Think About It: Back to sanity

In a quick move Barak uncapped a water bottle with his hand, and after performing the act said with a sly and mocking smile on his face: “Bibi – have a drink. Relax, we’ve just begun.”

July 14, 2019 22:04
Ehud Barak

Ehud Barak. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REURERS)

The most recent gag in Israel’s weirdest election campaign ever involves mimicking the new fad of opening bottle caps with a roundhouse kick, without actually performing such a kick. So far we have had versions by Ehud Barak, Yair Lapid and Benjamin Netanyahu, each trying to outwit the other. I liked Barak’s version best. In a quick move Barak uncapped a water bottle with his hand, and after performing the act said with a sly and mocking smile on his face: “Bibi – have a drink. Relax, we’ve just begun.”

What Barak is trying to do is primarily to enervate Netanyahu, and apparently no one is more capable of doing so than he, not least of all because Barak was Netanyahu’s revered commander in the IDF, and of all his political rivals Barak is the one whom he treats with the most awe – even when he besmirches him, and even though there is no realistic scenario that perceives of Barak returning to the premiership.

Enervating Netanyahu is, of course, nothing but a tactic. The goal is to restore some sanity to the political system, and the means to achieve this is – according to most of the current opposition, including Avigdor Liberman – to replace Netanyahu. Whether enervating Netanyahu will help achieve this goal or merely act as a boomerang is one of those many $64,000 questions. It depends whether an enervated Netanyahu is one more prone to making mistakes, or one who is simply driven on like the Energizer Bunny. We have just over two months to find out.

Why do so many members of the Center-Left, but also a growing number of silent members of the nonreligious Right, believe that the political system can be brought back on track only if Netanyahu is removed from the political scene?

There is no doubt that Netanyahu is an extremely bright and talented man (though arguably not one of the world’s 18 “smartest people,” as declared by Business Insider back in 2011); that he is made of the stuff that inspires blind admiration and support from certain sections of the population; that in certain international forums he is extraordinarily effective in conveying his messages, and he has got the current president of the United States to support some of Israel’s dreams (or is it the Evangelicals who are playing the role of the pied piper for their own messianic purposes?); and that until recently he managed to keep the economy thriving despite rather odd choices for finance minister in his last two governments (yes, one of them Yair Lapid). However, the other side of the balance sheet is much heavier.

We have repeatedly discussed Netanyahu’s legal predicaments that will hopefully soon reach the courts of law for their verdict, and which affect many of his political moves, for better or worse, frequently to the detriment of the democratic system; his Louis XIV (“The state is me”) complex; his habit of dividing rather than uniting the various sections of society; and so forth.

However, the main reason why Netanyahu must go is that today only the replacement of the increasingly untenable and objectionable right-religious coalition with a grand coalition made up of the Likud, Blue and White and several smaller partners can bring back the sanity and unity that Israel so desperately requires.

INCIDENTALLY, IT is not that in the past Netanyahu didn’t strive to establish more politically balanced governments than his fourth one. It is that since the establishment of his fourth government in 2015, he has shown a clear preference for right-religious governments, and has played around with other options (Herzog’s and Gabbay’s Labor Party) only as a ploy to get the enigmatic right-wing Liberman to join his governments (it worked once but not after the April election).

Why has Netanyahu become so enamored with the right-religious coalition, even though it is proving increasingly difficult to form, manage and maintain?

There are two possible answers. The first is that a government based on such a coalition is more amenable to his attempts to avoid justice. The second is that perhaps he has really started to believe that anyone who is not truly right-wing or religious is weak, mentally unbalanced and treasonous.

Why is the right-religious coalition becoming so difficult to form, manage and maintain?

Because the haredi parties are not really right-wing in the secular sense of the term. A community that refuses on principle to serve in the IDF, thanks to which Israel was founded and continues to exist, and refuses to play the game of the free market, in which the welfare state is sneered at, is not right-wing in any sense of the term.

Because the National-Religious camp has become more extreme both in political and religious terms, and some of its leaders have lost all sense of proportion.

Because many secular or traditional right-wingers are getting sick and tired of religious intervention in their lives, and we are not talking only of Liberman and his constituents, but also of a growing number of right-wing mayors – including some Likud ones – who have decided to introduce public transportation on the Sabbath and break the religious status quo, which has existed for over 70 years.

Why can’t a national-unity government be formed under Netanyahu? Because none of the leaders of the parties in the Center-Left are willing to sit in a government headed by a man facing indictment and trying to avoid standing trial, assuming that he would agree to replace his right-religious coalition with a grand coalition – not even Barak, who split the Labor Party during Netanyahu’s second government in order to remain in his coalition.

AND A few last words about the national-unity government that Israel so desperately requires.

It will be formed only if the Likud reaches the conclusion that Netanyahu has outlived his usefulness – a great big if.

Such a government must adopt policy decisions, on the basis of authentic deliberations and compromises among its various components, on Israel’s most urgent security, social and economic needs – not on the basis of weekend discussions within the prime minister’s family.

It must do away with the corrupting phenomenon of “coalition funds,” into which billions of shekels have been poured over the last decade in order to entice potential members to join the coalition, and then get them to uphold coalition discipline once they have joined.

The personalities who will be appointed to hold the most important portfolios in the government – Defense, Finance, Justice and Education – should be members of the two main components of the coalition: Likud or Blue and White.

The Foreign Ministry should be reconstructed and given back all the functions and powers of which it has been systematically denuded by Netanyahu. The Communications Ministry should stop being treated as a tool in the service of the prime minister.
And last but not least, the number of ministers in the government should be brought down again to 18, and correspond to the real requirements of government and not of the prime minister’s coalition nightmares.

Let it be...

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