‘King Bibi’ Director Reflects on the Power of a Leader
Dan Shadur is the director of “King Bibi: The Life and Performances of Benjamin Netanyahu.” The documentary uses archival footage to show Netanyahu’s rise to power, his tumultuous relationship with the media, and similarities to President Donald Trump.
I spoke to Shadur about the upcoming Israeli election, Bibi’s reaction to his film, and the similarities between the leaders of Israel and the United States.
AZ: Bibi reacted to your film in the media? What did he say?
He said it was interesting but he fell asleep — but not because it wasn’t good, but because he was on a plane. It was an interesting reaction. It symbolizes the film. Something about his reaction was complex. Usually, either he ignores stuff or attacks it.
AZ: Your documentary uses archival footage and you did not get a chance to interview the prime minister. What would you have asked him if you had the chance?
DS: I would love to watch the film with him and get his reaction. It would be interesting to see what he thinks about the future.
AZ: What is Bibi’s best quality?
DS: He’s very ambitious and focused. I think he’s an intelligent politician. He’s like a Machiavelli. He understands his best option to gain more power in every moment.
AZ: Do you think he will win the election even with the criminal controversy surrounding him?
DS: I think so. A lot of his supporters are not convinced there’s a good enough reason to make him go, and it creates an environment of unity when he is attacked. Once he is on stage, there is a very emotional and primal identification with him.
AZ: What was the most surprising thing you learned about him?
DS: I think it’s his understanding of the media from a very early age. His understanding is very deep, and he is an expert at creating his own narrative.
AZ: The media seems to always attack Netanyahu and Trump, but they keep winning. If the media are against them, should they try something different?
DS: The media is part of the story, playing into his hands. The media regarding Bibi has been looking down on him and his supporters, not giving respect, and then getting surprised that people are behind him. They want to sell papers. They want ratings. It’s a Catch-22.
AZ: In the film, you compare the two leaders a lot. What is the biggest similarity and the biggest difference?
DS: The difference is their background. Bibi comes from a very intellectual home. His background is ideological from his roots. The similarity is the ability to unify people around him through the use of antagonism, relying on your base and using any method available to remain in power, and using the media’s attention.
AZ: You show President Clinton’s scandal of cheating on his wife, Bibi admitting his affair — and with President Trump, he allegedly had an affair. Do you think people care if a leader is faithful?
DS: Apparently people don’t really care. They don’t care about the morality of someone. It’s fascinating that it gets pushed aside. With Trump, you have Christian supporters and Bibi you have religious [Jewish] supporters. But they like them because they feel they serve their purpose.
AZ: It’s interesting that after Yoni Netanyahu was killed in the operation in Entebbe, Iddo Netanyahu became a doctor and playwright, while Bibi went into politics.
DS: He had more ambition. Part of what he is being accused of, corruption and cigars and champagne, he feels he is entitled to it. If he wasn’t in politics, he’d be a very, very rich man. He’s still a rich man.
AZ: Why do they love Trump in Israel?
DS: Obama was not popular and regarded as dangerous. Trump is kind of doing the opposite. Very aggressive and nationalist and considered someone who will back Israel no matter what. I don’t think they care about his style or other issues.
AZ: Bibi said Iran is an existential threat. Do most Israelis agree or think he is trying to scare people?
DS: Most will agree that Iran is a real threat. The question is whether it’s being magnified or not, or whether it’s used for political purposes. Many think [Netanyahu] is magnifying it for his political reasons.
AZ: There are no term limits. How long do you think he will go?
DS: If he wins and is indicted, he might have to resign, but you don’t know. It’s hard to predict. It might depend on what margin. If he wins by a landslide, it will be more difficult for his partners to ask for a resignation. If it is a slight margin, it would be more difficult to stay in power with an indictment. But for 30 years, commentators have been wrong about him.