Regaining and retaining power at all cost – the sad saga of PM Benjamin Netanyahu

By Stephen Schulman

A short while ago, I finished reading TRUTH TO POWER Three Years Inside Eskom by Andre De Ruyter in which he describes his three years as CEO of South Africa’s national power utility: a giant corporation with 40,000 employees. The book does not make for pleasant reading, for in it De Ruyter details his unsuccessful attempts – that almost cost him his life by poisoning – to overcome the tidal wave of chronic corruption, plundering, criminality, cronyism, nepotism, indifference and incompetency that turned the once national pride into an almost non functioning entity saddled with a colossal debt.

Seeing the Light. An exposé of South Africa’s failing national electricity public utility ‘Eskom’ led the writer to reflect on the undermining factors crippling the country he grew up in – South Africa – to those undermining the one he settled in – Israel.

The plight of Eskom is a mirror image of South Africa today: a country that is unable to provide basic services and security for its citizens. It is a failed state with a horrific crime rate, ruled by a party riddled with corruption that sees itself indivisible from the country and is prepared to pay any price whatsoever to stay in power. Reading the book is a sobering experience for its lessons are twofold: learning about the causes that made a country turn into a failed state and raising your awareness of those same factors that might be affecting your own.

Israel, my home for more than half a century, is a far cry (thank goodness!) from present South Africa, but I could not help reflecting on the current state of affairs and discerning certain alarming parallels. The ANC (African National Congress), the backbone of the anti-Apartheid struggle has been in power since Apartheid’s demise in 1994 and its leaders have come to regard political power as their patrimony.

 Unfortunately for our country and its citizens, Benjamin Netanyahu heading the Likud party sees himself in the same light. Before returning to power in 2022, furious at being consigned to the wilderness of the opposition, he and his political allies of other opposition parties adopted a policy of willful obstruction to destabilize the government, vilifying the prime minister, harassing and intimidating its members. Throwing all restraint to the winds in their eagerness to bring its downfall, they demonstrated their utter contempt for the welfare of the citizens. It did not matter that they voted against and torpedoed bills that were beneficial for the country: openly declared, what was important for them was to regain their rightful seats at all costs and by any means, no matter what.

Netanyahu returned to power after the November 2022 elections by forming a coalition with United Torah Judaism and Shas: the two ultra-religious parties and Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit, and Noam: extreme right wing, nationalistic and messianic. All of the coalition partners had one thing in common: a lack of interest in the general good, the furthering of their own narrow interests and squeezing as much as possible from the public purse no matter if it caused a budget deficit. To stay in power, Netanyahu acceded to all their demands.

Coalition of Chaos. Where has a bloated cabinet of 31 ministers and deputy ministers “whose main qualification appears to be a talent for sycophancy and …. noisily clamouring for a seat on the gravy train,” brought this country?

The resulting feeding frenzy and his desire to satiate them all including his own party functionaries – whose main qualification appears to be a talent for sycophancy and toadying – noisily clamouring for a seat on the gravy train, has resulted in a triumph of accommodation, creativity and ingenuity: a clumsy, bloated cabinet of 31 ministers and deputy ministers, so that each full meeting resembles a typically overcrowded classroom. Israel now has ministers with ministries that it never knew it needed! Most of them are superfluous and their portfolio holders are ill suited for their – or any post – and often with authority that overlaps with other ministries.

Just to name a few: The country is saddled with a Minister of Public Diplomacy (whatever that is!), a woman notorious for her foul mouth and blind devotion to the prime minister and his wife. The National Security Minister with past convictions of public disorder, incitement of racism and support for a terrorist organization now oversees the security of the citizens. The arrogant Minister of Finance has no fiscal background and is more concerned with his own sectarian interests, neglecting the burning issue of inflation while the Minister of Housing – a member of the ultra religious- coalition has a dubious background of honesty and transparency.

Menacing Ministers. “Israel will be an island of stability and responsibility” boasted far-right Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich on becoming Israel’s finance minister in early 2023. The reality has been the complete opposite with warning signs of a financial crisis.     

Netanyahu returned to power under a dark cloud of his ongoing trial with indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. When a predecessor was indicted for bribery and breach of trust, Netanyahu condemned, called for his immediate resignation and backed the integrity of the court. However, in his own case, in a display of brazen hypocrisy and pure spin he sang an entirely different tune: loudly proclaiming that he was as pure as the driven snow and the victim of a sinister leftist conspiracy not just to unseat him, he, the anointed Benjamin, but the whole right wing government from power. He launched an unrestrained assault on the police, judiciary and state attorney, besmirching, vilifying and accusing them of lack of integrity. Now in power, he has come back with a vengeance to destroy the organs of government and democracy and nullify his trial.

Court and Country. Exuding confidence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his graft trial, May 17, 2022. How confident is he in still running the country? (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of destroying the soul of my country.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu that in your self seeking haste to avoid facing trial, you have abandoned all scruples and are dragging the State of Israel into the abyss of dictatorship,

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of shredding the social fabric and destroying the cohesiveness of our society. You have fomented hatred between the different communities by labeling and stigmatizing those that are not for you as “Ashkenazi leftists” who are against the country and have encouraged intolerance, division and violence. In deliberately setting brother against brother, undoing the social ties that bind our country, you have created deep rifts between all. You have sinned unpardonably.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of poisoning the social discourse and lowering it to a nadir. You have encouraged and cultivated a culture of rudeness, intolerance, disrespect, insult and verbal violence where common courtesy has long been extinct. You have long surrounded yourself with followers whose foul mouths, threatening behaviour and grossness is simply breathtaking. The latest example of one of your sycophantic ministers threatening, insulting and mocking the attorney general is a disgrace. It is the behaviour of a backward juvenile delinquent and yet this is the same man entrusted with a key position in the cabinet! Furthermore, you have used your son as a proxy to libel, denigrate, slander, spread poison and harm not only those who speak against you but their families as well. Your silence is clearly one of assent.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of creating a culture of extravagance, profligacy, greed, avarice and rapaciousness that has become the norm. You and your family cultivate multi-millionaires and demand and accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from them. To hide the shameful action from the eyes of the public, you then resort to code words for the gifts of cigars and champaign and have them clandestinely delivered in inconspicuous packaging to your back door. Is this the behaviour of a prime minister who should serve as an example to his citizens? Should not the prime minister as a public servant, serve as a role model of moral integrity and high ethical standards by refusing to accept gifts? Tragically, you fail to see your behaviour in such light. You have even attempted to pass a law (for the present shelved) that would permit office holders and public servants to accept gifts in money and kind. Is this not corruption?

 Benjamin Netanyahu, you and your spouse have long viewed the public purse as your own to carry out extensive renovations at your homes and have demanded and got extravagant perks for yourselves. I cannot forget the words of your wife Sara who when some years back was criticized for ordering extravagantly expensive catering (at the taxpayers’ expense) for the bar mitzvah of your son. She was quoted as replying:

If the nation wants Bibi, let the nation pay.”

The country for the first time in many years is experiencing inflation but one of the first items of priority the finance committee placed on the agenda after you were elected was to devote a long session to increasing both you and your wife’s many existing benefits.

Benjamin Netanyahu, you now receive (at this date and not adjusted for inflation!) an updated official clothing allowance of NIS 80,000 per annum: a sum that many wage earners do not even bring home or receive as pensions. I sincerely hope that this will enable you to purchase a few shirts to replace those with frayed collars so your bosom buddy billionaire Melchin won’t have to fill the need or your Sara have to schlep the empty bottles to the local supermarket to collect the deposit to supplement your income as she once did to collect NIS 4,000 shekels on the 13,333 bottles (paid for by the state) that stood outside your kitchen door.

Callous Couple.  “If the nation wants Bibi, let the nation pay”, retorted an angry prime minister’s wife Sara to a reporter’s criticism of personal extravagance.  A divisive nation is paying in more ways today than money.

Benjamin Netanyahu, in your desire to emulate the billionaires with whom you hobnob, you happily let the finance committee agree to the purchase of a jet liner then refurbished to your taste and with a present cost and upkeep of approximately NIS 1000,000,000 (one billion shekels). The country’s hospital infrastructure has been so neglected to the extent that it has far trailed the population growth. Consequently, we have the most crowded hospitals in the OECD with an annual death rate of 3,000 to 6,000 patients due to superfluous infections contracted during hospitalization. Does this waste of money that could have been used in hospital construction and the unnecessary deaths of your citizens not unsettle you or does drinking pink champaign blur your vision and smoke from your Havanas obscure reality?

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of plundering the public purse by creating a huge unnecessarily bloated cabinet of 31 ministers and deputy ministers each with their large staffs, rank with nepotism and cronyism, filled with party hacks and obsequious camp followers that cost the country i.e. us the taxpaying citizens many hundreds of millions of shekels each year.

 I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, in your self interest, of pandering to your coalition partners and of bearing the responsibility for looting the state treasury by acceding to their demands and allocating them outrageous sums of money thus plunging the economy into a deficit and raising inflation.  You have given the ultra religious sector hugely disproportionate sums to subsidize and incentivize the number of unproductive and unemployable individuals dependent on the largesse of their elected representatives. In so doing, you have simply widened and perpetuated the vicious circle of poverty and done a gross disservice to our country.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of not being satisfied with your shoveling of public money to the ultra orthodox sector but also of agreeing to exempt them from military service. In so doing you are creating a country of those serving and being served, in so doing, discriminating against the majority and further deepening the social divide by creating hatred and resentment.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of trampling democracy underfoot in our country by neutering the judiciary for your own ends. In the absence of a constitution, the courts have stood as the guardians of basic rights. You and your band of cohorts have now passed a law that prevents them from reviewing the reasonableness of government and ministerial decisions. This retrograde step now allows complete politicization of the public service by obviating the need for accountability and transparency and giving the government carte blanche to appoint public servants whose sole qualification is not their professional competency but their obsequiousness and kowtowing to the powers that be.

With the law in force, the floodgates have already opened with your obeisant lackey the minister of transport appointing a party hack as her bureau head – somebody that the Supreme Court had previously disqualified due to his complete lack of suitability. You, Benjamin Netanyahu, now unshackled will undoubtedly reappoint your long time crony Aryeh Deri – a serial offender and ex-convict thrice convicted of bribery, corruption, moral turpitude and tax evasion – as a key cabinet minister. This is a stain on and shames our country reducing it to the status of a banana republic. To add insult to injury, you have promised him an additional budget of one billion shekels to distribute as food stamps to those he decides are indigent and needy. It is clear as daylight that under him he will create another bloated administrative apparatus tainted with nepotism, cronyism and corruption that will determine the criteria to fund his supporters. Yet another source of taxpayers’ money that discourages the ultra orthodox sectors from working and perpetuates their poverty. 

You, Benjamin Netanyahu have already attempted to politicize the public service by trying to place your appointees, both ill qualified, as governor of the Bank of Israel and head of the Bureau of Statistics: both moves that would undermine their independence, disinterestedness and verity but would serve your interests and thus destroy the faith and trust of the general public in these vital institutions.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of further undermining the judiciary by working to change the composition of the selection committee for Supreme Court judges to give the ruling coalition the majority membership thereby determining that your puppets be in place to execute your will – and we all know to what end.

Courting Catastrophe. Coalition government’s assault on Israel’s Supreme Court divides the nation.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of formulating legislation to muzzle the media, smother all criticism and stifle free expression by establishing state censorship – a move unprecedented in the history of the state.

We, the citizens, Benjamin Netanyahu, with our growing concern, live in increasing insecurity as you, cynically, have appointed a blustering ineffectual individual with past convictions of belonging to a terrorist organization and of public disturbance as our Minister of Public Security. The police force is understaffed and thanks to him, demoralized and beset with resignations. Murder in the Arab sector has skyrocketed. There are organized gangs in the Galilee and down south that include extortion and agricultural theft as only two of their nefarious activities. The epidemic of car theft has reached such unprecedented proportions that it has affected our cost of living as the insurance companies have raised their premiums by 50%.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of hubris, by purposely not heeding the counsel of jurists, economists, diplomats, hi-tech leaders and many other prominent citizens from all sectors who advised taking the path of moderation and consensus and the danger of your taking unilateral action with its repercussions. In your arrogance, willful deafness and blindness, you have turned your back on the huge body of responsible citizens (paying taxes and serving in the reserves) protesting throughout the length and breadth of Israel against your rash decisions and so typically and mendaciously blame them for the present situation.

 You, Benjamin Netanyahu, singlehandedly bear the responsibility for bringing the country to the brink of a civil war, having created an atmosphere of insecurity, mistrust, fury, frustration and despair for the future. The enemies on our borders are licking their lips and rubbing their hands in glee.

You, Benjamin Netanyahu, have destroyed in a few months what took generations to build. You carry the responsibility on your shoulders. I urge you to stop, reflect and place the future of our beloved country before your own. Consider carefully and decide wisely for, if not, history will judge you harshly.

About the writer:

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

2 thoughts on “TRUTH TO POWER

  1. Stephen absolutely great piece you penned, had to blink to see if I was reading about Zuma, Ramaphosa, Julius Malema or Netanyahu. All from the same mould, all willingly set on destroying their countries and all obscenely drunk with power and self-importance.
    Unfortunately, many Israel supporters around the world, really don’t understand the dynamics of the current impasse here – I talk specifically of my old home S. Africa but imagine the same being the case in most countries.
    I urge you to send your article to the S.A. Jewish Report for publication (as well as other Jewish newspapers around the globe including the JC in the UK). Your exposure of Netanyahu’s venality and his ‘cadres’ may drive home the uncomfortable truth that diaspora Jews don’t want to hear.

  2. We South Africans have seen this all before and are qualified to speak out against undemocratic and authoritarian government under the NP and corruption under the ANC. We have seen the damage. We must speak out and share our dismay to enlighten citizens of Israel and the Jewish world. Let us play our role.

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