Netanyahu braces for battle that may boomerang - analysis

His latest adversary is no longer Obama or Trump but Shirley Pinto, the Knesset's first deaf MK, who gave birth on Thursday.

 Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the faction meeting on Monday (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the faction meeting on Monday
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video of himself on social media running quickly to vote in the Knesset plenum at 10:30 p.m. Monday night.

Netanyahu, 72, displayed both his determination and his good shape in the video, setting an example for younger MKs in the opposition. His social media coordinator added the song “Eye of the Tiger” in the background to make the run seem even more impressive.

But unlike Clubber Lang, who prepared to fight heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa in the movie Rocky III that the song was written for in 1982, Netanyahu’s opponent was not fierce or powerful. It was not Barack Obama or his latest adversary, Donald Trump.

It was just Shirley Pinto, the Knesset’s first deaf MK.

Netanyahu thought he had a chance to defeat Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition because Pinto had given birth to a baby girl on Thursday, and would not be coming to vote from Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital. Without Pinto, the coalition’s razor-thin majority was only one MK.

 hirley Pinto, the Knesset's first deaf MK, gave birth on Thursday. (credit: Liat Petcho) hirley Pinto, the Knesset's first deaf MK, gave birth on Thursday. (credit: Liat Petcho)

At Monday’s Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu threatened his MKs not to pair off with any legislator from the coalition, Pinto included. In the closed-door meeting, he went as far as warning them that if they dared pair off, he would shame them on Facebook. No MKs protested the decision, not even the greatest feminists.

The coalition responded by making sure all its MKs besides Pinto were present, including Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who raced to the Knesset from Ben-Gurion Airport and voted in isolation, due to corona regulations. 

The vote Netanyahu ran for was not controversial legislation. It was a bill that would set new safety precautions for the Defense Ministry monitoring the manufacturing of explosives. The bill would empower the defense minister to fine factories that violate security precautions. 

It passed by a vote of 60-59, making Netanyahu’s run unsuccessful.

Sources close to Netanyahu said he was absolutely right to run to the vote and to prohibit pairing off with Pinto, because he had to galvanize the opposition. They noted that when the current coalition leaders were in the opposition, they did not pair off with Likud MKs when they were sick.

Then-Likud MKs Sharren Haskel and Oren Hazan came to vote straight from the hospital. Haskel had to bring medical equipment with her to vote. When then-Likud MK Yehudah Glick was sitting shiva for his wife, no one would pair off with him, even though he had plenty of good friends across the aisle.

“The decision will not boomerang, because no one votes in elections on who paired off and who didn’t,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “They set the schedule. They decide what comes to a vote, so they can’t complain.”

Coalition sources countered that when Haskel and then-Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely gave birth, opposition MKs Merav Michaeli and Tamar Zandberg, who are now ministers, made a point of pairing off with them.

Monday’s votes upped the stakes even more in the battle between the coalition and opposition that has been going on for six months, since the government was formed. Chances are it will only intensify.

Pinto told Channel 13 Knesset reporter Lior Kenan that she is ready for that fight. She said she is ready to return if she is needed for a vote, and she would have even given birth in the Knesset plenum to avoid harming the government.

When she comes, she will find Netanyahu there in the plenum, energized and waiting for her in the ring.