This week Benjamin Netanyahu was interviewed on Israel’s leading TV station, Channel 12. The interviewer effected the occasional critical countenance, as one might when questioning a prime minister clinging to power while on trial for bribery. But mostly it amounted to a wide-open stage for lies, distortions and propaganda punctuated by the occasional shared giggle.
I have little doubt that the interviewer, Yonit Levy, is professional and serious. The same goes for other TV journalists who have been bamboozled of late by this extremely talented communicator. None of them, I think, meant to offer Likud a free pass.
I have concluded that because of the major TV channels’ need to produce eight hours a day of coronavirus coverage, plus unending reams of reality TV (beyond the overlap between the two), they struggle to find time to prepare proper questions for interviews with the slippery prime minister. So I am offering, pro bono, the following questions for journalists who may find themselves thrust into this tricky situation in the time left until the March 23 election:
- In the 1990s, just before becoming prime minister, you declared that you favored term limits for prime ministers. Why does it not apply to you? When you flip-flop on an issue so vital to the country, do you not feel you owe the public an explanation?
- Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing extremist opposed to the Oslo Accords. This came after you led mass demonstrations in which Rabin was presented on posters dressed as Yasser Arafat, his government was depicted as a modern Judenrat, rabbis issued rulings that he could be killed and you personally accused him of colluding with Israel’s enemies. Do you feel this incitement did not contribute to encouraging the assassin? Did you ever consider expressing regret at your part in creating this atmosphere?
- You said on TV in 2009 that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could not govern while he was “up to his neck in police investigations.” You have clung to power while being up to your neck not only in an investigation but facing charges and now attending a bribery trial. Do you not owe the public an explanation for such a reversal?
- You have said Israel does not want to become a binational state. It is clear the Palestinians will not agree to a peace deal on Israel’s terms and many of them are prepared to let Israel destroy itself demographically by not ending the occupation. Your government furthers this outcome by continuing to build in the West Bank. Do you have no concerns that Israel is headed toward demographic, moral, legal and political disaster?
- When you were finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s government you were praised for reducing the child subsidies using the argument that they encouraged non-work and the absence of family planning. You reversed course now that your own government is dependent on the Haredim. Under the current course the country in a few generations will have a majority of Haredim with the men in that community mostly studying Torah all their lives at the expense of the working minority, with masses of children not being taught science or English. Why is this course wise for Israel?
- In most democracies, a public figure facing criminal charges would resign, not because the law forces it but on account of the ethical imperative. You have chosen to cling to power with every tool at your disposal, to delay the proceedings, to attack the police, prosecution and courts and to ridicule the charges. Do you not consider that this behavior might harm democratic norms in Israel? Is this a good example of leadership and accountability for the children and citizens of Israel?
- Israel is a world leader in days spent under coronavirus lockdown and unemployment that has resulted from the pandemic. This relates directly to your refusal to follow experts’ recommendations to enact lockdowns on hard-hit areas only, which were mostly Haredi. So put another way, because you depend politically on the Haredim all Israelis had to suffer. How is this intelligent and fair?
- You have been criticized for profiting from the corona crisis. You argued the pandemic meant you should not be replaced even after losing the last election, you constantly speak in the first person about orders you gave and meetings you held and negotiations you pursued on the pandemic. What say you to charges that this is inelegant behavior?
- Are you at all uncomfortable about the stock deal in which you made many millions of shekels from trading a company affiliated with the maker of the submarines your government later purchased under dubious circumstances that have landed many of the protagonists on trial?
- Are you at all uncomfortable with the recorded statements of your crony Natan Eshel saying your supporters are driven by hate and that minister Miri Regev is “a beast” who can manipulate them efficiently?
- You want to be considered “Mr. Security” like Rabin and Sharon but unlike them you are opposed by a majority of the senior retired security figures. Does this not concern you?
- You became the first world leader ever to lobby against a sitting US president in Congress, on the Iran deal, and your broke with Israel’s bipartisan strategy by openly siding with Donald Trump. Was it smart to endanger Israel’s indispensable alliance?
- Why should the citizens of Israel pay millions over the years for non-security costs at your house in Caesaria (including for the water in the pool)?
About three years ago I was awarded the first question at a meeting of the foreign press with Netanyahu. My question was more or less this: “Mr. Prime Minister, you are widely opposed by Israel’s educated and professional classes, who are your natural milieu as the secular son of a historian and a graduate of MIT. It goes beyond opposition: in these circles, there is a very strong sense that your policies on the West Bank and on the Haredi issue are actually leading directly to the destruction of the country. Does such a chasm between you and the sector of the country that would normally be closest to you not bother you on a personal level? Are you convinced they are all wrong and you are right?”
Netanyahu bristled, did not answer the question, and said (more or less): “Would you like to come up here on stage and change places with me? Because it sounds like that’s what you’re hinting at.”
I have to admit that is one of few accurate things he said that evening. I would even suggest it be borrowed by the next Israeli journalist who finds Netanyahu bamboozling him or her with an answer like: “That’s not the question. Here’s the real question which you should be asking Yair Lapid.” That is what he did to poor Yonit Levy, who instead of putting him in his place protested that she would indeed ask Lapid whatever nonsense she was instructed to ask, whenever she got the chance.
There is no reason to treat Netanyahu like the boss who has graced us with some crumbs of his precious time. The public is his boss. This nearly eternal prime minister has a duty to come before the public and account for actions that a significant proportion of that public considers corrupt and catastrophic.