For the third time in a row and after his dramatic landslide win in the Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu was crowned leader of the State for the fourth time. The victory of the ‘Zionist Camp’ that the surveys predicted during the last days before the elections, as well as the exit poll results on the eve of the elections which predicted a tie between the largest parties – all this evaporated the following morning, and the citizens of Israel woke to the landslide victory of ‘Likud’. It appeared that the smooth Netanyahu, the sophisticated person, the polished American, captain of a famous unit, and brother of the national hero who fell in the bold raid on Entebbe, was himself undermined.
The discussion in the public and the Israeli media about the course of the election system that was one of the most frequent complaints that Israel had ever known since its establishment, stressed among other things the disputes that raises the image of the man who has filled the central role in Israeli politics for two decades. Netanyahu arouses strong feelings in the battle of the citizens: he is hated by many on the right and on the left, yet many swear in his name and are prepared to forgive him everything – because they believe in his leadership.
What are the qualities which have help Netanyahu to remain at the top for such a long time? What does the head of the State of Israel have which arouses such strong feelings in the Israeli public – for good or bad? Ten people who were at his side during the last two decades, ever since he made his first steps as head of the State of Israel in the summer of 1996, have explained to ‘Walla’ the riddle of Netanyahu – the candidate who bears the title of head of State and soon Prime Minister of the State of Israel. It seems that ever since he gained the leadership of Likud, the prospects of losing control of government were reduced.
Yossi Levy, Netanyahu’s strategic adviser in 2008-2009.
Netanyahu understands what Menachem Begin understood in his time – that the strongest card that he has is the feeling of the underdog, the feeling of oppression. In the last ten days of the election everywhere he went he said: “The elites are against us”. The cultural elite, the legal elites, the media elites –all of them are against us. He went with this card and played to a wide spectrum of layers, but above all to Mizrachis. In this he was not detached from reality. The elites were really against him: the academic elites, legal, “the state of Tel Aviv” were against him. When he came to strengthen this feeling, we saw that it was working. He actually retaliated against all the dark demons. He aroused the feeling of persecution with all his severity and this also caused people to identify with him. He knows how to exploit the attacks against him and to turn them against his enemies.
“Thanks to this the truth was with him”.
Attorney Zvi Hauzer, Netanyahu’s Government Secretary from 2009-2014.
Netanyahu presents an analysis of reality and a model for the realistic management of Israel’s most dangerous political struggle in Israel. In this way he creates a practical advantage over the alternative from the left. The Middle East has undergone a strategic earthquake during the last four years, the reality in which we live has changed, and the Israeli Left is the last group in the Middle East that has not yet recognised these changes. When in 2015 Zippi Livni and Itzhak Herzog presented the same positions of identity which were presented in the 2009 elections, this reversed the alternative from the Left and is irrelevant.
The reality is blowing powerfully to the Right among the public, and in spite of the media coverage in Israel, diagnoses the situation correctly. I have no doubt that the negative campaign against Netanyahu influenced the public, but in the end, the Israeli community focused on the big challenges. During the last few years we experienced a reversal of roles in Israeli politics.
The Israeli Left is relying more and more on beliefs and hopes, whereas the Right shows a realistic picture. Most of the public is realistic and not Messianic. It can be seen that the campaign which Netanyahu introduced, sharpened in particular the gap in the understanding of the security reality and this was effective. This is not magic, it is the ability of Netanyahu to differentiate between what is desirable and the reality, and to present this diagnosis in a way which is clear to the public.
Mitchell Barak, Netanyahu’s aid when he was Deputy Foreign Minister between 1991-1995
He is able to enter a room and all eyes will turn to him and people will say to themselves “He is a leader”. In the last 20 years there has not arisen in the State of Israel anyone as charismatic who can compete with Netanyahu in this respect, both in the Israeli sphere and the international one.
People from the lower socio-economic strata want a strong leader, they want to know that the Israeli nation has a leader who can protect them and who can guard Israeli’s borders. Netanyahu always uses terms which scare the nation. From their point of view Netanyahu can go the Congress in spite of the anger of Obama – he is seen as someone who can stand against Hamas and Hezbollah. His public believes that security is the most important issue. It is what they want, and he supplies the goods. Today he says that other leaders do not have the experience from the political and security point of view to lead the State; but that in 1996 when he was elected as leader of the government, he was the candidate with the least experience. He did not participate at that time in any cabinet meeting, and the most significant role which he filled was Deputy Minister in Shamir’s government. He claims today that he is the only one who has experience, but in fact every other candidate today has more experience than he had in 1996. Even Naftali Bennett, who sat in the cabinet, has today more experience than Netanyahu of the 90s . Also in 1996 he knew how to scare the nation with the excuse that if Peres were to be elected he would divide Jerusalem and would sell the State to the Arabs.
Odlia Carmon, former Head of Netanyahu’s office
This charisma, this verbal virtuosity – all of these are part of what makes the other half of the nation hate him, who see that he does not represent all of them. This annoys them more than a politician who is slurred, confused or not so talented. Lack of action or human weakness is far more easily forgiven in someone less polished. There is a great dissonance between the image, the polish and the sophistication of Netanyahu, and his ability to deliver, his integrity and his steadfastness. I cannot think of anyone for whom the saying ‘his thoughts do not match his behaviour’ is more appropriate. In this case what we see is more outrageous. Whoever sees, predicts and exposes this feels very cheated, angry and betrayed.
He is not to blame for his baritone voice, his authoritative manner or for the good looks with which he is blessed, but over the years these helped him without him having to make any effort. It is possible to say that Yair Lapid is also blessed with the same characteristics, but he comes across as very human with good and decent intentions while the public has learnt that Netanyahu, whom they have known for many more years, have learnt to understand that this appearance is misleading.
The packaging of a film actor who plays an infuriating leader is misleading until you discover that he is an actor and not something genuine. The gap which is not understood and the dissonance which arouses anger between the packaging and the contents – all of these arouses strong negative feelings in you. Netanyahu’s dizzying victory reveals his most unusual ability for magic. When we examine this magic we can understand that we are looking at someone who is determined and focused on a target in a way that is rarely seen. And so it is possible to say that the attitude of the nation towards him is divided into two: between those who see this leadership as being a one-off, and those who see it as magic.
“Rational and does not take risks”
Yoaz Handel, who served as head of staff of the national information office under Netanyahu during his second tenure as leader of the State.
In my opinion Netanyahu is stronger on the rational side than on his image. You do not see hate or a connection to Netanyahu, but rather his image. There is a lot of love towards his image, in the release of Gilad Shalit for example – at the time suddenly also towards the Left more comfortable with him because of his experience and ability to make decisions. At other times, when it seems that he cannot accept a decision, you see great anger, also from the right. This is not because something new happened during the election period. Netanyahu has been in government for a long time, whoever liked him with this emotional disconnect continues to like him and whoever did not, continues not to like him. What is certain is that the methods of Netanyahu – the taking of the minimum amount of risks – which brought him on many occasions to “Sit, don’t do” – this also led to love of him.
As someone who worked alongside Netanyahu I have a dilemma: does a leader have to be someone with whom you want to drink a beer, or only someone who can make difficult decision. Netanyahu is certainly not the kind of person with whom you will want to drink a beer at the end of the day. Significantly he is a well oiled machine. But in the end he lacks the ability to make decisions in many areas, not only national ones but also economic. In these elections this created signs of questioning even within his own base.
“People are angry when he goes one step too far”
Aviv Boshinsky, spokesperson of the head of State Netanyahu in 1988
When he undertakes an activity he sometimes does this in overkill and this is his Achilles Heel. He undertakes a project and then he makes one step too many, and this is what annoys people. For example, when he attacks the media he is often correct in doing so, but then he goes to one level too far and, bluntly, he simply ruins the complaint. One example is when, in 1999, he attacked the media for being strongly against him; he went to a rally in Exhibition Grounds and said: “They are afraid”. He did not have to say this, and the moment he did so ruined the main argument which was perfectly legitimate. In the Carmel Forest he did excellent work in the beginning and he arrived and said “I was the first to recognise this”. A politician is someone who can compromise, but when Netanyahu makes compromises he presents them as total victories thus harming his own achievements. When he was Minister of Finance he used the expression “I have saved the economy”, which was basically accurate, but the question is whether it is correct to use this terminology. He has a tendency to employ absolutes, and this annoys people.
“Above the rest – and there are those who like this”.
Danny Dayan, former Chair of Yesha Council
There is the concept of “speaking at eye level” – but Netanyahu does not speak at eye level. Not in one-on-one conversations, and not on television. This is exactly what some look for in a leader – that he will be above the rest, above them. And there are those in whom this arouses antagonism. Ehud Barak once with his own hands did up the buttons on my shirt which was open. Zippi Livni once offered in the middle of a conversation between us to sew on a button which was hanging loose on my jacket. I cannot imagine Netanyahu behaving in this way. And the truth? I would not expect him to.
“Gives the impression that he cares”
Shaya Segal, former close friend and adviser of Netanyahu:
He is a charmer. His strength is in his mouth, and he knows how to tell the truth to everyone who finds himself in contact with him or speaks with him. He gives the sense that he intends this and he really cares about people and he speaks with them – this is definitely captivating. Depending on the person, he knows how to hug, or to smile. He knows how to speak to people; he knows how to sit with them, and to relate to them as if they are the most important people in the world. Even among the general public with whom he does not come into contact, he knows how to be charming. Everyone knows that his strength is in his performance. He knows about mass communication, The ability to communicate with the masses is not something that everyone has. Netanyahu does have it.
“Has difficulties with human relationships”
Miriam Feirberg, Mayor of Netanya, and close to Netanyahu.
There can be no doubt that Netanyahu is made from leader material. He has been given qualities from birth of charisma, presence, voice and rare talent to fascinate an audience. He is an excellent orator. As one who knows him personally, I know that he is a good man without any evil whatsoever. Rather he is most concerned with creating contact between people who surround him, and yet some people who came in contact with him over the years and were ready to do anything for him found themselves offended by his behaviour, even though I am convinced that he had no intention of hurting them.
Where there are professional issues connected to the city of Netanya and I sense that the city has been neglected and did not receive the funding it was supposed to receive – the moment that he asks me to report to him I report. It seems he is really a magician. Sometimes before a meeting with him I prepare to raise a series of complaints, but already at the start of the conversation with him, all my anger disappears.
Netanyahu is the kind of man whom one cannot ignore. He is a person who deserves a lot of respect in Israel and in the world. He is someone with the rare ability to soar from the low points like the one he was in very recently and to achieve the astonishing election win that he did.