Netanyahu appeals for sympathy

Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Kobi Gideon, GPO

SOME Israelis thought Bibi was going to resign. Others thought he was declaring war on Iran. He had the nation gripped this week, when he said he was about to make a “dramatic” announcement.

An estimated one in nine Israelis tuned in to watch, but Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t say farewell to the nation or talk tough to Tehran. He wanted to plead for the nation’s sympathy.

The PM attempted to convince the public to stick by him despite the corruption scandal hovering over the election campaign that is just beginning. His approach was to present himself as hard done by, or as he put it, “the most smeared public figure in the country’s history”.

He claimed that Israel’s legal system, instead of ensuring that justice is done in the corruption investigations against him, is standing in the way of the truth. He said it has not called all important witnesses, and has prevented him from seeing witnesses to refute their claims.

Talking to The AJN, Hebrew University political science professor Peter Medding summed up the address as Netanyahu saying of legal authorities, “You are screwing me.”

Less than 24 hours later, an Israeli radio station quoted a senior law enforcement official saying that Netanyahu is misleading the public and trying to use his influence to “disrupt” the investigation. Netanyahu quickly hit back saying that the legal officials behind the probe are “afraid of the truth”.

In the prime time speech, the PM declared, “I know the truth and I am sure of it at 4000 per cent, but how can we get to the truth if they do not allow me to confront them and do not summon witnesses who hold information that can refute the claims?”

He said he is happy to confront witnesses live on television.

Netanyahu didn’t just suggest he is being wronged, but also suggested a reason: an attempt at political assassination, driven by the left.

He said, “The left knows that in the struggle for progress and achievements it cannot defeat me, so it is looking for other ways – constant pressure on the Attorney-General and pressuring for me to stand trial.”

He said that he could have avoided the “hunt” against him if he altered his policies, agreeing to divide Jerusalem, retreat to the borders of Israel as they were on the eve of the Six-Day War, and compromise Israeli security, but said he would not agree.

This section of the speech appeared intended to secure the loyalty of right-wing voters even if he is indicted, by convincing them that he is not just a victim but that he has become a victim to protect their ideological cause and their security.

Israel’s Justice Ministry insisted in a statement that investigations have taken place “professionally and thoroughly”, and Netanyahu’s political opponents lambasted him for the speech. Opposition Leader Shelly Yachimovich called it “lame”.

Despite angering his opponents, in the past when Netanyahu has rung alarm bells to tell right-wing voters that their vision is in danger, like on the last election day, it has worked.

But Medding thinks that the PM may have gone too far this time.

“Victim speeches, ‘we were robbed and I’m being mistreated,’ is not what you expect from a Prime Minister and I don’t think it will win him extra points,” Medding said.

NATHAN JEFFAY