Is this the end of Netanyahu?

Is this the end of Netanyahu?

David Remnick writes:

Benjamin Netanyahu has been Prime Minister of Israel longer than anyone in the history of the state, longer than F.D.R. was President of the United States. And yet, for all his electoral success, he has always been a known quantity. Twenty-five years ago, during Netanyahu’s first term, I spoke with his predecessor and fellow Likud member Yitzhak Shamir. “Bibi?” Shamir said. “He is not a very trustworthy man.” He added, “I don’t believe he believes in anything. He has a huge ego. People don’t like such people. I don’t like him.” Not long after, I spoke with Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader who had lost to Netanyahu in 1996. Peres was furious with Netanyahu’s determination to undermine the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians. His general assessment of Netanyahu’s amoralism and cynicism was much like Shamir’s. “Netanyahu’s only consideration is his own coalition,” Peres said. “He’s always worried about losing power—that is always his first priority.”

On the same reporting trip to Jerusalem, I discovered that the cliché is true: No man is a hero to his director of communications and policy planning. David Bar-Illan, a former concert pianist and editor of the Jerusalem Post, was without illusions about Netanyahu even as he pledged abiding loyalty to him. When I asked Bar-Illan how Netanyahu won the ultra-Orthodox vote despite his rigorously secular life style, Bar-Illan said, “Finessing his being secular was nothing compared to other things, like adultery. One thing is to have an affair with a shiksa—but a married woman! With a shiksa, even the rebbes do it. But a married woman! Now Bibi’ll go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, maybe he’s gone to the Western Wall, or he’ll say the phrase ‘With God’s help.’ But he’s not fooling anyone.”

When Bar-Illan’s remarks were published in The New Yorker and then in the Israeli press, Netanyahu was incensed. He barred his spinmeister from his plane and his next trip to Washington. Bar-Illan, who died in 2003, panicked and not only denied that he’d said those things to me but he also told Israeli television that he had never even met me. (This forced me to go on Israeli TV to display the copy of his book “Eye on the Media,” which he had inscribed, “To David from David, With admiration and best wishes.”)

The point is, Netanyahu has never really fooled anyone. He didn’t fool his fellow-politicians or various American Presidents, who knew him to be a liar and an opportunist. He was not fooling the Mizrahim, who obviously knew that he came from an Ashkenazic background. Nor has he fooled the ultra-Orthodox, who have always known that he followed the rules of fidelity and kashruth with equal attention. Netanyahu’s cynicism, deceptions, and ethical gymnastics are no more shocking to his Israeli supporters than Trump’s similar qualities are to his immense base. He won so long as he could deliver for his constituents.

And now this generation-long drama, the Netanyahu era, has reached its dispiriting resolution. [Continue reading…]

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