Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allure to Israeli voters is perhaps best embodied in three election campaign posters that adorned the 15-story headquarters of his Likud party in Tel Aviv last year. Each depicted him alongside a major world leader: U.S. President Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and India’s Narendra Modi, under the slogan: “Netanyahu: Another League.” The message: Netanyahu, and Netanyahu alone, makes Israel punch above its weight on the world stage.
The normalization agreements Israel signed with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last week should have unambiguously reinforced this image. Even Netanyahu’s most dogged critics have difficulty faulting his foreign policy. So it must have surprised the prime minister to find protesters blocking an entrance to Ben Gurion Airport as he set out to seal the deal in Washington.
Their frustration is understandable. On Friday, Israel entered a three-week lockdown that will span the Jewish High Holy Days, after achieving the ignominious distinction of having the world’s highest per capita rate of new coronavirus infections. The unflattering split-screen image showed Israel in the throes of a spiraling public health crisis as Netanyahu enjoyed the pomp of a diplomatic ceremony 7,000 miles away.