak to Netanyahu tête-à-tête I would apologize to him if I have ever wrongly accused him, or his family, of any deed, saying or thought. I would expect him to apologize to me for doing nothing to make me feel that he is also my prime minister.