The year of an opposition that couldn’t

With no clear political alternative to King Bibi, 2015 saw a disorganized, lackluster and ultimately failed attempt by members of Knesset to topple the premier.

December 31, 2015 14:22
4 minute read.
Israel opposition MKs

Opposition MKs (from left to right) Yair Lapid, Avigdor Liberman and Isaac Herzog. (photo credit: JPOST STAFF,REUTERS)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been compared by his No. 2 in the Likud, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, to the biblical figure Noah.

The context: Noah warned the world of an impending flood for 120 years while he was building the ark, but no one seemed to heed his warning.

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Netanyahu similarly warned the world of the dangers of a bad nuclear deal with Iran for a very long time, but when push came to shove, the leaders of the world chose to ignore him.

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But there is another reason the comparison between Netanyahu and Noah fits. The Torah describes Noah as “righteous in his generation.”

Some commentaries interpreted that description as a tremendous compliment. After all, it’s not easy to be the most righteous person on the planet.

But others pointed out that everything is relative, so “righteous in his generation” could be saying nothing about Noah and just describing how bad everyone else was at the time, especially because of their licentious behavior.

Netanyahu has been repeatedly reelected not only because of his skills as a politician and his relative success in guiding Israel though a world flooded by terrorism.

He is also very lucky that in 2015 there was not a serious political alternative who could defeat him.

His Likud party won the March 17 election despite huge animosity toward him in the general public. The Likud won 30 seats, defying polls that indicated the race would be much closer.

Even after his failing to stop the Iran deal, allowing terrorism on the streets, and barely passing the state budget, the opposition to Netanyahu in the Knesset could not break up the narrowest possible coalition of 61 MKs that he managed to build in 2015.

That 61 includes rebellious Likud MK Oren Hazan, who is bitter at his treatment by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and other senior Likud figures, and is desperate for revenge.

Nevertheless, the opposition has been ineffective in its main goal of bringing down Netanyahu. It defeated the coalition on four bills – most prominently a measure that would have helped young children of divorced couples – and forced the coalition to retract or delay legislation that would have been defeated. But Netanyahu was not harmed at all.

Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid have fought each other for the role of opposition leader much more effectively than they have challenged Netanyahu for the premiership.

A Channel 10 poll broadcast December 22 found that if an election were held now, Netanyahu would trounce them.

While Netanyahu has advanced the Likud’s leadership primary to be ready for the next general election, at press time all indications were that Herzog would try to delay the leadership race in his party.

Over time, Herzog’s criticism of the prime minister has gotten fiercer. But Israelis still do not see him as a serious alternative.

Lapid has gone around the world portraying himself as the de facto shadow foreign minister. Along the way, he has aided efforts against boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel.

But Lapid’s repeated attempts to reach out to the haredim (ultra-Orthodox), like his December 23 visit to the headquarters of the haredi medical organization ZAKA, appear to be a stretch. The haredim will never allow him to become prime minister, and it is hard to see how a prime minister could be elected without their support under the current electoral system.

While Lapid has attempted to portray himself as the proverbial knight on the white horse waiting outside the government for centrist voters, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has used the same strategy for the Right. He attacks the government from the Right every day, and during a wave of terrorism, his voice gets heard.

Polls show Israelis want Liberman in charge of their security not only because they shift rightward whenever there is violence, but also because they are angry at the government, and he is the only party leader on the Right who is not in the coalition.

But staying out of the government has harmed Liberman’s Russian immigrant constituency and was seen as a bitter and childish move, which will not help him with non-immigrant voters on the Right whom he would like to court. It put him in an odd opposition that requires him to cooperate with the Joint (Arab) List that was formed due to his efforts to block them from the Knesset by raising the electoral threshold.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh built himself up internationally as a rising political star in 2015. But has he helped his Israeli-Arab constituency any more than his predecessors? The answer is no.

That leaves Meretz, which is arguably the party most set in its ideology. It did not achieve anything in 2015, but its MKs did not compromise either, which is an accomplishment in its own right.

Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On helped bring about the resignation of interior minister Silvan Shalom and Bayit Yehudi faction head Yinon Magal, due to charges of sexual misconduct and harassment.

That is two coalition MKs whose careers she helped end in 2015. It is that same licentious behavior that Noah’s generation was known for. The opposition will have to be on its best behavior to have a better 2016.

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