Props are a familiar part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s repertoire when he delivers public speeches, from cartoon bombs at the United Nations to a wall of CDs and binders allegedly seized from Iran by Mossad agents.
Now, the former prime minister – famous for his dramatic flare – is hitting the election campaign with a new blow. Here: the Bibibus.
The bizarre bulletproof vehicle is part popemobile, part movie set, and 100% vintage Netanyahu. As Israel goes to the polls for the fifth time in less than four years, the veteran politician is using the Bibibus to attract passionate crowds of supporters and, once again, put himself at the center of attention of a weary electorate.
During a demonstration in the southern city of Beersheba on Tuesday, Netanyahu addressed a crowd of about 200 people in a shopping mall parking lot. Flanked by his former finance minister, he spoke to a podium from the back of the modified delivery truck. Its side wall had been replaced with bulletproof glass and its air-conditioned interior was backlit with a huge LED screen that projected his Likud party logo onto a waving Israeli flag.
Netanyahu does not actually travel in the vehicle. Instead, it serves as a moving stage that is moved from one city to another to serve as a backdrop for its appearances in the countryside.
Commentators have variously dubbed it the “aquarium truck”, the “Bibimobile” and the “Bibibus” – making fun of Netanyahu’s nickname. Likud promotes mobile rallies such as “Bibiba” or “Bibi is Coming” and says the truck is a necessary safety precaution.
“I have to stay here, unfortunately,” he told the crowd, tapping his hand against the glass that separated him from the crowd of cheering supporters before delivering pledges to combat rising cost of living and inflation.
Likud says the vehicle and its bulletproof glass were taken to comply with the security measures required by Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.
But there may be more to the story. No other politician has adopted similar protocols and the bus is not entirely fortified. The bulletproof glass appears to cover only part of the vehicle, and when he spoke at the podium, a window was open and Netanyahu was exposed to the crowd. The agency did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel will hold parliamentary elections on November 1, the fifth from the start of a protracted political crisis in early 2019. Like the other four, the next vote will largely be a referendum on Netanyahu’s suitability to rule, and it could once again fail to form a lasting coalition even if his party gets the most votes.
Netanyahu, who led the country from 2009 to last year, has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and taking bribes in three separate cases, and his high-profile trial has been dragging on for more than two years. He denied any wrongdoing and lashed out at law enforcement and the courts, accusing them of conducting a politically motivated witch hunt.
Netanyahu remains the most popular politician in the country, and his supporters adore him with sectarian reverence. But allegations of corruption have deeply divided Israelis, and last year he was kicked out of office for the first time in 12 years by a cumbersome coalition united largely by his opposition to his continued rule of him.
That coalition collapsed in June, sparking new elections and raising the possibility of Netanyahu’s return to power after a year in the desert as opposition leader.
The former prime minister, who turns 73 next month, remains a tireless activist and stops almost every day, holding electoral rallies from the back of the Bibibus.
Bulletproof glass did not protect Netanyahu from critics, who see the Bibibus as another symbol of his disconnection from Israeli commons. Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported that hiring the truck for a two-month campaign cost the Likud party 700,000 shekels ($ 200,000), a huge expense at a time when many are tightening their belts.
One of Likud’s main rivals, the Machane Mamlachti party, posted a video in which it mocked Netanyahu, countering his appearance behind glass with a clip of its leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, surrounded by a crowd of supporters. . Ben Caspit, an Israeli columnist and longtime critic of Netanyahu, called the Bibibus “grotesque” and “a strange mistake”.
In the face of criticism, Netanyahu bent down and embraced the Bibibus. Likud posted a video of the campaign with the former leader dramatically exiting the truck’s cab and cleaning his huge windows.
“No bulletproof glass will separate my heart from yours,” the former leader beamed.