Sadly, what Israel’s prime minister is trying to do is drive a wedge between the protesters – angry with his policies, alleged corruption and divisive politics – and the rest of Israel.
Demonstrators protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Prime Minister official residence in Jerusalem on July 18, 2020.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had an important message to share with the nation. “The secret is out. A Palestinian flag at a demonstration organized by Ehud Barak, the partner of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, yesterday outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. An embarrassment and disgrace.”
The tweet was accompanied by a photo of the so-called “secret” Palestinian flag waved by a protester on the street outside the prime minister’s house during Saturday night’s protest – attended by thousands of Israelis – against Netanyahu, his government and their draconian coronavirus restrictions.
By 10 p.m. on Sunday night, it was the only tweet the prime minister had tweeted since Friday afternoon, when he had wished Israelis a Shabbat Shalom.
The first question that comes to mind is: How is this one Palestinian flag important? Does one flag really tell the story of a protest attended by thousands of people? In addition, at a time when the fate of restaurateurs hangs in the balance, and parents still don’t know what will be with their children’s schools and camps – this is what the prime minister has to tweet about? A so-called “secret” about a lone Palestinian flag?
Also, does anyone really believe that Barak and Epstein have anything to do with the protests? What are they even doing in a prime minister’s tweet at a time when the number of Israelis in serious condition from the novel coronavirus is on the rise? Doesn’t he have something more important to talk about?
Sadly, what Israel’s prime minister is trying to do is drive a wedge between the protesters – angry with his policies, alleged corruption and divisive politics – and the rest of Israel. Other leaders might try sympathy, compassion or an expression of solidarity. They might try to talk to the protesters, meet with them or invite some of them into their house for a conversation.
Instead, what Netanyahu first tried – announcing last week a controversial distribution of cash to every citizen – did not have the desired effect. People do not want it. In his own party – usually void of criticism when it comes to the prime minister’s policies – there are voices coming out against the initiative.
So, what is left? Delegitimization, demonization and divisive rhetoric. Epstein has nothing to do with the protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence or in Tel Aviv, but using his name smears the protesters, and that is exactly what Netanyahu wants.
They won’t stop demonstrating? He’ll turn them all into enemies of the state.
Why would Netanyahu want to do this? Because desperate times call for desperate measures. On Sunday, his trial resumed, and the judges announced that, starting in January, he will need to appear in court three days a week. There is the sharp decline in his approval ratings, the growing criticism of his management of the coronavirus crisis, the increasing popularity of his arch-nemesis Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett and the failure of his “check for all” initiative to quell the protests.
And while members of the Likud might be silent for now, they are becoming concerned with what is happening. They sense Netanyahu’s desperation and weakness and are worried that the drop in his personal popularity will turn into a public wave of anti-Likudism.
Will this lead to a revolt within the party, as some have predicted, and a call from top Likudniks for Netanyahu to step down? Probably not just yet.
But the pressure on Netanyahu is showing, and it does not look good, not for the prime minister nor for his party. So, while the Palestinian flag tweet might just look like a tweet, it is a lot more, and his adversaries know it.