Time magazine has once again put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on its cover for its upcoming July 22 edition.
Noting that Netanyahu on July 17 will “surpass David Ben-Gurion, the closest thing Israel has to a founding father, to become the longest-serving Prime Minister in the country’s history,” the interviewer, Brian Bennett, writes that the Jewish state’s future “remains mortgaged to Netanyahu’s approach to power.”
The article is less flattering than the last time Netanyahu was on Time’s cover, in a mostly sympathetic 2012 interview that branded him “King Bibi.”
“Inside the country, many Israelis have been alarmed by Netanyahu’s efforts to remain in power,” Bennett tells his readers. “The moves compound the impression, already articulated by critics, that Israel’s Prime Minister has embraced the same populist authoritarianism rising elsewhere around the world.”
Time has occasionally put Israel on the cover in recent years, usually to criticize it. A September 2010 cover story was headlined, “Why Israel doesn’t care about peace.” An August 2012 edition looked at a battle for control over a Jerusalem neighborhood.
The latest cover story follows a similar line, citing “a growing chorus of critics” who “condemn Netanyahu not for any personal indulgences but for undermining Israeli democracy itself.”
It depicts the upcoming September 17 election as a referendum pitting “the Prime Minister’s self-declared role as Israel’s protector, ‘indispensable Netanyahu,’ against ‘Bibi fatigue,’” in the words of former US ambassador Dan Shapiro.
In a press release a day ahead of the Friday publication date of the latest edition, the century-old weekly quoted Netanyahu in the interview dismissing the corruption allegations against him, saying his supporters were “energized” by the belief that the allegations are false, and insisted he was not the divisive figure depicted “in some circles.”
Asked if he had a role in driving American Jews and Israeli Jews further apart — an accusation leveled often in recent years following his tense relationship with Barack Obama and enthusiastic embrace of Donald Trump — Netanyahu rejected the idea.
“I don’t think I’ve been a polarizing figure at all…. I am often described in some circles the way you describe, but it’s not true. It doesn’t reflect my basic tendency. I want every Jew to feel at home in Israel.”
He defended the Trump administration’s more bellicose stance on Iran, which saw America withdraw last year from the 2015 nuclear deal.
Asked if Trump’s Iran policies have made Israel less safe, he said, “categorically, No. What has challenged Israel’s security is Iran’s goal, one, to have nuclear weapons, which they intend to use to annihilate Israel. And second, their attempts to bring their army or pieces of their army in Syria, right in Israel’s backyard.”
The interview dwells on several Sunni Arab states’ recent steps to embrace Israel as an ally against Iran, and then turns to Netanyahu’s corruption investigations.
The investigations, the prime minister insists in the interview, have only strengthened him politically, “because people just don’t buy it. They think it’s a concoction because there’s nothing there…. My people by and large, my supporters, have been energized by it.”