Time to think again for those who kvelled when it appeared that Bibi had the US Congress eating out of his hand, standing and applauding at least as often as for a Presidential State of the Union. And again when he began that speech at AIPAC with the Holocaust and ended with Purim directed at the evil Haman, now in the guise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
It is time to rethink toward Bibi the timid, or the populist afraid of a small crowd of Yuppies.
A prominent economic commentator writing in Ha'aretz described him as standing at the window with his hand outside to judge the strength of the wind. The story begins on page 1 of Ha'aretz print edition, and is the lead item on its Hebrew Internet site. On the paper's English language Internet site, the item is several places below a headline dealing with the threat of renewed violence from Gaza. Could the editors be reluctant to emphasize for overseas readers the flabbiness of the Prime Minister they highlight in Israel?
What's the story?
Earlier on Saturday, the so-called Minister of Finance, with apparent authority to determine such things, defended the routine monthly increase in the price of gasoline calculated on the basis of changes in the market price of oil that was due at midnight. Yuval Steinitz, PhD, explained on a prominent interview program that Israel was largely responsible for the increase due to its campaign against Iran. He emphasized that it was better to pay a bit more for gas than to suffer the consequences of Iranian nuclear weapons.
Then just in time for evening news, the Prime Minister announced that he was reducing the tax on gasoline. Although the total price would rise, it would be less than the public had expected.
The reporter emphasized not only the embarrassment of the Finance Minister, but that it was the Prime Minister who took credit for moderating the price rise. Once again Steinitz is Bibi's lap dog
This is the second time running that the Prime Minister has ordered a last minute cut in the taxes on gasoline in order to moderate a price increase. This time he went not only against the heroic pronouncement of his Finance Minister, but against the public comments of the respected economist heading the Bank of Israel, who spoke against juggling taxes for the sake of momentary political gain.
The pluses and minuses of Bibi's actions do not amount to a great compliment for the head of our government.
The obvious plus is its service to his political standing. Last summer's protest demonstrations that attracted hundreds of thousands seem likely to come back, even closer to whenever is the next election. Netanyahu and his colleagues in the government were proud to announce the appointment of a distinguished committee to recommend changes in the policies that demonstrators challenged, and then boasted of what they put into effect. However, the overall assessment is that changes surviving the opposition from entrenched interests will do little to satisfy the key demands of the protests.
It is appropriate to remember that the protests were led and supported mostly by young adults of well-to-do families, most of them students or graduates of universities, already or destined to be in the upper two deciles of income.
Many of their parents started life in tiny apartments with no automobile or private telephone after arriving from disasters in Europe or elsewhere in the Middle East to a country much poorer than presently, Some of those parents missed out on the opportunity for higher education, or even high school due to the timing of a forced migration, or managed to complete university only in their 30s or 40s while also working and raising a family. Their children, i.e,, the recent protesters, want things even better than their highly subsidized university education, three or four room apartment, one or two automobiles, all the modern gadgets, visits to restaurants and overseas vacations.
One wonders at the most recent caving in by the Prime Minister. There were some dramatic interviews at gas pumps of people angry at having to pay more, but the street protest in Tel Aviv attracted only a hundred or so. Recent polls have shown Netanyahu and Likud as having no serious challengers who could expect as many as two-thirds the votes they would be likely to receive at the next election.
Moreover, the news of this price gesture could hurt the Prime Minister's more prominent campaign against Iran. In defending his posture of not moderating the price increase, the Finance Minister reported that no European country was lowering its taxes to buffer citizens from the increase in the world price of petroleum.
Will Bibi's gesture produce international ridicule rather than even tougher sanctions on Iran, which--iif implemented--will cause even further increases in the price of gasoline? Why should Americans and Europeans suffer on account of Israel's fear of Iran if the Israeli Prime Minister does not demand the same suffering of his people?
Bibi likes to pose as tough and wise, but sometimes appears in Israeli media as more the populist clown than hero. Prominent in his portfolio of nonsense is the 747-supertanker he ordered brought over from the United States to deal with a forest fire on the Carmel. While he claimed it had contributed greatly to putting out the fire, critics noted that it was an expensive rental, took a long time to get to Israel, could only be flown from a major airport, and took a long time to fill its tanks with water. Better would have been an increase in the number of smaller planes that could fill their tanks by sweeping low over the sea and return time and again for a drop over strategic spots.
On several occasions since then, the Prime Minister has been proud to use the metaphor of a supertanker to explain yet another of his grand gestures to solve a national problem, but it has been difficult to know if his bravado brings more ridicule than praise.
What's next for the Prime Minister known for his sensitivity to pressure?
Israelis have shown themselves in surveys to be more supportive of an attack on Iran than populations or political leaders of Europe and the United States. However, Israelis themselves seem to be more ambivalent than enthusiastic about an attack.
A report in Time that may provide our guidance. The Prime Minister is worried that the Mossad's efforts to derail Iran's nuclear program with assassinations and destruction might go awry, and has ordered a downsizing of the operations.
Perhaps Bibi will order a limited attack. Half bomb loads, or something else to send a message to Iran, without upsetting those who oppose a full scale operation.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at March 31, 2012 11:36 PM