(photo credit: Marc Israël Sellem)
Benjamin Netanyahu gave Israelis a taste late on Monday night of how leaders are not meant to run their countries. He provided a real-time and very public example of what indecisiveness looks like and how the government works when it sets policy on issues of national importance.
All that is left is for Israelis to wonder what happens behind closed doors on issues at the core of our national security. Does the same zigzagging happen when the security cabinet meets to debate how to confront Iran’s nuclear program or the Palestinian march in the Gaza Strip? After Monday’s events, we can only pray that it doesn’t.
Here is the chain of events: At the end of last year, the government announced plans to deport the vast majority of African migrants to two African countries, widely believed to be Uganda and Rwanda. The Interior Ministry recruited special inspectors to round up the migrants and began training them ahead of the mass expulsion.
In mid-March, though, the High Court of Justice decided to freeze the plan
. Instead of refining the existing plan or convening his cabinet to discuss alternatives, Netanyahu, the country was surprised to learn on Monday, had brokered a deal with the United Nations, under which 16,000 migrants would be moved to Western countries and another 16,000 would be allowed to remain in Israel. The announcement, made at 4 p.m., took his cabinet and party by complete surprise.
Israel says to send 16,000 African migrants to Western countries, April 2, 2018 (Reuters)
But then all hell broke loose. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, his rival on the Right, slammed the new deal and warned that Israel would become a migrant haven if so many were allowed to stay. Anti-migrant activists from south Tel Aviv chimed in as did members of the Likud, including Miri Regev, who until Monday seemed to be Netanyahu’s staunchest party ally.
The pressure was too much to bear.
Six hours and 45 minutes later, at 10:45 p.m., Netanyahu posted on Facebook that he had decided to temporarily freeze
the plan with the UN.
This is not Israelis’ first experience watching Netanyahu zigzag. In 2004, for example, Netanyahu voted in the Knesset in favor of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, only to vote against it a few months later in the cabinet. In 2015, after IDF soldier Elor Azaria shot a “neutralized” Palestinian in Hebron – a crime he would eventually go to jail for – Netanyahu immediately supported the military’s decision to open an investigation. When Bennett came out against the IDF, though, Netanyahu did a 180 and not only criticized the army, but even took the radical step of calling Azaria’s father.
And then, there was last month when Netanyahu seemed to want an election, only to backtrack at the last moment when he realized his coalition was not with him.
The difference until now, Israelis could have been excused for thinking, was that all of the previous examples were politically motivated. In 2004-5, Netanyahu facilitated the passage of the disengagement and resigned after it was a fait accompli in an attempt to gain political points. With Azaria it seemed the same. Netanyahu first did what was expected of a prime minister – support the IDF. When he realized it cost him politically, he reversed his decision. Ultimately, though, it didn’t make a difference. The case was already under investigation.
With the refugees, this is a new level.
It is true that Netanyahu often appears to operate based on political calculations, but here he is upending deals with other countries and the United Nations. Whether you support or oppose the government’s original policy of deporting the African migrants, it is also callous to play this way with peoples’ lives.
Even in Israel, some issues are supposed to be above politics.