The Trumpification of Bibi: It appears that Netanyahu is more emboldened in the Trump era. He seems to be asking himself, ‘If Trump can get away with these things, why can’t I?’ Last night’s rally of thousands of Likudniks in support of Netanyahu, who is facing multiple corruption probes, was peak Trumpification. The Kafe Knesset team hasn’t been to any Trump rallies, but from our observation from afar, this seemed a lot like one.
Enemy number one for Netanyahu and his supporters, was, of course, none other than the fake news media. “The Left and the media — which are one and the same — are on an obsessive, unprecedented witch hunt against me and my family,” Netanyahu said, calling the media the “thought police.” Sound familiar, American readers? “And the ‘fake news media’ doesn’t talk about all the charity work Sarah does all the time for Holocaust survivors and kids with cancer,” Bibi lamented.
The crowd booed whenever Netanyahu mentioned the media, and a name-check of Ha’aretz warranted the loudest jeers. Someone held a large sign saying “It’s not fake news, it’s f***ing news” (which probably doesn’t mean what he thinks it means) and a Netanyahu supporter was spotted in a “CNN is fake news” t-shirt. Likudniks shouted in the faces of some of the more famous reporters present. Of course Netanyahu has long blamed the media for his problems. He didn’t need POTUS to get that idea. But the style seems to be imported from Trump Tower.
The putsch: There was also a lot of emphasis in the speeches of Bibi and coalition chairman, and rally organizer, David Bitan, as well as the signs held up by attendees, of the Left attempting a “putsch.” They accused the Left of portraying Netanyahu as being “guilty until proven innocent,” rather than the other way around, and trying to unfairly influence law enforcement authorities. They said that the Left couldn’t win an election, so now they’re trying to take over the country in other, less-than-democratic ways.
Old man, new beard: Bibi also used his speech at the rally to burnish his right-wing bona fides, making sure to call out a trifecta of targets of right-wing ire: Oslo, the Palestinians and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Netanyahu cited reports that the Palestinians don’t want to negotiate in hopes that he will be ousted over the investigations, saying that of course they don’t want him out because he will not retreat to pre-1967 lines like the Palestinians want. He said that the last time the press ousted a Likud prime minister – Yitzhak Shamir – by claiming he was corrupt, Israel ended up with “Oslo and exploding buses.” And he mocked Barak as “an old man with a new beard” who speaks “nonsense.” (Barak, by the way, responded with another Facebook video slamming Bibi).
King Bibi: The Bibi cult of personality was in full force as well. “Bibi King of Israel” was a song chanted over and over by demonstrators, and many held signs of his face with the words “My prime minister.” These are actually pretty typical for Likud rallies, but take on a somewhat different meaning considering the context of this one.
“We got 30 seats in the last election – in the next one we’ll get 40,” was Netanyahu’s rallying cry.
There’s no denying that Likud knows how to party. There’s always good dance music playing at Likud events – some Sarit Hadad and some Static and Ben-El, “Whoever believes is not afraid” by Eyal Golan is a perennial Likud event favorite. The Likud members tend to be very chatty, and there are plenty of colorful personalities around, making it a fun night for reporters who are willing to mingle and get creative – as long as they stay clear of some of the angrier types.
Spotted at the Likud rally: It’s August, so people like Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan were out of the country but Tourism Minister Yariv Levin went straight from the airport to Tel Aviv’s Fairgrounds in order to make it to the rally; firebrand MK Oren Hazan taking selfie after selfie after selfie, swarmed by Likudniks; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who recently joined the party and is trying to curry favor with the grassroots; Bayit Yehudi MK Motti Yogev, who said that he thinks Netanyahu is being treated unfairly. Bayit Yehudi sources told Kafe Knesset that the party is not happy with Yogev’s stunt; former MK Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, builder of Dizengoff Center, who ran for Knesset even though he barely spoke any Hebrew, in order to get parliamentary immunity so he wouldn’t be extradited to France.
Kim Jong-Bibi? Meanwhile, the opposition expressed outrage at the show of support for Netanyahu. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid accused the Likud of rallying in support of corruption. Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said it reminded her of North Korea, where people are forced to express support for the dear leader. Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said it showed Bibi is insecure, and accused him of trying to distract from the fact that Israeli citizens are paying the price of his corruption. “Netanyahu keeps saying the nation is with him. I call on him to check that in a national election as soon as possible,” Gabbay said.