Bennie Begin .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surprisingly announced with great fanfare that Bennie Begin would be returning to politics on the Likud list at a January 29 meeting of the party secretariat, everyone in the room applauded.
Until then, Netanyahu had taken a long time finding a candidate worthy of the 11th slot on the Likud list, which was reserved for a candidate of his choosing. He considered everyone from Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg to a Russian-immigrant actor, to Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick.
Within minutes of the announcement, all of the Likud’s ministers and MKs sent messages to political reporters praising the decision. The politicians competed with superlatives for Begin, the son of the former prime minister and longtime party leader Menachem Begin.
But when push came to shove, none of the Likud politicians was ready to give up a seat in the cabinet for Begin. Suddenly they were silent, with Ophir Akunis unwilling even to give up the unceremonious title of minister-without- portfolio with no responsibilities whatsoever.
Netanyahu asked the other party leaders in the coalition to let Begin stay in the cabinet as an extra Likud minister. But Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who compared himself to Menachem Begin throughout the campaign, had no mercy on his son.
Then again, why should the likes of Akunis or Kahlon sacrifice anything for Begin? The only man responsible for the 72-year-old geologist becoming a regular MK was Netanyahu.
It was he who preferred to keep political power brokers Haim Katz and Danny Danon in the cabinet at Begin’s expense. It was he who sent away the mild-mannered Begin, rather than confront the likes of Miri Regev, who threatened Netanyahu with a “revolution” had she not been appointed a minister.
The decision was another nadir in the career of Begin, who hoped to go in his father’s footsteps when he ran for Likud leader in 1993 and lost to Netanyahu. He quit politics following his failure at the helm of the National Union list in 1999, and after a term from 2009 to 2013, narrowly lost his Knesset seat to political lightweight Carmel Shama.
Begin’s lost political potential perhaps has to do with his qualities not being appreciated as much now as they were in the past. The ability to work quietly, research key matters intensely, and give prime ministers good advice used to be very helpful. But now prime ministers like to make key decisions on their own.
The modesty he displayed by using public transportation and in quitting but not announcing it for two days was once a great qualification for a politician in Israel. But that trait does not fit in the era of Facebook and Twitter.
It is not too late for Begin. His political comeback to the cabinet could take place if Netanyahu appoints Akunis as UN ambassador.
But that idea, which Akunis first raised in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in September, is not a foregone conclusion.
Netanyahu could decide to instead appoint Begin to the post, where he can certainly make the case for Israel in a hostile environment.
Begin would not receive applause in the post, but after what he has endured in politics in Israel, the UN could be an easier place for him to take the bus to work.