It was, without question, one of Binyomin Netanyahu’s greatest speeches. Was it a carefully crafted strategic decision or a last-minute choice on the premier’s part? The speech was designed in such a way that it was clear that someone had worked hard on it. On the other hand, the noisy and highly publicized rally in support of the Likud leader sprang up on the spur of the moment. Did someone actually advise Netanyahu to portray the investigations surrounding him as a battle between the right and the left?
In any event, Netanyahu’s speech was fiery, entertaining at times, and well constructed, containing all the elements that someone like Arthur Finkelstein, the American political consultant, would have suggested to his clients. The successful joke about the Netanyahu family dog (“Kaya is soon going to be summoned for questioning. Under warning.”) was unmistakably the product of someone’s hard work. Incidentally, Netanyahu was very cautious. He did not say that the police or the prosecution would summon Kaya for questioning. He merely said that the media would demand it. He has no desire to launch a frontal assault on the prosecution. Besides, after all is said and done, Netanyahu is the prime minister and the head of the entire governmental system. He can’t possibly attack the people who are officially his subordinates.
The media hasn’t been affected by the rally. They will continue their all-out war against Netanyahu. Maariv called the address an “incitement speech.” In Haaretz, the headlines declared, “He is Afraid.” Yediot Acharonot, which is typically Netanyahu’s greatest antagonist, was more delicate, describing it as Netanyahu’s attempt to create a turnaround. On the other hand, senior political columnist Nochum Barnea “explained” that Netanyahu was harking back to the stage in Kikar Tzion in Yerushalayim, in October 1995, when he made the speech that many blamed for leading to the assassination of Yitzchok Rabin. Only Netanyahu’s “home” newspaper, Yisroel Hayom, was more tempered in its coverage, with the headline “From the Defensive to the Offensive.”
The Entire Likud Party Shows Its Support
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech last Wednesday took place at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Halls, a site that is the Likud party’s home turf. This facility is the location of the Likud primaries and all the large Likud conventions. It is the place where Netanyahu feels at home more than anywhere else in the world. The entire country was riveted by Netanyahu’s speech. Hundreds of reporters and other members of the media converged on the spot to cover the event.
What caught my attention was a single moment after Netanyahu’s speech had ended, after Amir Benayon sang his song and Sara Netanyahu received her flowers. Netanyahu was beginning to make his way off the stage, and MK David Bittan stood up and ordered him to wait a moment. Without hesitating, Netanyahu complied.
What Bittan wanted to achieve was to heighten the impact of the event and to increase the waves of positivity rolling toward the stage. He shouted into the microphone, “I would like to ask all the ministers and Knesset members to come to the stage.” And they did, along with all the Likud mayors and division heads and notable activists. The stage was bursting with admiring faces, as Sara Netanyahu and her husband stood in the center of it all, practically squeezed by the outpouring of adoration – and the picture was complete.
Bittan was the organizer of the rally. No one – except Benny Begin – dared to defy him by not showing up. The only people who were absent were those who are out of the country, including Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein. (It is doubtful in any event if Edelstein would have come, since his position requires him to maintain a certain level of dignified aloofness.) Minister Gila Gamliel was also out of the country. Bittan opened the rally with a speech of his own, including statements such as, “There is one law for Netanyahu, and another law for everyone else,” and the question, “Why aren’t they interrogating everyone who voted for the law to close down Yisroel Hayom?”
Bittan, who was a member of the city council of Rishon Letzion until his recent appointment to the Knesset, is the most powerful member of Binyomin Netanyahu’s inner circle today. He is the neighborhood thug, in the positive sense of the term. Bittan serves as the coalition chairman in the Knesset, and he is very successful in his job. Because of his position, Bittan intimidates the ministers of the government and the members of the Knesset. This time, he decided to organize a rally in support of Netanyahu. He also rebuffed the ministers who have been straddling the fence and haven’t even made a public statement in defense of the prime minister. Bittan decided to hold the rally and announced that attendance was mandatory, and everyone came. It should be noted that the Knesset, from the perspective of Bittan, Netanyahu, and the Likud, has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.
The music blasting in the Tel Aviv Exhibition Halls could be heard even in the parking lot. The Likud party’s jingle was especially loud: “The Likud is everything. We are all together.” Outside the building, there was an array of large signs with terse, pointed messages: “A New Case 1000 Every Day,” “We Love Netanyahu; We Are Protecting Democracy,” “The People Elect and the Left Investigates,” and “A Witch Hunt for Regime Change.” Of course, there was also Netanyahu’s familiar quote, “There will be nothing because there is nothing.” That is the mantra that Netanyahu has been repeating regularly ever since the investigations began, and it has caught on.
The masses who attended the rally – numbering either about 2,000 or 4,000, according to various estimates – filled the hall, the lobbies, and the entrances. Bittan would have recruited ten thousand Likud members if he had felt the need; the party has no shortage of ardent activists. In the hall, the people waited eagerly for Bibi. Close to 8:30 in the evening, the prime minister arrived and was met with enthusiastic applause. With his appearance, the ecstatic chants began: “Bibi melech Yisroel, chai, chai, vekayam!” And then there were the supporters roaring his name: “Bibi! Bibi!” Netanyahu did not conceal his pleasure. This was exactly what he was waiting for. He was counting on this wave of support and adoration that would give the impression that the Likud is filled with passion – anger at the ongoing investigations and fervor for the future of the nation. Next came Netanyahu’s speech, which was punctuated by enthusiastic ovations, especially when Netanyahu paused for applause, and the occasional jeers at his enemies.
“They Are Trying to Defeat Us Through Investigations”
“Thank you very much,” Netanyahu began. “Thank you very much, my dear friends. Thank you for coming from all over the country. You have given me a very good feeling. I love all of you.”
The audience applauded and chanted his name. Netanyahu then continued.
“A special thank you to the chairman of the coalition, David Bittan, for the initiative and for organizing this rally. Thank you to my friends, the ministers, my good friends, the members of the Knesset, the mayors, and the directors and members of the branches of the Likud. Thank you all for your great support for me and for my beloved wife, Sara, who has been at my side all along.
“My friends, in recent days you have inundated us with support and love greater than anything I remember. You know that I have been here for several years already, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. This morning, someone said to me very wisely, ‘Bibi, they don’t just want to bring you down. They want to bring down all of us, the Likud and the national camp.’ Listen carefully to this. He said to me, ‘They know that they can’t beat you at the voting booth, so they are trying to bypass democracy and to topple you without elections.’ And I will tell you – hold your interruptions for a moment – that they know that there is a reason that we have won the elections time and again, for we are the ones who brought Israel into the best position in its history.”
With that, another wave of chanting began. Bibi glowed, the audience perspired, and Bittan gave out orders. Netanyahu was standing on the stage, dressed in colors that were perfect for the camera. Behind him, a large blue sign hung on the wall, bearing the national colors and the colors of the Likud party. The party logo was emblazoned on it in large letters. His entire speech was delivered against this backdrop, which would be fit for a campaign speech prior to an election. He spoke clearly and deliberately, calibrating his words to suit his audience and pausing in all the right places, mainly to elicit ovations and cries of admiration.
He began by praising the country: “We have turned our country into a rising world power – in security, in intelligence, in cyber affairs, in technology, in economics, and in so many areas. Now you remember that the fake news media has been bombarding us in a powerful, unified chorus of voices, as is their way. They bombarded us with the message that if we do not retreat from areas of our homeland, Israel will be isolated, weak, and abandoned. Do you remember their cries? Isolation, isolation, isolation. What was it that the old man with the new beard said?” This was a reference to Ehud Barak, who has recently been issuing a relentless stream of statements against Netanyahu, in which he is seen with his new beard. Naturally, the mention of Barak drew jeers from the audience.
“He was once a prime minister for a short time, and not one of the most successful ones. He said, ‘The political tsunami is on its way.’ Well, there is no tsunami and no isolation. It is nonsense! The State of Israel is experiencing unprecedented political development. The stream of visitors to our country and the stream of invitations I have received to visit other countries is unprecedented. India, China, the United States of course, Africa … on all the continents and from countless countries.
“Now, look, since the left and the media are the same thing… They know that…” Netanyahu paused again to invite loud catcalls. “…They are now involved in an unprecedented obsessive witch hunt, against me and against my family, with the goal of bringing about a change in regime. Their goal is to use unacceptable pressure against the law enforcement agencies to exact an indictment at any cost, without any connection to truth or justice. The thought police in the media are working full-time, 24/7. They are deciding what is true, and everyone has to align themselves with that. Woe to anyone who disagrees with them. Today, I read a post written by an intelligent man, and he asked exactly what you brought up [addressing David Bittan]. He said: How can it be that the prime minister needs to be investigated for his conversations with the publisher of Yediot Acharonot, but no one needs to investigate the ten members of the Knesset who proposed a law, and the dozens of others who voted for the law, to close Yisroel Hayom, which would have generated tens or even hundreds of millions of shekels in profits for that same publisher? Incidentally, many of those Knesset members received fawning coverage in the media for that. But of course, the leftist pundits say that there is no need to investigate that. What a carnival of hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and double standards!”
This led to cries of support from the audience that shook the roof.
“But it should not come as a surprise,” Netanyahu continued. “Did you see the sign at the left-wing protests in Petach Tikvah? It said, ‘Netanyahu is guilty until he proves his innocence.’ Listen to what the organizer of those protests in Petach Tikvah is saying. He is essentially saying, ‘We can’t bring Netanyahu down through the elections, so let’s bring him down through the investigations.’ I quote him: ‘We have no Russians, we have no Mizrachim, we don’t have the periphery, and we don’t have flag bearers. We are in trouble.
“My friends, we are not in trouble. We have Mizrachim and Ashkenazim. We have new immigrants and longtime citizens. We have chilonim and religious supporters. We have Amona and we have Dimona.”
This was an allusion to the words of Avi Gabbai, the newly-elected leader of the Zionist Camp, who accused the government of embracing the settlers of Amona and neglecting the residents of the development town of Dimona.
And the crowd roared, “Bibi! Bibi! BIBI!”
“We Will Win Forty Mandates!”
“We have the people,” Netanyahu went on. “We have the people of Israel, and we proudly carry the flag of Israel, and we will continue to carry it for many more years.” Netanyahu drew out the words “many more years” until a massive ovation began. And then he turned to the subject of the media, his longtime nemesis.
“For the media and the left that it serves, it is difficult to accept this. So they create countless scandals, countless articles, countless headlines, so that maybe – maybe – something will stick. If not the submarines, then the cigars. If not the cigars, then the conversations with a newspaper publisher. If not Case 1000, then Case 2000, and if not Case 2000, then 3000, or 4000, or 5000… They are demanding that the law enforcements agencies give them something; it doesn’t matter what. Now, my friends, by the nature of these things, I can’t address every ridiculous accusation brought up by the media, but you certainly remember – I know that you remember – that this isn’t the first time that the media has used this tactic of creating a fictitious cloud of corruption. In 1992, they managed to bring down Yitzchok Shamir with false accusations of corruption. With that, they brought upon us the disaster of Oslo and the bus bombings. (More catcalls.) In 1999, they repeated the exercise with Barak and a ‘new day dawning.’ That new dawn brought us the second intifada, when over 1000 Israelis were killed. (Catcalls again.) Now they are trying to do it for a third time, but they are working even harder, and they are doing it not only to me, but to my wife as well. They won’t tell the public – they will never tell this – that she supports and assists bereaved families, Holocaust survivors, children with cancer, and lone soldiers. They will never tell that to anyone.”
Now the crowd began roaring Mrs. Netanyahu’s name: “Sara! Sara! Sara!”
“Instead of that,” the prime minister said, “they prefer to deal with very important matters: the procedure for changing a light bulb, food trays, or the cup of tea that was served to her 97-year-old righteous father on his deathbed.”
This was an allusion to the investigation into claims that Sara Netanyahu misused the resources of the prime minister’s residence. Last week, the police leaked the news that they have already decided to indict her.
“What a shame!” Netanyahu exclaimed. “Morning, afternoon and night they are bombarding us with more incendiary headlines: new details, dramatic developments, a parade of people being questioned… I want to tell you that I have now received news that the media will soon demand that Kaya be summoned for questioning. Under warning!
“I can only tell you what I have been saying since the first day: There will be nothing…”
“Because there is nothing!” the audience thundered in reply. This led to a storm of singing, whistling, applause, and cries of “Bibi! Bibi!” Some of the audience broke into the song “Bibi melech Yisroel” once again.
“Thank you very much,” the prime minister said. “But I know that what I am saying disturbs some people. For instance, the other day, we heard that senior Palestinian officials, and I quote, are hoping for Netanyahu’s downfall because of the investigations. (Catcalls.) They also want Israel to retreat to the 1967 borders and to establish a Palestinian state on the outskirts of Kfar Saba. My friends, they will also be disappointed. It will not happen.
“But I have to disappoint someone else as well. I have to disappoint Haaretz (jeers), because this morning, the respected newspaper published an article that made an explicit challenge to me: Retreat from Yehuda and the Shomron and they will leave me alone. And my answer is: ‘No! No, thank you!’” The audience began shouting again, and Bibi repeated, “No, thank you! If the left wants to fight us over its political and economic views, let them do it in the voting booth. In the next elections, with Hashem’s help and with your help, we will receive not only thirty mandates” – here his voice rose to a shout – “but forty mandates!” The audience roared again and Bibi repeated, “Forty mandates! Thank you very much, my good friends, for your support. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your power. Thank you for standing together with me. Thank you very much to all of you. Thank you.”
Bibi finished, and the crowd began singing again at full volume. Emotions ran high in the hall, as applause sounded throughout the room. Amir Benayon, a famous singer and baal teshuvah, ascended to the stage to begin a song and invited Mrs. Netanyahu onto the stage. Next to him stood a man playing the keyboard whose tzitzis dangled almost to the floor. Benayon sang, Sara stood next to Bibi on the stage, and the prime minister waved over and over to the admiring crowd. At the end, David Bittan invited the ministers and the Knesset members to sing Hatikvah in unison, and to stand together for a group photo in support of the prime minister.