If ever there was a need for a coalition- strengthening seminar in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current term, it is now.
The event took place Wednesday night in Hadera, and it in some ways only exacerbated tensions within the coalition.
Netanyahu’s fight with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) over the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation took center stage, as the prime minister called for its formation to be delayed again, and Kahlon refused. Kahlon admitted Thursday morning that there were tensions with the prime minister.
“Kahlon and Netanyahu are no longer [a couple],” he joked when interviewed on stage in Tel Aviv.
It was far from the only fight inside Netanyahu’s coalition.
Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister and Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman attacked each other below the belt Wednesday over controversial Bnei David IDF preparatory institute head Rabbi Yigal Levinstein.
There were also skirmishes within the Likud. Coalition head David Bitan sparred with Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch, using gutter language.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein pacified the two freshman Likud MKs. But he, too, engaged in petty political potshots, if you believe the account of what happened at the coalition event posted on Twitter by Likud MK Oren Hazan.
“The Knesset speaker lectures us about unity in the coalition, and at the end I tell him it is nice to demand that, but you yourself have to do your part,” Hazan wrote.
“Yuli responds by calling me a piece of garbage, which shows how statesmanlike he really is.”
Bitan admitted on stage, when mentioning Albert Camus, that he had actually never heard of the author, that he had not read a book in 10 years, and that his spokesman had written the speech.
Deputy minister Yaron Mazuz took a turn at singing a traditional Sephardi song. MKs took selfies, but stayed with their own party colleagues.
Lawmakers described the atmosphere at the event as “an empty bar mitzva” or as “avirat sof course” – an expression from the IDF describing the stage when discipline diminishes at the end of a stint in any particular place in the army.
It was clear to participants at the event that the infighting was connected to the investigations of Netanyahu that have intensified and are expected to lead to a police recommendation to indict the prime minister sometime next month.
The gift-accepting affair, the problematic negotiations with a newspaper owner, and the submarine scandal have all given politicians who see themselves as future prime ministers new hope that Netanyahu will not keep his job forever.
That is why every step taken by any of those potential prime ministers must be looked at within that context, and every move made by them must be assumed to have been analyzed and approved in advance by a political consultant.
That can be said first and foremost about Bennett’s decision to advance his party’s leadership primary to next month. At this point, he will vigorously deny any reports about him wanting to merge Bayit Yehudi with the Likud. But if Netanyahu falls, and the Right looks like it is in danger of losing power, Bennett must be ready for the possibility that polls will say he is the strongest candidate to lead the right-wing bloc.
Liberman’s decision to portray the role of the “responsible adult” and not the role of the “scary settler” he plays when he is in the opposition also must be seen within the context of the prime minister’s probes.
Kahlon’s announcement, together with Netanyahu, that they will cut taxes due to the $15 billion Mobileye acquisition was seen as a pre-election move, as it is whenever taxes are cut in other countries. Such a decision is never seen as pure.
Shas head Arye Deri warned Thursday morning: “I won’t stay in a government where people are killing each other. If people don’t come to their senses, it’s better to go to elections.” The night before, at the coalition event, he said that “coalitions don’t fall over big things but over petty internal arguments.”
Deri was talking about the Israel Broadcasting Authority. After it has become clear that Netanyahu initiated the last election over a bill intended to harm his favored newspaper, Israel Hayom
, even such a small issue could cause an election in Israel. But in this case, the real reason for the race would be the probes, not public broadcasting.
Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon announced this week that he is leaving the Likud? Why this week? After Kahlon formed Kulanu, he didn’t bother taking the step to end his membership in the Likud until he was told it was legally problematic.
As a general, Ya’alon knows he has to strategize and plan his moves well in advance.
As a politician, he must also consider that the polls for the party he is forming do not look nearly as good as when he quit the Defense Ministry last May.
Ya’alon’s associates stressed that his decision to leave the Likud was a technical matter, and that it was not their decision to publicize it. Ya’alon has been holding meetings around the clock to prepare for the next election, and his associates said he is optimistic, considering that he is still standing after being harmed by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report on Operation Protective Edge and his stance against Elor Azaria.
In the opposition, Yair Lapid continued his strategy of acting as Israel’s self-appointed shadow foreign minister, going to the US to fight the anti-Israel United Nations Human Rights Council.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog met with President Donald Trump’s adviser Jason Greenblatt, setting himself apart from his eight potential challengers in the July 3 Labor Party leadership race. A Haaretz
cartoon depicted the nine men readying themselves to jump into an empty swimming pool.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On tried unsuccessfully to advance an open leadership primary in her party. She told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday that she would prove Meretz is not a “closed-door club.” Two days later, Meretz activists rejected her initiative, proving that a closed-door club the party will remain.
Even inside Netanyahu’s Likud party, it is becoming more obvious that politicians are playing for the day after Netanyahu leaves. In the Likud, rebelling against their leader is seen as unpatriotic and must be avoided at all costs, so such behavior must be kept beneath the surface.
But Likud ministers are fund-raising and getting ready for elections, just in case. One minister, who did not hesitate to criticize American Jews in the past, went to New York on a fund-raising trip this past week.
Former minister Gideon Sa’ar, current ministers Israel Katz and Gilad Erdan, Edelstein and others would take no time at all to get their election engines rolling, if need be.
But they also know that the legal system in Israel works very slowly, and that a police recommendation for an indictment does not mean that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will accept the request.
There is still a long way to go before Netanyahu’s investigations become serious.
And even though they are getting ready just in case, none of the politicians except Lapid has an interest in the election happening immediately.
So political posturing will continue in the months ahead, even if it is premature.