Categorized | Middle East, Sharkansky_Ira, USA

The personal Bibi vs. the political Bibi

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Compared to selected other national leaders here and there, Bibi’s done well from public office. He and Sara have gotten used to demanding expensive gifts from individuals wanting his help. With respect to the two most prominent exchanges we know about, they weren’t all that serious. He helped an Israeli billionaire get an American visa that allowed him to continuing making his pile there; and he helped an Australian billionaire get a residence permit for Israel that has allowed him to avoid taxes.

Bibi’s life style isn’t all that different from what was acquired by originally poor folk like Americans Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, and the Israeli Ariel Sharon.
Israelis are fond of comparing him to predecessors who were models of modesty. David ben Gurion lived with his wife in a desert shack. Yitzhak Shamir flew tourist class to the US when he traveled on official business.
Ehud Olmert began his career on the path of getting rich and living well, but encountered a change in the media and officials charged with law enforcement. His prison term was not severe, but according to recent pictures was enough to change his appearance.
Netanyahu’s involvement in a deal with a German shipyard and manipulations by the major shareholder in Israel’s prime communication firm may have been indirect, but weightier than gifts of cigars and champagne, or free lodging at luxurious sites for the younger Netanyahu. It’s Bibi’s friends, relatives, and appointees who have gotten rich, and it seems doubtful if it could happen without his knowledge and help.
Signs are that Israeli media, police, and prosecutors are operating in the mode that ended Olmert’s career, and it doesn’t look good for Bibi and the Missus. Son Yair may get off with a bad name.
If Donald Trump is the best that Americans can put in the White House, his record doesn’t make Bibi or Israel look out of step. Trump’s boorish behavior may not be anything more than embarrassing, providing it doesn’t start a war that destroys parts of South Korea, Japan, and maybe the US. His string of corporate bankruptcies and callous treatment of what was promised to students at Trump University look as bad as anything we’re seeing in Jerusalem.
American individualism going back to colonial history makes us wonder what should have been expected. US history hasn’t produced the pride in modesty along the models of ben Gurion or Shamir.
Trump is getting high marks for his proclamation about Jerusalem, but we’re concerned about the downside of Palestinians’ response, whatever it’ll be.
The US is seeing the embarrassment and dismissal of one overprivileged male after another on account of sexual misconduct. Watchers are wondering when that shoe is going to drop in Trump’s bedroom.
Israelis who knew our own elite equivalents of John Kennedy and Bill Clinton changed their norms during the era of Moshe Katsav.
Commentators on these notes have accused me of going overboard in my criticism of Bibi.
I’ll repeat the assessment that he is better as a policymaker and politician than as an individual, husband and father with respect to personal behavior.
He seems far less dangerous than his current American counterpart. No surprise that Bibi has adopted Donald as patron. The act may gain Israel support from the world’s most powerful country. It may even be true that the support from the Trump administration will be greater than that received from most if not all of his predecessors.
Jerusalem may give Bibi a few days of glory, pending the next news from police inquiries.
Trump’s critics are still a long way from doing anything about him, but there are assessments by serious professionals that he is unstable. There are good signs that he’s giving in to appointed aides who are trying to control what he expresses about sensitive issues, but their capacity is limited by the aura and authority of the President.
The possibility of a nuclear exchange depends not only on American institutions and personnel, but on the control exercised by the North Korean leader who is at least as unhinged as Donald Trump.
Should nuclear weapons be used for the first time since 1945, even those of us far away will suffer in one way or another.
Bibi, in contrast, has shown himself as appropriately balanced and careful as policymaker. Critics to the right accuse him of timidity. Those on the left say that he hasn’t done enough to overcome Palestinian rejectionism.
Skeptics to right and left can accuse him of being too loud, out of step with the international setting, and unsuccessful with respect to Iran.
Truth and justice are elusive in a political context where disinformation is part of the discourse, and we commoners don’t know everything.
The bottom line is that Bibi may not have enriched himself and his family any more and any differently than Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Ariel Sharon. However, he is likely to be judged by norms developed in the more recent contexts of Moshe Katsav and Ehud Olmert.
His prominent domestic failing is in violating, and allowing family members to violate the pig principle. They’ve taken too much, too brazenly, and he’s either allowed or helped close associates do the same. And he’s misread the political setting, now less tolerant of piggy behavior in high office.
Bibi’s supporters will give him credit for Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, while his opponents will blame him for any commotion that results.
It’s not helping Bibi that his chief lieutenant in the Knesset, Coalition Chair David Bitan, and Mrs. Bitan are at the focus of police investigations of bribery and organized crime. Mrs. Bitan has been remanded to house arrest, and David would likely be in the same situation, at least, if not for the (perhaps temporary) issue of parliamentary immunity.
Bitan is a large, imposing figure who has demonstrated confidence and power as he moved among Knesset Members and other officials, until now with the support of the Prime Minister.
While some may have viewed Bitan as someone to be obeyed and adding to the authority of the Prime Minister, others have seen him as a target of ridicule who now detracts from Netanyahu’s status. Media personnel are quoting an unnamed insider who says that Bitan has already left office, even though he doesn’t know it.​​

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  He may be contacted via [email protected] 

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