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What Exactly Do Israelis Want?

Ma’ariv, Israel, April 13

Many years from now, when historians look back at our era, they will write about one April night in 2019, when a political leader, nearing age 70, stood in the middle of a Tel Aviv convention center and gave a celebratory speech. That man had just won the Israeli elections for the fourth time in a row. His name is Binyamin Netanyahu. This man, they will write, did not try to play by the rules. He re-wrote the rules. One public appearance after the other, one video at a time, he spread his vile propaganda among the people until it became truth. As the final election results became public that evening, the man’s followers gathered in the middle of the arena and began chanting his nickname. “Bibi, Bibi!” They yelled slurs against his opponents and demanded that he refrain from forming a unity government with them. These followers, they will write, followed their leader, Netanyahu, blindly. When the Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, for example, released his charges against Netanyahu, the Israeli Left believed that that the former’s political campaign would be over. But Bibi’s followers persisted. What would hold true in any other democracy did not happen in Israel. Netanyahu’s corruption charges only made him more popular. They strengthened the perception of him as a dedicated politician chased by the liberal media. The Bibi crowds became even more enthusiastic about supporting their leader. But this euphoria is not going to stay with Bibi for much longer. Netanyahu is already seeing the many hours he will spend in court, fighting his indictment. He is already aware of the Trump peace plan that will be placed on his desk in the next few weeks and give him a headache. He is already concerned by his ability to build a strong coalition and form the next government. His campaign might be over, but his battles have just begun. He is entering his fifth term in office as a winner, but a beaten one nonetheless. Many in the Israeli public, including in the political Right, view him as a corrupt leader. When it comes to Netanyahu’s next term in office we should hope for the best but expect the worst. History has taught us that he will do whatever it takes to protect himself and his reputation. He will pass laws, appoint ministers and reshuffle portfolios simply to protect his throne. In the meantime, in his electoral victory last week, he wrote yet another chapter in the annals of Bibi-Land: a state where everything is both possible and impossible, sensible and nonsensical, surprising and utterly expected at the same time.  – Guy Tzadik