THE BLOG

The Mendacious Mr. Netanyahu?

By now you've heard that French President Nicholas Sarkozy -- without realizing that his microphone was live -- called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "a liar," at last week's G20 summit, according to reports.

Most Israelis would agree.

A full 60 percent of Israelis do not find Netanyahu to be "honest and trustworthy," according to a survey of 1000 Israelis, conducted by the New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force in 2009. Surprisingly, even among Israelis who respond favorably to their prime minister, 41 percent do not think he is truthful.

So, what's the big deal? Netanyahu's Israeli colleagues have not been shy in calling Netanyahu out either. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted as saying, "A liar you were, and a liar you have remained," to Netanyahu's face, according to Sharon's son Gilad.

Dan Meridor, who now serves as minister of intelligence and atomic energy in Netanyahu's cabinet, has accused Netanyahu of "turning his lies into an art form."

There aren't enough fingers on my hands to count the Israeli columnists and notables that have pointed to Bibi's propensity toward falsehood. Leah Rabin, the late widow of Yizhak Rabin, wrote, "Benjamin Netanyahu is a corrupt individual, a contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society."

Perhaps Netanyahu's mendacity is one of his assets. Jim Gerstein, who conducted the New America Foundation poll, told me that Israelis also viewed Netanyahu as a liar in 1999 when he lost his reelection to Ehud Barak. "The campaign was primarily about domestic issues," said Gerstein, who worked for Barak's campaign at the time. "But Bibi's character was a constant undercurrent. Ironically, for some voters, Bibi's lying was not necessarily a bad thing because they wanted him to lie to the other side in negotiations."

"Israeli voters have to decide if Netanyahu is a liar, and if he is a liar, is he a big liar, and if so, is that good for Israel," wrote Dan Margalit in Haaretz during the 1999 election season.

It's a derogatory image that Bibi just can't shake. As recently as last month, Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar dubbed Netanyahu's remarks at the United Nations General Assembly a "speech of lies."

Sarkozy's crass comment isn't much worse than what his European colleagues have said about Netanyahu. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly told Netanyahu, "How dare you... You are the one who disappointed us," in a phone call reported in Haaretz earlier this year.

The bigger question: Who hasn't called Netanyahu a liar?

President Obama falls into that category. In fact, compared with the above, Obama's reported hot-mic retort to Sarkozy -- "You're fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day" -- seems incredibly restrained.