I stood next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he said what he said about the protesters against him “joining forces” with Iran. He was simply trying to be cooperative and answer the journalists’ questions, which does not always happen. The questions they shouted at him were as expected: “You do not have a meeting at the White House.” “The emperor wears no clothes.” These statements were fired at Netanyahu and, apparently, rattled him.
At that moment, his interest should have been in controlling the agenda. That is, the appropriate answer to the questions should have been something along the lines of “I am focused on the success of the visit and on bringing artificial intelligence to Israel while ignoring the demonstrations.” Instead, Netanyahu started with a speech about how the protesters violated all norms. While the speech’s content was justified and true, he then added the problematic words.
It was immediately clear that this statement should not have been made. Netanyahu’s people, who came to speak with us on the plane not long after, agreed that his choice of words was, at the very least, unsuccessful. Later, an official clarification was also issued.
What have we learned from Netanyahu’s slip of the tongue? That he is, after all, only human. Yes, even Bibi the coolheaded, whose skin is thicker than that of elephants in Africa, who has seen and heard it all, takes things to heart. The outrageous reception Netanyahu’s opponents prepared in San Francisco and New York got to him and he reacted.
Why did it get to him? Because the accepted norms were indeed violated. Not just domestically but also internationally. For example, half a year ago, Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida and a Republican presidential candidate, visited Israel. A day doesn’t go by in which DeSantis does not attack U.S. President Joe Biden. But in Jerusalem, despite our prodding, he refrained from doing so. “You do not attack the president while abroad, even if it is worthwhile to do so,” one of his assistants explained to me.
DeSantis is not the only one. Over the years, I participated in dozens of briefings and press conferences with senators and parliament members who came to visit Israel. They always made sure to leave their internal disputes at home. This was the historical practice in Israel until two weeks ago. The government’s opponents violated this as well.
Netanyahu was absolutely right when he said the protesters “crossed every line.” Regarding the roadblocks, the refusal to serve in the IDF and the violent harassment of public figures, he did not mention that they violated every norm in their organized campaign to get wealthy people worldwide to refrain from investing in Israel to harm its economy. However, in response to these violations, he violated a norm when he said that the protesters “joined the PLO and Iran.”
He did not need to say this, so he also issued an official clarification of his statements.
But his opponents cannot hold the moral high ground, especially when they hold a grudge against Netanyahu, hoping to see him fall.
Originally published by Israel Hayom.