Israel's vibrant democracy is at another testing point of holding itself together.
However, these times have occurred often enough over the course of 70 years to suggest that the country will survive, more or less as is.
The current uptick of political squabbles is occurring along with several police investigations into the behavior of the Prime Minister, his family members, and key advisers.
The possibility of Bibi's demise may be the the key provocation for his rivals within the governing coalition and opponents outside the coalition warming up lingering issues to the point where some threaten a political crisis, one or another party abandoning the coalition, and an election.
Among the simmering, smoking, or boiling issues are--
Experienced commentators admit that they cannot fathom the depths of this dispute over details, except to see it as the Prime Minister's desperation under the pressure of police investigations.
Ongoing quarrels about the future of radio and television, with the Prime Minister and Finance Minister threatening one another with the prospect of an election if they cannot agree on the details of structural reforms.
Heating up this squabble is the appointment of a news reader to a prime slot, who is said to be high on Sara Netanyahu's enemies list.
There have been periodic demonstrations and traffic blockages by ultra-Orthodox extremists, currently protesting arrests of young men who refuse even to register for the draft that will not require them to leave their Yeshiva for the IDF..
A division at the top of the Justice Ministry over the pardoning of former Prime Minister and current inmate Ehud Olmert.
A renewal of arguments about the 50 year process of settlement in the West Bank, with the Prime Minister alternately promising to build a new settlement for the cluster of trailers that had to be removed from the site called Armona, which the Supreme Court said was privately owned Arab land, and seeming to renege on his promise under the pressure of the US and other foreign governments.
Of special importance to the residents of the Haifa region is the resurfacing of a quandary about a facility for storing ammonia. Possibilities of being attacked by missiles from Lebanon raise the fear of an environmental catastrophe and thousands of deaths. A court went too far in demanding the relocation of the country's ammonia supply to the Negev desert in a short period of time, and we're in a process between courts, environmentalists, government offices, politicians, and the chemical concern arguing the technical details of the current facility's safety, and what's involved in moving the gas to a more remote facility where it will endanger fewer people.
A military court of appeals has been appointed to hear the case of Sergeant Elor Azaria. The issue continues to pit right and left against centrists hoping for a resolution that will not add to internal frictions about the IDF's norms and acceptable ways of dealing with Palestinian violence..
What is arguably the hottest, and certainly the sexiest of squabbles concerns the role of women in the IDF. A rabbi began this wave of argument with an especially vitriollic lesson given at a yeshiva associated with the IDF, in which he said that women who serve in the army cannot live up to Jewish ideals. Politicians, generals, and rabbis joined in criticizing the style of the comments, but (Orthodox) rabbis and government ministers associated with religious parties have refrained from criticizing the essence of what they say should be a prohibition against women (especially religious women) serving in combat units, or serving in close quarters alongside men.
Against them are many of Israel's feminists, including current or past female soldiers and officers, as well as other security personnel who see women as essential to the capacity of the IDF in all its functions. The Defense Minister has heightened tensions by demanding the resignation of the rabbi associated with an IDF-associated yeshiva, or threatening to end the yeshiva's association with the IDF if the rabbi does not resign. While religious critics are askance at the availability of birth control and abortions to IDF personnel, skeptics wonder what to expect from healthy young males and females working in close quarters, whether in the offices of administrative units, or the much closer quarters of the Tank Corps.
Other issues of national defense are hardly less prominent. They include Israeli raids against the shipment of munitions from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah, and Israeli threats to take action against the build up of Iranian or Hezbollah forces close to the border on the Golan Heights. All of these are provoking worries about a possible set-to with Russia.
Issues of radio and television reform, the construction of a new settlement for those forced to abandon Armona, as well as the role of women in the IDF are testing the capacity of the Prime Minister to hold his coalition together against colleagues seeing how far they can go in threatening a crisis.
Bibi has made high level visits to the US, Russia, and China which have dealt ostensibly with matters of national security or the country's economic prospects. Cynics see him as preferring marching soldiers and state dinners over another visit with the police, and making an effort to bolster his status as the indispensable figure holding the government together.
A recent cartoon in Ha'aretz shows Bibi alongside Sara wheeling their luggage, harassed by key ministers and police, and saying, "I'm fed up. Lets travel to China."
None of the politicians threatening to cause a national election are likely to change things.
Opposition politician Yair Lapid's party, Yesh Atid (There is a Future) occasionally polls better than the Prime Minister and Likud, but occasionally not as well. And none of the polls suggest that Lapid would have enough support from other parties to actually form a government.
Part of Lapid's problem is that the Labor Party is going through another of its internal blood lettings, with members aspiring to personal success directing their nastiness against individuals holding positions as Party Chair and General Secretary of the Histadrut (Labor Federation). Polling is showing that the public is abandoning all the squabbling characters in the Labor Party, leaving it in no position to provide Yair Lapid substantial help as a member of a coalition he would aspire to lead.
Some optimists are hoping that the police and Attorney General will shift into high gear, and produce a bit of quiet by removing Netanyahu from the Prime Minister's Office.
Other optimists see Israel's politics as a model of moderation.
The elsewheres includes the United States, where lots of people are still fuming about an election that brought to power a President who is tweeting himself to charges of madness or incompetence. There's also the chaos among Muslims, whose refugees are riling the politics of Europe and the United States.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)[email protected]
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hebrew University of Jerusalem