Middle Israel: Where did Bibi go wrong?

It is not too early to say that a critical mass of the electorate this week announced the beginning of its end.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for people in Jerusalem to go and vote. (photo credit: LIKUD)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for people in Jerusalem to go and vote.
(photo credit: LIKUD)
‘Six things does the Lord hate,” observed King Solomon, and “seven are an abomination unto him” (Proverbs 6:17-19). Three of those – “a proud look, a lying tongue,” and “him that sows discord among brethren” – add up to Bibi Netanyahu’s moral meltdown and political demise.
Pride made Israel’s longest-serving prime minister misjudge the mainstream electorate’s size, priorities and feelings, which under his sleepy radar traveled steadily from respect through doubt to wrath.
The social discord he sowed as a matter of ploy and habit needs no elaboration, nor does the “lying tongue” he deployed while libeling almost everyone, from judges and cops to the entire press.
At this writing it is too early to say that Netanyahu’s 37-year public career is over. It is not too early to say that a critical mass of the electorate this week announced the beginning of its end.
Having entered this election with 41 lawmakers (Likud’s 35, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s four, and Moshe Feiglin’s equivalent of two) Netanyahu lost a fifth of this original electorate. Yes, in terms of parliamentary blocs we face a cloud that will take time to scatter, but on the personal level this poll produced a resounding vote of no confidence in a leader who lost touch with his nation and task.
NETANYAHU MISJUDGED the voters on three planes: the social, the institutional and the ideological.
Socially, he assumed that average Israeli Jews see Israeli Arabs as fair game. In his superficial reading of Israeli society – a binary us-and-them dichotomy between “the Left” and “the Right” – the former are ready to give “the Arabs” everything and for no price, while the latter trust not one Arab, will cheer any anti-Arab broadside, and will prize whoever delivers it.
Looking through this crooked prism, Netanyahu released in a previous election his invention that “the Arabs” are “moving in enormous numbers” to the voting polls, and this time around said through Facebook “the Arabs want to annihilate us.”
Never mind the substance of this statement – it’s not what drove Netanyahu to make it – just consider the coarseness he ascribed to the Israeli voter, and how he was prepared to abuse it.
Even if this had been the average Israeli’s mind frame, the prime minister’s job is not to fan the public’s hatreds and phobias, but to temper them. It’s basic, unless of course an Israeli leader understands his social mission the way Donald Trump understands his.
Fortunately, Israel’s Jewish voters this week said that whatever they might think of the Palestinian problem politically, socially they know Arabs and Jews must learn to live together, and rhetoric like Netanyahu’s will hardly help us achieve this aim.
This is besides the substantive aspect of that exhortation, which would include Arabs like Galilee Medical Center director-general Dr. Masad Barhoum, Bank Leumi chairman Dr. Samer Haj Yehia, and previous Central Elections Committee chairman Supreme Court justice Salim Joubran.
Yet even before being alarmed by Netanyahu’s social divisiveness, a critical mass of voters were unsettled by his attacks on institutions that are pillars of the Zionist enterprise.
THAT NETANYAHU uses his prime ministerial loudspeaker to claim his innocence is fair, just as that innocence may indeed prove true. However, his usage of this loudspeaker to blemish the system that might indict him is not fair, and in fact hammers at the Jewish state’s foundations.
Never mind that attacking the system is a prerogative that thousands of other citizens facing indictments do not have. In 2017 alone district attorneys filed 4,236 indictments. What should those defendants and their families think of the judiciary, if the prime minister besmirches it as tendentious and conspiratorial, and also sends lawmakers to legislate his immunity?
If the prime minister accuses the chief of Israel Police of resolving to get his boss indicted regardless of evidence, why should any thief, burglar or reckless driver accept the authority of our cops and the verdicts of our courts?
This, too, has evidently bothered a larger number of voters than Netanyahu foresaw, and so did his wholesale attacks on the press. Everybody has something against someone somewhere in the media; that’s natural and part of the game. Yet to attack the entire industry’s integrity and morality is an entirely different thing, as thousands of voters now told Netanyahu.
Lastly, and most fatefully, Netanyahu failed to appreciate mainstream voters’ growing impatience with his harnessing of ultra-Orthodoxy as the ruling party’s strategic partner.
ON THE face of it, Bibi’s historic alliance with ultra-Orthodoxy is but a reincarnation of Labor’s historic alliance with Modern Orthodoxy. It isn’t, and it never was.
The alliance that David Ben-Gurion struck with religious Zionism was based on total acceptance of the Zionist idea, and full partnership in building the Zionist enterprise. Yes, they wrestled with each other over budgets, laws and appointments, but there was never any question concerning their shared quest to jointly create and nurture the Jewish state. It was a no-brainer.
That cannot be said of ultra-Orthodoxy’s politicians, whose quest is not to build the Jewish state, but to checker it with non-Zionist ghettos. The Jewish state for them is not the precious inheritance it is for the rest of us, but an opponent, one whose strategic needs and demands – from full military service to embracing semi-Jewish immigrants – are to be skirted, manipulated, dodged and derailed.
That is how in last spring’s coalition talks ultra-Orthodox politicians backtracked from a conscription arrangement that had already passed a first reading, hoping to make more boys serve less time. It was then that Avigdor Liberman made his grand gamble.
Liberman’s sparking of political havoc in order to serve his career was a scandal in its own right, but his calculation that thousands would appreciate his confrontation of ultra-Orthodox draft dodging was sound. It was also what Netanyahu – overtaken by a proud look, lying tongue, and quest to sow discord among brethren – failed to appreciate before this election, and will now appreciate for the rest of his days.