Most political observers in Israel feel it’s only a matter of time before Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu gets another turn at the premiership. Nine years after being voted out of office in a landslide defeat at the hands of Ehud Barak, Netanyahu routinely tops voter preference polls – a state of affairs surely owing more to the country’s dearth of leadership than to fond memories of his first term in office.
Will Netanyahu, assuming he does return for an encore, receive the same malevolent treatment from the Israeli media that he was subjected to when he led the country in the late 1990s?
A lot has happened since then, of course – Oslo is now widely acknowledged to have been both a sham and a debacle, the second intifada left most Israelis with a considerably more cynical view of Palestinian claims and intentions, Hamas has emerged as the people’s choice in Gaza and will probably soon do so on the West Bank as well, and Yasir Arafat went to hell.
At this stage it may be difficult to recall just how despised Netanyahu was by Israeli journalists, so it’s instructive to look at a book that came out in mid-2000 by David Horovitz, who at he time was the editor of The Jerusalem Report and has since become editor of The Jerusalem Post – in other words, the very epitome of a mainstream journalist.
A Little Too Close to God: The Thrills and Panic of a Life in Israel is a volume that, had it not made such a speedy trip to bookstore remainders tables and library discard bins, would have no doubt come under the scrutiny of concerned mental health professionals.
The trouble started with Horovitz’s wrenching confession that all had not been well for him in the aftermath of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.
“Since the killing, I’ll admit, I have come to mythologize Rabin – to use him, or his image, as my shorthand for the Israel I longed and long to live in, his murder as the puncturing of the dream,” wrote Horovitz. “It is my obsession. It shows no signs of passing with time.”
Oh dear. By his own admission (“shows no signs of passing with time”) the man required long-term care. But did not his recognition of the nature of his pathology offer some cause for hope? Perhaps. One can’t help but think, however, of the scores of individuals locked away in sanitariums throughout the land who can lucidly recite the details of their illnesses, can calmly admit that, yes, they are off their rockers – and then proceed to formally introduce themselves to visitors as Napoleon Bonaparte or Daffy Duck.
Too harsh a judgment? Well, back then at least, the mere mention of the name Benjamin Netanyahu was apparently enough to set Horovitz off at full throttle, no doubt with eyes bulging, spittle flying, and frightened bystanders waiting for some nice men in white coats to show up with tranquilizers, straps, nets…anything:
“Netanyahu came close but did not entirely rupture our relations with the Palestinians…. One man, yes, one man, in hardly any time at all, turned back the course of Israeli history – shut down the bridge-building with the Palestinians, froze the warming relations with the moderate Arab world, left Jordan and Egypt embarrassed about having made peace with us, got Syria gearing up for war.”
Still unconvinced? Then read this and imagine the wolves howling and the sirens ringing in the author’s fevered mind as he tortured himself with visions of the Swamp Beast Bibi:
“… I think of the time he wasted, the goodwill that evaporated, the economic and diplomatic price we paid for life under Netanyahu, the way he weakened our friendship with the United States and left us abandoned at the United Nations with only Micronesia by our side. I think of the lives lost and blighted, the new hatreds formed.”
In fairness to Horovitz, he wrote another book a few years later that took a more balanced approach to what had gone wrong on the path to peace between Palestinians and Israelis. But the fact that a seasoned journalist could permit himself to become so spectacularly unhinged by the leader of his country should serve as a cautionary tale to all who still expect a more dispassionate approach from those responsible for reporting and framing the news.
Jason Maoz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org