From his growing conflict with the White House to frantic attacks on the media, there’s something off with Israel’s prime minister.
Election season is a time when politicians say things they generally don’t mean, make promises they generally won’t keep and kiss babies they generally wouldn’t otherwise kiss. But if you have been tuned into the Israeli election cycle, you’ll notice that one politician in particular has shunned the campaign beat typical of most would-be Israeli leaders.
In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, you’d have noticed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is officially losing it. The downward spiral began with accepting an invitation by Speaker of the House John Boehner to speak to both chambers of Congress in order to derail American-led nuclear talks with Iran – a move that has been roundly condemned by U.S. and Israeli leaders alike. President Obama has decided not to meet with Netanyahu on his trip to Washington, and Vice President Biden has declared that he will boycott the speech.
Netanyahu, who seems intent on driving a stake through the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran come hell or high water, has even managed to alienate those Americans who dedicate their careers to defending Israeli policies. And despite criticism from a diverse chorus of prominent voices on both the Left and the Right, Netanyahu has doubled down and refuses to change course.
I’m determined to speak before Congress to stop Iran. RETWEET if I have your support. pic.twitter.com/5qTb89xf2i
— בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) February 10, 2015
The casual follower of Israeli politics might think that the chutzpah stops there. After all, they may say to themselves, Iran is a sworn enemy of Israel, and the leader of the only Jewish state in the world has every right to try and convince its greatest ally to change course vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic. But something else is happening: the past few days have revealed that when it comes to domestic affairs, Netanyahu is becoming unhinged.
The subject of numerous attacks and almost-scandals in recent weeks, Netanyahu has started hitting back at his political opponents — or rather, swinging wildly at the messenger and becoming indignant that people oppose him. The first and primary target of the prime minister’s rage is Noni Mozes, the publisher of Israel’s best-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. Mozes, or so the prime minister’s un-statesmanly ramblings go, is conspiring day and night to take down Netanyahu, shut down the other largest newspaper in the country (Israel Hayom, which just happens to be owned by Netanyahu’s political patron, Sheldon Adelson), and restore Yedioth to its former glory as the tabloid of choice in Israel.
Netanyahu wrote on Facebook Monday:
Over the past several weeks, the attacks have ceased just appearing once a day, when Yedioth Ahronoth is distributed in the morning. They are published at almost every hour, and sometimes every half hour, on Ynet. Both these platforms orchestrate outrageously false libel against me and my wife as part of a media campaign to replace the Likud’s rule with the Left…
… the Likud and I will not flinch in the face of these smears. We will continue to struggle against the ugly lies, and for the security and prosperity of the State of Israel. No one will stop us.
Let’s break down what is actually happening here. The prime minister is being regularly attacked by his patron’s biggest competitor, who also happens to be his ideological opponent. So what’s his response? First he called on his supporters to “help attack the media.” Next he mobilized the Likud Youth to protest outside the Yedioth building. But what does he do when the media doesn’t cower, and instead continues its relentless criticism? The only thing left to do, of course: paint Yedioth Ahronoth as the enemy of the people.
What was Yedioth’s capital offense? Trying to oust Netanyahu’s Likud party from power by hosting some dirty campaign tactics, of which Netanyahu is no stranger to on either the giving or receiving end. Perhaps more maddening for the prime minister, however, is the campaign — which he accuses Mozes of running from behind the curtains — to shut down Israel Hayom, which is in and of itself an experiment in foreign political manipulation by U.S. casino mogul and Netanyahu political patron Sheldon Adelson.
Even that might seem understandable to some. Politics are inherently dirty, right? But Netanyahu isn’t targeting hostile media outlets. He has now extended his campaign of political vengeance campaign into academia, which as we know from his government’s alleged ties to Im Tirzu, is also not a new concept for the prime minister.
It also seems that Netanyahu can’t stand the thought of a political foe deciding which Israeli academics, scientists and literary and artistic gems the country should honor. A Haaretz report published on Monday revealed that the prime minister uncharacteristically intervened, allegedly for political reasons, in the nominations of three would-be judges for the Israel Prize selection committee. The prize, which is awarded once a year to individuals or groups that have displayed excellence in humanities, sciences and the arts, is seen as one of the highest honors bestowed in the country.
Days before the panel was set to meet for the first time, the three were notified that Netanyahu, who is also the acting education minister, refused to sign off on their appointments. One of the nominees had recently written an article critical of use of a line about vengeance in Bialik’s poem “Al Hashehita” (“On the Slaughter”), in a speech he gave shortly after the bodies of three murdered yeshiva boys were found in the West Bank.
The fourth would-be Israeli Prize judge resigned in protest.
Perhaps it is because he feels under attack, perhaps it is an electoral tactic, maybe it is just an act or maybe he is personally and politically isolated and therefore becoming paranoid. What is sure, however, is that from his belligerence toward the White House to his attacks against political opponents, Netanyahu is losing it.