Would not have entered politics had brother Yoni lived

Blaming social media, Netanyahu says politicians are ‘overly connected’

In Fox News interview focusing on his personal life, PM says attacks on his wife Sara hurt him more than when he himself is targeted

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu answers questions on Twitter live, at his residence in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates its 68th Independence Day. May 12, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu answers questions on Twitter live, at his residence in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates its 68th Independence Day. May 12, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Being “overly connected” to the public via social media can be problematic for politicians, leading to poor decision-making, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained in an interview broadcast on Fox News Sunday evening.

During an hourlong conversation about his personal life with celebrity news czar Harvey Levin, Netanyahu also reminisced about his childhood and defended his wife Sara, who is expected to be indicted on criminal charges, against attacks from the media, saying they hurt him more than criticism of himself.

The prime minister also said he would never have gone into politics had his older brother Yoni, who was shot dead commanding the elite Sayeret Matkal unit during the 1976 Entebbe hostage rescue, not been killed. Yoni’s death changed and steered his life, he said.

Asked by Levin, best known for founding gossip site TMZ, if the heavy security that always surrounds him leads to a disconnect with the public, he pointed to his two sons, Avner and Yair:

“They follow the internet. They tell me what young people think. They tell me what their friends think. Sometimes I wish that they wouldn’t because I’d like to be disconnected from what is happening now in the world,” Netanyahu said.

“The internet has created this thing of instant referendums. So what happens is you have political leaders who are constantly bombarded by polarized opinion. And I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think it’s inevitable. It’s there. We all work with it, we all understand it.”

Netanyahu has numerous social media accounts, on which aides very regularly post updates and political messages that reach millions of users worldwide. Notably reticent with the Israeli media, he has often used the accounts to defend himself against attacks in the press, sometimes drawing comparisons to serial tweeter US President Donald Trump.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu answers questions on Twitter live, at his residence in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates its 68th Independence Day. May 12, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

However, speaking to Levin, Netanyahu indicated that he’d prefer it if political leaders were free to act without having to constantly contend with public opinion.

“Representative government says you’re elected, you’re given a period to exercise that power and then they can throw you out,” he said. “The problem today for politicians is not being disconnected. The problem is they’re overly connected. And they’re completely at the mercy of these shifting tides of opinion that are reflected in the net. And that’s — not good.”

The interview was conducted as part of Fox News’ OBJECTified program, in which Levin brings on celebrities, and the occasional head of government, to discuss their personal histories and philosophies.

Netanyahu praised his wife Sara, defending her as “the pillar of the family.”

Though Sara Netanyahu is facing likely criminal charges for a scheme in which she allegedly defrauded the state out of hundreds of thousands of shekels for private meals, he argued that she was being targeted by his political enemies as a means to bring him down.

“It hurts me a lot more when they attack her than when they attack me,” he said.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, and his wife Sara, second right, tour in Tel Gezer and Magshimim Forest together with their sons Yair, right, and Avner, left, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 21, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In a preview of the interview broadcast earlier this week, Netanyahu was shown discouraging his children from following him into politics.

As a child, he wanted to become “a soccer-playing scholar,” Netanyahu said.

His own entrance into the political field, he said, was directly attributable to the death of his older brother Yoni.

Yonatan Netanyahu (photo credit: GPO, Wikimedia)
Yonatan Netanyahu (photo credit: GPO, Wikimedia)

“He was an exceptional human being… with indescribable courage.” Netanyahu said about Yoni, who was killed in 1976 during a legendary raid to free Israeli hostages in Uganda.

“He didn’t have to die to be a legend. He was a legend already in his life,” the prime minister said.

When Yoni was killed, “it was as if my world had collapsed,” Netanyahu said.

Yoni’s death “steered” his life “to its present course,” Netanyahu added, saying the imperative to confront the scourge of terrorism became a “calling.”

Asked whether he would have gone into politics had Yoni not died, he replied: “Absolutely not.”

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