The non-oppositional opposition in Knesset

It seems like most of the opposition is not feeling very oppositional this week.

May 18, 2018 05:59
3 minute read.
Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay (Left) and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid

Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay (Left) and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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Pop quiz: Who gave the following effusive speech about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

“Today, he deserves a lot of credit. Whoever says that [US President Donald] Trump would have moved the embassy [to Jerusalem] anyway, simply does not know how to give credit where it’s due. In my eyes, whoever doesn’t know how to give credit loses the right to criticize. This would not have happened without [Netanyahu] working on it, and I praise him for that.”

Is it a) Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, b) Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, c) Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett – in a generous mood – or d) none of the above?

If you guessed “d”, you’re right. As you may have guessed from the headline, this is – remarkably – a speech from the opposition. The supportive speaker was none other than Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid – the man who wants to replace Netanyahu as prime minister, no less.

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay was less lavish in his praise, but then again, he didn’t have a chance to give a speech in the plenum about it, since he’s not a member of Knesset.

“I’d like to congratulate US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There is no dispute over moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem,” Gabbay proclaimed at this week’s Zionist Union faction meeting.

It seems like most of the opposition is not feeling very oppositional this week.

Yes, Joint List MKs skipped out on the Knesset for a couple of days as part of the general strike by the Higher Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, and took part in demonstrations. One clip that made the rounds on social media showed an apparently Jewish Israeli man shouting obscenities at MK Haneen Zoabi as she blocked traffic while holding a sign condemning Israeli actions in Gaza.

And, yes, the two Meretz MKs who were invited to the US Embassy opening in Jerusalem declined, because they believed the move from Tel Aviv would spark violence and wouldn’t be conducive to making peace. And a day later, Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg visited Sderot, releasing a statement that more or less said: “I told you so.”

But when we look at 35 of the opposition’s 54 lawmakers, and the two parties whose leaders purport to be the alternative to Netanyahu as prime minister, they haven’t really had much to say.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is leaving Lapid in his dust in the polls, Gabbay being left there even more so.

Those opposition-party leaders’ political predicament is understandable. Taking their political positions into account, they probably do genuinely support the embassy move, as polls show most Israelis do. And the same goes for supporting the IDF and its response to Hamas-backed rioting on the Gaza border. And also for their applauding Netanyahu for being instrumental in the US exit from the Iran deal – even though Lapid criticized the prime minister’s campaign against the deal only a week before Trump nixed it.

They also don’t want to be accused of not being patriotic enough in a rally-around-the-flag public atmosphere, or to be called – God forbid! – Leftist. Many politicians outside of Meretz – Lapid and Gabbay among them – seem to think that the word “Left” is electoral kryptonite, and that they should avoid it at all costs.

Beyond congratulating Netanyahu, Gabbay and Lapid seem to have very little to contribute to the public discussion of the dramatic events of the last week and a half. They did pipe up to slam Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ongoing slander of Israel and support for Hamas, and Lapid reiterated his long-held position that Israel has not done enough to respond.
Lapid also criticized Netanyahu for strengthening ties only with Republicans in the US, saying that if he becomes prime minister, things will be different.

Avoiding making some kind of unique statement is not going to help either Lapid or Gabbay make their mark and improve their situation in the polls. But coming up with something to say in the sweet spot between outright praising the prime minister and criticizing him – which they don’t want to do at this juncture – has proven to be a challenge.

It almost seems like they’ll just have to wait for Netanyahu’s lucky streak to end.

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