Why do they hate him so much? My evening with the Netanyahus
Gideon Levy | Nov. 11, 2021
The most hated and most admired man in Israel today sat last Saturday night with his wife and two sons on an old couch in a small living room, chock-full of ornamental objects, constantly caressing his wife’s hand and charming nearly all his interlocutors.
That night, he and she were almost the complete opposite of what is told of them. The opposite of what is thought of them. There is almost nothing said about them by their critics, consumed with revulsion, that was not revealed that evening as the opposite of the picture revealed for a few hours in the old stone house in Ra’anana.
He was a good listener, and she touched no liquor. She was warm, a little insecure and vulnerable, his English is a little less perfect than most think. He’s sharp and full of energy, contrary to recent reports from the Knesset.
She was, imagine it, soft. Nobody talked politics. No politicians were there, and the friends of the wife were stewardesses from her early days.
Sara Netanyahu’s birthday was at author and Haaretz journalist Benny Ziffer’s house, attended by family, friends, and a few other guests. Those who despise Benjamin Netanyahu will say that it was just another evening of cult worship, sycophancy, and cozening.
But the truth is, it was a pleasant, interesting, at times even moving evening. At this point, most Haaretz readers have lost their cool.
The man fills the space around him. He is more intriguing than any current Israeli politician, even now, seemingly in the winter of his career. It is easier to comprehend the blind admiration toward him than the elemental hatred he inspires.
On the most crucial topic for Israel – its turning into an apartheid state – his policies were no worse than those of his predecessors, or his successors. Many of his haters’ doomsday prophecies never came to pass.
His harm to democracy, if there was one, is harm to a semblance of democracy, with a military dictatorship in its backyard. As to his lifestyle and the indictments he’s facing – the court shall speak. In the living room of the house in Ra’anana sat a former Prime Minister, energetic and interesting.
So why do they hate him so much? And why do they have so much hate for anyone daring to say a word in his favor too?
Ziffer, the host, found something that might serve as a partial explanation in the archive. It might be one of Netanyahu’s most fateful errors, not taking the advice given to him by author Moshe Shamir in his letter to Netanyahu on March 26th, 1993, before it all began: “Create as wide a circle of support as possible, beyond the confines of the party… in simple terms: Presence in cultural life, theater, literature, academia. Even in the most turbulent of times – not just politics.”
When Ziffer finished reading the letter, Netanyahu said “Some advice I didn’t take.” The right-wing writer may have touched on something here.
When you spend an evening with Netanyahu you can’t help but wonder once again at the incredible gap between his level and breadth of knowledge and the milieu in which he operates. He chose this environment. He didn’t listen to Shamir.
Netanyahu gave up that other environment in exchange for working in right-wing politics, and there alone. He exchanged his natural fields of interest for an aggressive, alien, shallow, and at times ignorant environment, to realize his boundless political ambition.
The repugnance felt towards him on the left stems from his lifestyle and his politics, with more than a dash of dual moralities and hypocrisy towards the members of their own side who sometimes behave similarly, but above all floats the way Netanyahu completely cut off all those who might criticize him.
Perhaps if Netanyahu was more open to criticism and had stayed in touch with the circles Shamir suggested, he would have been less hated. Precisely because he is who he is, it is such a shame he didn’t take Shamir’s advice.