Analysis: Why are prime ministerial contenders outing themselves now?

So why are candidates to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister coming out of the political woodwork now out of all times, right after his big success?

December 10, 2017 20:14
3 minute read.
Likud ballots

Likud ballots. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The satire show Eretz Nehederet mocked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago by having his character sing a duet with the late former prime minister and Likud leader Menachem Begin.

When singing about their accomplishments, Begin sang in Hebrew “Ani heftzatzti et hakur” (I bombed the nuclear reactor) [in Iraq in 1981]. Rhyming with Begin, all Netanyahu could sing was “ani na’amti im iyur” (that he delivered a speech with a drawing), referring to the picture of a bomb that he displayed when he addressed the UN General Assembly in 2012.

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That song would already seem out of date now that the prime minister succeeded in persuading the president of the United States to finally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No one can claim now that Netanyahu has no accomplishment in his dozen years as prime minister.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on historic Trump's Jerusalem speech

So one would think that potential successors to Netanyahu would let him have his moment in the limelight and not announce their intentions while he is celebrating that achievement. Using a Hanukka analogy because “tis the season,” one would think that the little candles would sit modestly and show respect to the shamash (the big candle in the middle that lights all of the others).

But instead, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett pronounced himself worthy of succeeding Netanyahu as prime minister in the post-Netanyahu era on the Saturday night show Meet the Press. That same day, the organizers of the Eilat Likudiada, the largest annual gathering of Likudniks, said they would hold a secret-ballot vote for Netanyahu’s successor among former minister Gideon Sa’ar, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, and Ministers Israel Katz, Gilad Erdan and Miri Regev.

So why are candidates to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister coming out of the political woodwork now out of all times, right after his big success? There are two theories. One is that they smell blood. The criminal investigations of the prime minister are intensifying. The weekly anti-corruption rallies are gaining more and more attention.

But if Bennett, Sa’ar, Edelstein, Katz, Erdan, and Regev were sharks, they would have starved long ago. Sources close to Bennett revealed that he has postponed his announcement many times. The Likud candidates to succeed Netanyahu were quick to say Sunday that they would not attend the Likudiada.

The other theory is that they smell strength.

Huh? Why would predators come out when their prey is especially strong?

The answer is Netanyahu’s personality. Netanyahu does not like being challenged. That is why he has not appointed a deputy prime minister since 2009 and purposely held snap elections for Likud leader so no one else could run. Whenever any potential leader looks too much like a challenger to him, Netanyahu has found a way to cast them away and they have ended up in other parties or on the street.

That is why it made sense for Bennett to make his announcement now, when no one doubts the prime minister’s strength. Bennett emphasized that he was referring to the post-Netanyahu era, which could be very far away.

The same holds true for the Likudiada, which canceled similar votes for Netanyahu’s successor in the past, in order to not look unpatriotic. Holding the vote now makes it a mere curiosity, not a serious decision about who will soon occupy the Prime Minister’s Office.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman still scolded Bennett on Sunday, saying that it was “not the time for him to craft his crown” and reminding him that the next election is only set for November 5, 2019.

“Declarations about succeeding Netanyahu don’t help the coalition,” Liberman said. “They add instability and uncertainty. I recommend to all my friends to suspend their declarations on replacing Netanyahu. He intends to run in the next election, and he is not going anywhere.”

But that is exactly why Bennett decided to make the announcement now. Bennett waited to sing until he knew Netanyahu had what to sing about.

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