Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a lengthy interview with Meet the Press on Sunday to evade criticism of his proposed judicial reforms, deflect from the staunch conservatism of his government, and diminish the perception that his public approval has tanked—despite multiple polls indicating otherwise.
Appearing via satellite from Jerusalem, Netanyahu acknowledged his decision late last month to delay an overhaul of the Israeli judiciary after mass protests threatened to send its military into upheaval. (The proposed changes could have potential political benefits for Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.) However, despite acknowledging the state of a “divided country,” the embattled prime minister tried to paint it as a mere caveat of an unpopular policy decision.
“There are always these contentious polls,” he said. “We just had a poll three months ago, and it’s called an election. And in fact, what has happened in the last three months is that overwhelmingly, not only the parties that won, but right now the broad base of the Israeli public believes that we have to have these corrections in the judicial system.”
But Netanyahu’s rose-colored lenses failed to acknowledge the polling realities within Israel. A Channel 13 poll from April 9 found that 71 percent of respondents believed Netanyahu was performing poorly as prime minister, while a Morning Consult poll from April 10 showed that 63 percent disapproved of his performance—down 5 percent from its last poll.
Netanyahu also acknowledged a report stemming from the cache of leaked U.S. intelligence documents that the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, opposed his government over the judicial reforms and led “explicit calls to action” from within.
“The truth is that the Mossad legal advisor said that under Israeli law, junior members of Mossad can participate in their demonstrations, not senior members,” he said. “That’s, I think, what led to this misunderstanding. No, I think the Mossad, the military, our internal security services are working hand in hand with me as prime minister to assure the security of the country.”
Later in the interview, Netanyahu acknowledged that there is a faction “upset” about his moves, but said it was a minority compared to those who want the reforms.
“You wouldn’t know about the other side that wants to have the judicial reform because their demonstrations are not covered,” Netanyahu said. “So yes, there is a divided country right now. I think when I look at the issues themselves, I find a lot more agreement on the specific items.”
Netanyahu also tried to shift the conversation away from the judicial reforms—including Todd’s suggestion that the country call a snap election to determine the public interest in the proposal—to respond to criticisms that his government is “the most radical, extreme conservative government.”
“How many of your audience know that the speaker of the Knesset, the speaker of our Congress, is gay? How many know that he was nominated by me? And how many know that he was overwhelmingly elected just a few months ago? Nobody knows that because it doesn’t fit the bill,” Netanyahu said, also acknowledging investments in Arab sectors. “There is so much misinformation about what is happening in Israel that is fed from Israel political opponents. It’s natural. They’re feeding the political opponents abroad, and so the picture is set.”
But Netanyahu again obscured the reality that brought him back to his role as prime minister. He was reelected after a coalition of ultra-conservative religious and nationalist parties backed his ascension, and he’s previously defended his association by saying he would be the ultimate policymaker. “They are joining me. I’m not joining them,” Netanyahu told NPR in December.
He never referenced that coalition with Todd, instead insisting that Israel’s democracy would flourish.
“That’s not the real picture,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is a vibrant democracy, has been a vibrant democracy, and will remain a vibrant democracy. And you know the one who’s most committed to that is me.”