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Up close and personal: Getting lied to by Bibi

Unaware that their microphones were still on after a G-20 press conference in Cannes last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama were overheard expressing their true opinion of Binyamin Netanyahu on a personal level. The author had the same impression during a 1993 interview with Netanyahu.

So now Sarkozy says Netanyahu is a “liar” and that he “can’t stand” him, and Obama moans that that’s nothing, he has “to deal with him every day.” Join the club, fellas. Tony Blair and his team considered Netanyahu an “armor-plated bullshitter,” according to his aide Alistair Campbell; Bill Clinton couldn’t stand him, and if it hadn’t been for the Holocaust, imagine what Angela Merkel would be saying about Netanyahu now.

Our Bibi is a piece of work. It’s not his right-wing politics; Sharon was right-wing, certainly in his first term, Shamir was right-wing, Begin was right-wing, and foreign leaders didn’t talk about any of them like they talk about Netanyahu. Some said Begin was stubborn and argumentative, Shamir was a brick wall (I don’t remember anybody badrapping Sharon personally) – but I don’t recall any world leader complaining that they were intolerable, that they were liars like they do about Netanyahu. And with the exception of Ehud Barak –a different sort of piece of work, even more arrogant than Netanyahu and a physically violent bully, but much less of a liar – no Israeli prime minister ever alienated his political allies at home like Netanyahu did in his first term. (Though it must be said that he’s gotten over that problem in his current term.)

What is it about this guy? Besides the lying, what is it that makes foreign statesmen, not to mention his opposition at home, find him intolerable – “revolting,” as I put it in an August 2005 Jerusalem Post column that looked at this question. To help answer it, I told a personal anecdote:

I was interviewing Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office for a profile in summer 1993, a couple of months after his book, A Place Among the Nations – Israel and the World, came out. After awhile I started asking him various policy questions, and he started replying, ‘Read my book.’ Finally I told him, ‘I did.’

He looked at me sideways, skeptically, and asked, ‘Did you read it or just skim it?’ I told him, ‘No, I read it.’

Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz has written of Netanyahu’s technique of ‘giving the voters those extra two seconds of full-on, ultra-sincere eye contact to lock up their support.’ A few minutes after telling Netanyahu I’d read his book, I got my two seconds.

Sitting behind his desk he paused, fixed me with the look and said, ‘Larry, I think you understand my vision better than any Israeli journalist.’

I recall lowering my eyes and trying to make the wince on my lips look like a smile of appreciation, and went on to the next question.

This was nothing new, a politician feeding a journalist some flattering nonsense in the hope of getting sympathetic coverage. But what nonsense! He didn’t know me from Adam, I’m sure he’d never read anything I’d ever written, I’d been talking to him for all of an hour and he tells me he thinks no Israeli journalist has plumbed his depths like I have.

He was telling me a lie, but it was such a bad lie, such a ridiculous one. How could he expect that it would work, that it would get me on his side? Later I thought about that, and I asked myself: What sort of person tells ridiculously bad lies? A stupid person. But stupid is one thing Netanyahu definitely isn’t.

So what sort of intelligent person tells really bad lies? Answer: One who thinks the person he’s lying to is stupid, stupid enough to believe him.

I don’t think I gave Netanyahu any reason to think I was stupid. I think he just naturally assumes that about everybody – that he can tell anybody anything and get away with it, that everybody’s a gullible simpleton except him.

And that, finally, is what makes Netanyahu so uniquely offensive to watch: It’s not just the preening that shows he has such a high opinion of himself, it’s the outrageousness of his bullshit that shows he has such a low opinion of his audience.

The funny thing is that this guy is considered Israel’s Great Communicator – and he is, but with a very, very narrow audience. Republicans, AIPAC-owned Democrats, right-wing Zionists and the uninformed. Everybody else thinks he’s a liar and can’t stand him. A piece of work, our Bibi.

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    1. Ben Israel

      What is the meaning of “lying” in the international arena? Israeli leaders traditionally lie to their population and supposedly tell the truth to other leaders.
      Take Sharon for instance. He lied during the 2003 election campaign when he said he opposed destroying Gush Katif and that “Netzarim is no different than Tel Aviv”. He won a big electoral victory using that slogan. Then he turned around and went back on his promise. He then called a Likud member’s referendum on the matter…he swore he would honor the results and then when he lost the referendum, he again lied and went ahead with it anyway. He is considered one of Israel’s greatest leaders by the “progressive” camp , a titan, because of how cleverly he lied. Arafat did the opposite…..he lied to outsiders and told the truth to his own people. It could be that Bibi is changing the paradigm. Who is the bad guy and who is the good guy? What kind of lying is “good” lying.?
      Or how about all the IDF Generals who swore Israel was not taking any chances in the security of the population when they approved of the Oslo Agreements, or the destruction of Gush Katif?
      In a Knesset debate at the time of Oslo, Likud Knesset members told Peres in the Knesset Plenum that “rockets will be fired at Ashkelon if we give up Gaza”. Peres accused them of being stupid, crazed war mongers. He assured everyone there was no danger. He is considered a great man because he cleverly lied to the population (He and the IDF knew it would happen, they simply didn’t care) to push through the “progressive” agenda.
      Another example…during the recent rocket attacks, the IDF said it was “safe” for schoolchildren to come to school in a certain town within range of the rockets from the Gaza Stip. Even so, the mayor refused to open the schools. He was asked how he could go against the IDF’s recommendation. I don’t know what answer he gave, but he certainly remembered all the lies the IDF spokesmen have made over the years in order to push the Left’s “peace agenda”.
      So, again, what’s so bad about lying if it gets you what you want?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben Israel

      All politicians lie….they have to. Franklin D Roosevelt, much beloved by the “progressives” carried on an undeclared war against German U-Boats in the Atlantic for months before the US entered World War II and blatantly lied about it to the American people.
      Doris Kearns Goodwin tells about how FDR and Lyndon Johnson would routinely lie to people they talked to in order to get what they wanted out of them.
      I clearly recall a Labor Party primary when Peres was the head of the Party. Yael Dayan did not get chosen for the Knesset list and told reporters “Peres lied to me, he promised he would get me on the list”.
      Thus, I would have to see a lot more evidence to say that Bibi was worse than the average politician (mind you, I do not support him).

      Reply to Comment
    3. I read this article in hopes of learning what, exactly, Netanyahu lied about. All I learned was that the writer believes he is very clever in the way he interviews world leaders. I would like to understand why Bibi is a liar while Sarkozy and Obama speak the truth, really?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Fair enough, guys – I thought to a +972 readership I didn’t have to give specifics, that it was generally understood and agreed that Bibi has a long record of lies, but you’re right – +972’s loyal opposition is entitled to an accounting. HIs biggest, worst lies are post-Oslo – that he tried to stop the incitement against Rabin; then, as prime minister that he meant to make peace w/the Palestinians; and now, that he means to make peace with the Palestinians and that he supports the idea of a Palestinian state.
      Here’s some stuff from that August 2005 column, stuff that I didn’t excerpt in my post, that fills out the list: The peg for the column was Bibi’s resignation from Sharon’s cabinet a week before the evacuation of Gaza. He claimed that he was acting out of “conscience,” that the disengagement would get Jews killed – this, after voting for disengagement over and over in the Knesset to hold onto his job as finance minister. Here’s that other stuff:

      “There’s no lie or betrayal of principle too blatant for Netanyahu if he thinks it will advance his interests. He can hand the city of Hebron and 13% of Judea and Samaria to Yasser Arafat, he can free Sheikh Yassin from an Israeli prison, he can offer the Golan Heights to Hafez Assad – and still present himself as the right-wing’s savior.
      “He can claim to this day that he “predicted” 9/11, when this vision came to him, coincidentally, in the wake of that first terror attack on the World Trade Center, the car bombing in February 1993. Afterward Netanyahu warned that next time, it might not be a car bomb but a nuclear bomb. Thank you, swami.
      “He can send more Israelis to the poorhouse, teach more Israeli children what it means to be hungry, than any other finance minister in the country’s history, and still call himself “the most socially-concerned [politician] there is.”
      “He can speak out for a year-and-a-half against the pullout from Gaza and northern Samaria while remaining in Sharon’s cabinet, while voting for disengagement when it counts, while refusing to lead the opposition and thereby ensuring the opposition’s failure, yet still declare himself to have been “consistent” all along.”

      Reply to Comment
    5. Karen

      The real reason why Bibi is so dangerous is not because he’s a liar. But because he believes the lies he tells. He can look you squarely in the eye and say what he said because he believes it. I honestly don’t believe he knows that he’s lying when he says the things he says (even the stuff that he gets factually wrong).

      Reply to Comment
    6. Dana

      For better or for worse, Netanyahu IS the face of Israel. he represents everything that’s “good” about Israel for the hard core jewish supporters of the settlement enterprise. He is the face of masculine colonialism – in its full unadulterated, unapologetic form – as everyone knows what his real vision for the Palestinians is. A “vision” that the majority of israelis and their zionist friends elsewhere share – even if they can’t always say so openly. To the Jewish establishment in America he speaks in code – they know what he wants and they will throw their own country over in a heart beat, if it serves the great israel vision. And that is what’s in the rotten core of the liars’ credo.

      But that’s them, and the Netanyahoo supporters in israel. But what of the “other” israelis? what of the “good” israelis? like +972, like Larry Derfner? alas, in the final reckoning, there are too few of you – way too few. A miniscule minority, really. Your numbers well represented by the knesset MK’s the “good” israelis elected (which absolutely does not include kadima, with its sliver of daylight separating it from Likud). How many of the “good guys” are there, really? how many who are willing to call a spade a spade? how many who actually, really believe palestinians are as human as them?

      Perhaps, it is necessary to consider that netanyahu is noxious because the country he represents (or rather the country’s policies as voted on by and for the people of israel – and their well connected friends in the US) are noxious. Today, he’d be elected in a landslide. As would Lieberman. And many more of the haredi – the self-appointed keepers of the medieval jewdaism.

      And that is the sad bottom line: Israel is one with Netanyahu.

      The people of israel share with him apparently this amazing ability to lie to themselves – even in their sleep – thus to keep opinions of their selves – as people of a “great” enterprise stratosherically high.

      As to what the rest of the world thinks – check out the UNESCO vote.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Renfro

      Answering Ben Israel’s question…..

      “So, again, what’s so bad about lying if it gets you what you want?

      Nothing according to psychopaths. That’s how psychopaths operate in the world. Problem is there is no cure for psychopaths…clinically described as people without any conscience,
      a untreatable and uncorectable brain defect. Fortunately for society their peers eventually recongize them as psychopaths and then their game is up. Until their psychopathy is recongized however, they can do a great deal of damage to any one or any thing they are associated with.

      If you had to ask this question you probably have a problem.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Thanks for the response Larry, I am just trying to educate myself. Bibi sounds like a US politician.

      Reply to Comment
    9. tammy

      Your article describes a sociopath.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Henry Weinstein

      Very interesting analysis, Renfro.
      Have a look on “More “price tag” attacks against Peace Now” by Dahlia Scheindlin ‘s comments thread: you will find more material

      Reply to Comment
    11. B

      I usually cringe at trotting out clinical psychiatric terms and applying them to people I haven’t spent a good deal of time with–it’s aggressive and rude–but Netanyahu is SUCH a classic textbook case of a narcissistic/antisocial personality (as is often the case, he has traits of both of these shades of the “dramatic cluster” of personality styles, and the severity of a narcissistic personality can be gauged by the degree of antisocial features–so says Otto Kernberg and others). “RENFRO” is right. “KAREN,” I think it’s not so much that Netanyahu believes the lies he tells, it’s that he assigns no value one way or the other to the truth-value of his statements. Whether something is true or not is never really the point to him. What is always the point to him is that it is about him.
      This is one reason why it is so scary that this man has his finger near Israel’s nuclear and non-nuclear warhead button. Between him and that button stand a few people like Meir Dagan but that’s all. The other reason it is so scary that Bibi has his finger near the button is that, I hate to say it, but, like Hitler, he is in the grip of an overvalued idea, an idea shared by many of his countrymen to some degree, but taken to a passionate extreme and in the service of which he is willing to do extreme things. Bibi by all accounts is a “true believer” on Iran as Amalek, as the infernal enemy of the Jewish people. Hitler was a true believer in the idea that the Jews were the enemy of the German people. Don’t get me wrong. The Jews were not the enemy of anyone. Ahmadinejad and his allies are to some degree in fact an enemy of the Jewish people. But Netanyahu in his own way is a possessor of an overvalued idea and his personality problems are not all that disimilar to Hitler’s. This is not to say that I think that Netanyahu is capable of perpetrating a Holocaust, or that Israelis would let him, but just how capable of normal guilt and remorse and horror would Netanyahu be capable of feeling for the massive loss of Iranian (or Israeli) lives if it became necessary to do that? I’m afraid not much. “DANA” asks a crucial question: How many of the good guys are there? To what degree has Israel and its diaspora (just read those JPost talkbacks, folks), when it comes down to it, become one with Netanyahu?

      Reply to Comment
    12. Richard Witty

      He’s a dodger.

      His rock is the revisionist Zionist vision of a secure Israel, eventually at the river to sea boundaries, but legally/deniability.

      And, he believes that the world does not accept the vision of a secure Israel, nor of a secure incrementally expanding Israel, and so must dodge and disrupt and distort and evade.

      Principles have some importance, but in a fight are secondary, and that Israel is always in a fight, so principles are then always secondary.

      In practice, he is a salesman, a Lyndon Johnson like character who gets his way and cajoles and squirms to, and will not accept not getting his way.

      His goal is a consistent rock, but nothing that he says is anything but a slippery inconsistent means.

      He is a house with a strong foundation and a reliable roof (so far as he can keep squirming), but no reliable floor or walls.

      Nothing that anyone else could rely on confidently.

      Not a friend in gathering mutual support, and not an enemy in reconciling.

      The opposite of a Sukkah.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Alex

      How about this lie? Did he REALLY think it wouldn’t get noticed?

      “In my office in Jerusalem, there’s an ancient seal. It’s a signet ring of a Jewish official from the time of the Bible. The seal was found right next to the Western Wall, and it dates back 2,700 years, to the time of King Hezekiah. Now, there’s a name of the Jewish official inscribed on the ring in Hebrew. His name was Netanyahu. That’s my last name. My first name, Benjamin, dates back a thousand years earlier to Benjamin – Binyamin – the son of Jacob, who was also…blah etc….

      Genius, Mr Mileikowsky, Genius.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Piotr Berman

      I guess Witty got it right.

      On the other hand, both Sarkozy and Obama are seasoned politicians who know the value of being “economical with truth”. Bullshitting voters and journalists is part of the job description. So it is still a question that can be explored — what lies make Netanyahu particularly annoying to allied politicians?

      For example, it was claimed somewhere that MI6 got particularly annoyed with Mossad due to a murder of one of its agents, hence exposing the affair of Fox and Werritty. This may be untrue, but makes a coherent narrative. I think that besides some public statements that are clearly inconsistent and hence, in part false, Netanyahu makes some inconsistent statements “in private”.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Leah

      glad to see you off of Jpost. Keep it up! I do like your longer explanation a bit better! Most people here didnt read you at Jpost….

      Reply to Comment
    16. Zvi

      Politicians lie for a living – nothing new there. I think that what makes Netanyahu so ‘odious’ is that virtually no one (friends, foes, and perhaps not even Bibi himself) has any idea what he *really* wants.

      In my opinion, he wants to be remembered as ‘Bibi – King of Israel’, but he has not quite decided how to achieve that, or perhaps even what that means. Peace… War…. Who knows? His affinity among Israel’s more “Evangelical” supporters is particularly troubling. Is he setting Israel up for another Massada?

      Reply to Comment
    17. Yaki Golan

      The word “revolting” brought up a strong memory. In 1991 or ’92 I was having dinner with my girlfriend in Tel Aviv, and Bibi sat at the table next to us, diagonally across from me. He started eating, and as I watched him shoveling the food into his mouth, two thoughts came to mind: “revolting” and “this is a violent man.” 20 years later, I still think the same thing.

      Reply to Comment
    18. What kind of intelligent person tells outrageously bad lies and expects to get away with it?
      A sociopath.

      Reply to Comment
    19. James

      This is the first time I’ve been to this site, so maybe this is obvious. (Also Peter Beinart wrote a great essay on this.)
      I’m an American Jew who simply can’t support Israel with Netanyahu in power — e.g., I would de-fund, and I never would’ve said that before.
      There have to be thousands like me. The bottom line is that electing people like this will continue to dilute Jewish support for Israel within your greatest ally.

      Reply to Comment
    20. directrob

      The funny thing is Netanyahu lied about many things in his speech for the US Congress but he did not lie about the Palestinian state.
      He clearly states that the Palestinians can have their state and peace if they agree with his (clearly formulated) conditions. Of course that Palestinian “state” would be very small and fragmented. Actually it would be a poor excuse for a state.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Henry Weinstein

      Piotr Berman is right: it’s not at all the same thing to tell bullshit to voters and journalists, and to tell bullshit to top western leaders who know more than one or two things about bullshit.

      Reply to Comment
    22. coledale london

      There is no question but that many Israeli politicians, infinitely more so than those from other states, unfortunately suffer from inordinate arrogance – none more obviously so than Netanyahu, Barak and Peres in the current administration, and Sharon and Olmert, for instance, in previous ones.

      Whilst others previously managed to govern with some sincerity, for example Ben Gurion and Golda Meir both of whom were genuinely interested in the welfare of the nation as their priority as opposed to self-aggrandizement.

      Arrogance is the common personality defect also of dictators who mistakenly believe that they are indispensable to the continuance of the nation and the lives of the people.

      It’s a common failing of those who exhibit an extraordinary level of unwarranted self-esteem. How or why the electorate vote them into office is a mystery. However, there are those who still love or grieve for Mubarak, Assad, Sadam Hussein and Idi Amin – so there is no accounting for the so-called will of the people. I guess that is one great failing of democracy.

      Reply to Comment
    23. dickerson3870

      RE: “The funny thing is that this guy is considered Israel’s Great Communicator – and he is, but with a very, very narrow audience. Republicans, AIPAC-owned Democrats, right-wing Zionists and the uninformed.” ~ Derfner

      MY COMMENT: I wonder which category (or categories) Sen. Joseph Lieberman belongs in.

      FROM LOUISE ROSS at Mondoweiss.net, April 9, 2011: I got in Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s face today on my run through Georgetown. I think he and Hadassah were on their way to temple because they were dressed up and walking. I slowed down and asked him what he was going to do about the Palestinians as we get ready for Netanyahu’s visit on my birthday, May 22, the day before the AIPAC conference. I said he should tell Bibi Netanyahu to do something about the settlements.

      He said, “Bibi Netanyahu is a great man and you should keep running!” …

      Reply to Comment
    24. Eastvillager

      Dickerson, Joe Lieberman is the textbook example of an AIPAC-owned Democrat.

      Reply to Comment
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