(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There is an odd Hebrew phrase that multiple Knesset members used to describe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bad week: “He ate smelly fish, got lashings, and still got expelled from the city.”
Popularized by a midrash called the “Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael,” the phrase, based on the Egyptians’ experience during the Exodus, refers to a man who failed, tried to avoid the punishment he deserved, and ended up with not only that punishment but also paying additional penalties.
That certainly fits Netanyahu, who tried to stand up for Israel’s sovereignty on the Temple Mount following the murder of two Israeli policemen, at first withstood pressure to remove metal detectors he decided to install at the entrances to the holy site, but ended up removing not only the metal detectors but also security cameras and barriers.
Netanyahu looked especially bad, because even the most moderate Likud minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, talked tough about the metal detectors being there to stay and said if the Muslims had a problem with them, they could pray somewhere else.
When Netanyahu gave in, he not only offended his political base on the Right, he even got slammed in the lead headline in his pet newspaper Israel Hayom. When even your cheerleaders are thumbing their noses at you, you know you’ve got it especially bad.
When a poll showed the public overwhelmingly opposed giving in on the metal detectors, Netanyahu tried pandering to the Right.
He expressed support for a bill that would widen the borders of Jerusalem, advanced a new community for former residents of the evacuated outpost Amona and announced his opposition to evacuating settlers at a controversial building in Hebron.
That pandering to his political base continued Thursday, when Netanyahu expressed support for giving the death penalty to terrorists, which he knows will never happen. A leak that he supports Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s plan to trade Arab land in pre- 1967 Israel for settlement blocs appeared to be conveniently timed as well.
But it appears Netanyahu will need a lot more to distract the public if the violence on Temple Mount continues and threats of an Arab “Day of Rage” Friday are carried out. His mantle of “Mr. Security” will be endangered again if he doesn’t calm down the situation.
A Statnet poll broadcast on Channel 10 Thursday night on the one hand gave Netanyahu good news: His Likud Party is predicted to win 28 Knesset seats, compared to 20 for Labor and 17 for Yesh Atid, and he remains by far the candidate seen as most fit to be prime minister.
But on the other hand, there was one result in the poll that was bad news for Netanyahu: When asked who is most fit to be defense minister, the candidate that scored highest was former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
He beat former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, current defense minister Avigdor Liberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, and, as expected, former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak was in last place.
The poll indicates that the public wants a new security figure to come and protect them.
Ashkenazi is unlikely to head a party in the next election, but he could provide a massive boost if he became the No. 2 of one the two warring center- left leaders, Avi Gabbay or Yair Lapid.
The best news for Netanyahu is that the Knesset closed for the summer late Wednesday night and its corridors were empty on Thursday. That means that no matter how bad it gets security-wise, he cannot be overthrown until after the fall holidays, even if he would get indicted in a criminal probe.
So even if Netanyahu keeps eating smelly fish and getting lashed, he is not going anywhere any time soon.