One of the uglier scenes in Israeli politics is a face=off, equivalent to anything done at the O.K. Corral, that has occurred in the run-up to what should be an iconic celebration of the country's 70th birthday.
It's Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein against Bibi (Benjamin) Netanyahu.
One is the Chair of the Knesset, traditionally the center-piece and organizer of the celebration on Mt Herzl on the eve of Independence Day, and the other is the Prime Minister trying to muscle in and make another prominent appearance on what is both a national celebration and--perhaps more important for him--an effort to hold off prosecutors working to get him out of office and into prison.
Edelstein has asserted the right of the Knesset and its Chair to be at the center of the ceremony, and has threatened to withdraw the institution, including its marching security personnel, from the ceremony if the Prime Minister gets his way to the center of the podium.
Politicians are choosing up sides, with Bibi's current lieutenant-political spokesperson-henchperson and enforcer Meri Regev beating his drum and threatening to use her position as Chair of a Committee on Ceremonies to give him what he wants.
However it'll be resolved, or left broken, it casts a shadow on what is meant to be the country's celebration of 70 years survival, growth, economic and population development from beginnings of poverty, war, and massive flows of refugees from the Holocaust and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Regev is an articulate and outspoken demagogue who came to politics from a position as Spokesperson for the IDF during Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the Second Lebanon War of 2006. She's sided with the lower income Israeli residents of South Tel Aviv against the influx of African refugees, and has used her position as Minister of Sport and Culture (an odd governmental combination if there ever was one) against exhibitions and performers critical of Israel.
It's not hard for an Israeli centrist to applaud some of Regev's actions, which have made her the devil of the arty-leftist-intellectual set.
The issue is bigger than who gets to speak at a national ceremony. The squabble is shaping up as the most prominent schism yet between Bibi and his ostensible political colleagues.
Minister Regev is not only Bibi's advocate of the moment, but as one of the prominent Likudniks likely to see herself as taking over. She's only the latest of Bibi's henchpersons, taking the place of others who have been promoted and then shifted aside or discarded, apparently when Bibi saw them as getting too prominent and ambitious. She's bright and crafty, and is as likely as Edelstein or a few others to come out on top of a Likud free-for-all if (or when) the Legal Adviser to the Government hands Bibi an indictment.
While some of Bibi's colleagues have said that he should hold on to the Prime Minister's Office until there's a final judicial verdict, others have indicated that they'll demand a resignation if there is an indictment.
The Yuli-Bibi confrontation developed as the country was at high tension, and getting ready for the first act in a Hamas performance to send a mass of Gazans toward the border with Israel. The campaign may last for six weeks and peak along with Israel's 70th Anniversary celebration and the Palestinian Nakba. The beginning was made especially sensitive by coming along with the beginning of Passover when 80 percent or more of the Jewish population (according to surveys) was on the move to family gatherings for the Seder.
Israel cancelled leaves of the IDF, police, and other security forces, and put thousands of personnel near the border with Gaza. It stocked both crowd control and more deadly means of defense, along with a number of unmanned aircraft and tiny hovercraft with cameras to monitor the Gazans and to dump tear gas or something else on those too uppity. The IDF Spokesperson warned Hamas that a destructive military response might range deeper into Gaza.
The Gazan campaign did not have the support of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, or Arab governments suspicious of anything that might advance the interests of Hamas, or its allies in Iran or Turkey.
Also in the air were comments by liberal Democratic Members of the US Congress, demanding that Israel avoid deporting illegal African migrants. Not included in their comments was any willingness of the Americans to work toward accepting those migrants, or a commitment to assure the future of illegals in the United States.
Estimates ranging from 20- to 30 thousand Palestinians who marched toward the border. IDF snipers shot a number in their legs who were approaching the barrier, and killed some 17, who were said to be inciting the crowd or using firearms. Israelis reports emphasized the cynical efforts of Gazan leaders to gain status by means of casualties, including a seven year-old girl who climbed on the fence.
Gazans express disappointment. They were hoping for 100,000 participants.
Mahmoud Abbas opposed the Hamas scheme. Immediately afterward he seemed delighted with the casualties, and demanded international intervention.
We can expect several more Fridays of this kind getting to May 15th.
The big winner of the Yuli-Bibi-Meri face-off won't be apparent on Independence Day, but only if as the police and prosecutors move forward, and there's a dust-up among all the Likudniks who've been pondering their future.