Love him or hate him, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is just a ball of charisma. The force of his personality, when you share a space with him, is like a full frontal assault. It hits you like that.
At last week’s Jewish Media Summit, I had the honor of what was my second audience with Netanyahu. The first was also during a Jewish Media Summit, the first ever held in Israel. That was some years ago, yet I still remember sitting in the front row and feeling as though he were speaking only to me, a private audience. He seemed to gaze into my eyes as he spoke, though I knew it wasn’t possible. Apparently, he’s just that good.
And then there was the phone call.
It was an election year and Netanyahu was calling random voters to chat them up and persuade them to give him the vote. But he did it for a couple of days before it made it into the news, so that I was clueless when my landline rang. I picked up the phone, expecting it to be a charity asking for a donation or perhaps a survey. Actual humans don’t use landlines anymore. If it’s someone I know, they call my cell.
So anyway, I pick up the phone only to hear Bibi say, “Hello.” I hang up, saying, “Goodbye,” thinking: Election. Robocall.
And then, of course, the next day I find out it probably really WAS Bibi and I’d had the chance to kvetch to my heart’s content and hash it out with him. Only I’d blown it.
So there I was at the Knesset last week when the head of the Government Press Office, Nitzan Chen, told us that Bibi would try to answer as many questions as we had, as soon as he arrived, and he was due to arrive any minute. I wasn’t going to squander another opportunity, so I begin to think what I would ask him. I wrote it all down on my yellow lined notepad to get my questions into tip-top form. I wasn’t going to hem and haw, or make a speech. I was going to articulate the perfect question.
The problem was that I came up with three questions and couldn’t decide between them. Which one should I choose, I agonized. Most controversial? Least controversial?
As it turns out, my need to choose was soon moot. All of us in that room were the media, in one form or another. So we all had our hands shooting up the minute Bibi paused to take a breath. But rather than let Bibi choose whom he’d call on to ask a question, Chen handpicked those he favored, which meant: foreign media.
After all, this whole summit was really about impressing the foreign media, wooing them, wining and dining them and making them think that Israel’s a wonderful place. I was there almost by accident, a token Israeli.
It had been a wonderful week and this was the final day. I’d made amazing contacts. And met Daled Amos, for instance.
When Daled Amos met Judean Rose
But it seems that Bibi and I are destined to be like two ships passing in the night. I would not be chosen to ask any of my questions that afternoon. Not that it matters. It’s easy enough to guess how he would have answered them.
Which is why I decided I’d share my carefully crafted questions here (they should go to waste?) and tell you how I think Bibi would have responded.
1) How can you have transparency when so much is unknown to the public? How can we be informed citizens and voters? We are being asked to “trust.” How can we even claim to be a democracy?
What Bibi would have said: Israel has a robust democracy. But of course, every country’s leadership has access to important intelligence that the average joe does not have and uses it to protect its citizens. The voters put their trust in my leadership and this is well warranted by dint of my experience in office and by my actions at the helm of this great country which have kept the people both safe and prosperous.
2) Who can replace you when your time is over? Are you grooming/mentoring younger MKs for this purpose?
What Bibi would have said: Apparently you’ve come to bury, not to praise me! But don’t kill me off just yet (pause for laughter). (Turns serious) We have several good and capable people in the Likud party any number of whom could be depended upon for leadership should the need arise. The people of Israel are in good hands.
3) “Annexation.” Isn’t it unnecessary? Can’t we, in theory, declare sovereignty and end the state of martial law in Judea and Samaria? We settlers feel marginalized, even demonized. This lack of support by the Likud, which is supposed to be the Greater Israel party, leaves us feeling abandoned. There is total lawlessness on our roads, because traffic laws are not enforced. We pay taxes, but it’s taxation without representation. Our sons serve in the Israeli army, but we are not even “in Israel.”
What Bibi would have said: No one has a greater affection for and understanding of the settlers and their sacrifice for all of us by securing our inheritance, our ancestral lands. But the situation is complex and tensions must be taken into account both with local actors and those abroad. Relations with Europe, the UN, and the U.S. are just some of the factors we must take into account in determining our policy in Judea and Samaria, and so we must tread carefully and not make any hasty decisions.
While I didn’t get to ask my questions—once again having missed out on an opportunity to confront Bibi, when I thought about it after the fact, I realized I hadn’t missed out on anything at all. As you can see from the little exercise above, it’s easy to figure out what Bibi, the slick and accomplished politician, might have answered. There would have been no great revelations on this or any other day.
And at least I didn’t embarrass myself, which is more than I can say for the female blogger who chased after the prime minister’s entourage as he left the room, crying, “Bibi, I LOVE YOU. I am behind you always! AM YISRAEL CHAI!”
But like I said, he’s got this magnetic charm. And some of us are more susceptible than others.
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