February 18, 2020

Netanyahu’s Drama

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes part in a memorial ceremony for the sinking of the Altalena ship, in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 30, 2018. Heidi Levine/Pool via REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a dramatic announcement on Monday night. Like many politicians, he did not feel the need to keep it. The good public was waiting, the media was speculating, rumors were spreading. At some point, he needed to cool it down. No he is not going anywhere. No he does not give up. What he wants is justice his version of it. His dramatic demand was to confront the state witnesses involved in the legal cases against him, and debate them before the legal authorities, or the public, or whomever.

Netanyahu seems to know that his legal troubles are nearing a climax. He seems to understand that the Attorney General is about to call for indictment, pending a hearing. Netanyahu argues that informing the public about a possible indictment before the election when the hearing can only take place after the election  would be unfair to him. Netanyahu’s supporters think he has a point. Netanyahu’s opponents agree that this is no more than a delay tactic.

What Netanyahu did this evening was remarkable in one way only: It emphasized his ability to dominate the agenda without much effort. A tweet, a hint, a pause, and at eight o’clock the whole country must listen.

Does it help him? That’s the wrong question. The right one is: How does it help him? To which the answer is: Netanyahu wants to rally his base of voters, and doesn’t much care what other TV viewers think about his appearance. If they call his drama a disappointment, he will say all they want is to see him stand trial. If they say his rush to alarm the public was pathetic, he will say that they treat him unfairly.

This is about winning an election. It is about solidifying a base. Netanyahu believes that for him to win an election is also the best way for him to win his legal case.