I was not surprised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory, which was predicted by most of the polls, though I was certainly surprised by its magnitude. Once again, the one of the results of Netanyahu’s last minute “Gevalt” campaign was to increase the share of the Likud within the right-wing/religious bloc from 45% in 2015 to 55% today – although the bloc itself diminished from 67 to 65 Knesset seats.
I must confess that even when the opinion polls before the elections occasionally suggested that Gantz might be able to form a government, my momentary delight was marred by the knowledge that such a government was liable to lead to unrest and violence – unless Gantz could manage to form a national unity government with the Likud. Ten years of delegitimization of the Left have certainly had an effect. Large sections of Jewish society in Israel are really convinced that all those who do not define themselves as Right – and worst still, who believe that Netanyahu has turned into a liability – are unreliable traitors, even if they served as chiefs of staff.
What did shock me about the results of the elections was the near-fatal blow suffered by the Labor Party. I believed that Labor would receive 10 to 11 Knesset seats. The blow was landed by Blue and White, not by the Likud. In the 1977 elections, Labor suffered its first blow, when for the first time since the establishment of the state it was ousted from power. Then, as today, it was not the Likud that landed the blow, but the newly founded Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), which gained most of Labor’s lost seats.
Whether Labor will recover from the current blow is uncertain. There are those who believe that Labor must reinvent itself, or merely turn into another niche party representing what remains of Zionist social democracy. Others believe that it should merge with Meretz.
SINCE I do not believe that there is any value in mourning over spilled milk, what I have been trying to do this last week is to think positively – as far as possible.
The first positive thought, from my perspective, is that since Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut, and Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right both failed to pass the qualifying threshold, the only direct representation of the national religious camp – which in recent years has turned much too messianic and religiously extreme in my opinion – will be the five MKs of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which will not include the Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is two seats removed from Knesset membership.
So, there is no danger of the libertarian Feiglin running our economy and legalizing cannabis for all; of the pipe-dreamer Bennett running our defense policy; of Ben-Gvir chairing the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee; and of Shaked realizing her designs on the Supreme Court and other aspects of our legal system. A woman who can suggest that fascism smells to her like democracy is dangerous.
True, the Supreme Court is still in danger of losing its effectiveness as a watch dog, especially if Yariv Levin from the Likud is appointed justice minister, with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu merging into the Likud and giving up its role of protecting the Supreme Court.
In Europe, it is the EU that has recently stepped in to try and stop similar developments in Poland and Hungary – Netanyahu’s new buddies. Here, there is no one to stop Netanyahu’s government (certainly not US President Donald Trump) from galloping into dangerous territory. In Turkey, since the attempted coup in 2017, the Supreme Court – which until then played an important role in trying to bridle President Recep Erdogan’s anti-democratic moves – was finally emasculated by him.
Among my worries concerning the current situation is the fact that all of Netanyahu’s negative traits – his cockiness, paranoia, royal mannerisms, contempt for democratic principles beyond majoritarianism and his sense of being above the law – are likely to strengthen as a result of his impressive victory.
Even though the Likud has apparently reached the conclusion that it will not be possible to pass the French Law retroactively in order to prevent Netanyahu’s indictment, one cannot rule out the possibility of an amendment of the MKs’ Immunity Law, which will enable the Knesset to prevent the attorney-general from indicting Netanyahu as long as he is an MK.
It is an interesting question whether a parliamentary majority acting on the basis of coalition discipline – and deciding to prevent a prime minister from being brought to justice on serious charges – can be considered a legitimate democratic act. Should the law be amended prior to Netanyahu being given a hearing before indictment, the public will not even be aware of the gravity of the charges against him, and will be able to continue to believe that “there is nothing,” as Netanyahu claims.
I BELIEVE that, for better or worse, the establishment of a new government by Netanyahu with the parliamentary support of 65 MKs – a majority that will enable each of three of his coalition partners, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Yisrael Beytenu, to continuously rock the boat – is a foregone conclusion.
Nevertheless, there are several spins in the air regarding efforts to prevent this from happening. The first is that Avigdor Liberman might use his five parliamentary seats to blackmail Netanyahu into establishing a national unity government with Blue and White, and without the haredi parties. My bet is that this will not happen, even though Liberman will try to get the most possible from Netanyahu – in terms of the rights of the Russian immigrants, and Israel’s defense policy vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip.
A second spin suggests that the Likud is trying to entice Moshe Ya’alon’s right-wing Telem to desert Blue and White and join the coalition for a handsome price – a move that would stabilize the government, and make it much more difficult for any one member of the coalition to rock the boat. Strangely enough, this might add to Blue and White’s ideological cohesion, although there is a danger that in opposition, Blue and White will simply break up into many splinters, just like the DMC did back in the late 1970s.
I believe both spins are nothing more than wishful thinking or tactical maneuvers.
A Likud acquaintance of mine told me that she had considered voting for Blue and White, but finally decided not to, “because its leadership has very little political experience.” This argument is true, but it is also a fact that the longer Netanyahu remains in power, the number of potential successors with political experience – especially from the opposition – will continue to diminish.
This is a classic argument of dictators: “No one but me has the qualifications and experience.” In a properly functioning democracy, with a strong civil service and an abundance of experts, a new and inexperienced leader can soon find his bearings and start functioning effectively, as long as he knows what he wants and is willing to listen and learn.
Netanyahu started his first term as prime minister in 1996 with a lot of bravado and limited experience; he gained experience and took off. His successor – whoever he may be, will undoubtedly do the same.