Does Mahaneh Yehuda still back Bibi Netanyahu?

Shop owners in capital’s famous market are still in Likud’s corner, but some feel time might be ripe for someone new.

Moshe Rotem at his vegetable stand in Mahane Yehuda  (photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)
Moshe Rotem at his vegetable stand in Mahane Yehuda
(photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)
The purveyors, peddlers and vendors of Jerusalem’s teeming Mahaneh Yehuda market are renowned for their ardent and partisan support for the Likud Party and its current leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And the prime minister has frequently popped over to the market during his election campaigns to glad-hand the stall owners, where he has received adulation, applause and vocal support.
With the announcement by the attorney-general of the indictments against Netanyahu on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, and the country on the brink of a third election, the critical question is whether the prime minister’s severe legal problems will count against him and the Likud in an unprecedented third poll.
If Netanyahu were to lose the groundswell of public opinion in the bastion of Likud support that is Mahaneh Yehuda, then it would be a strong indicator that the political tides are turning against him.
Interestingly, on the basis of a highly unscientific survey of public opinion carried out by this reporter on Monday amid the bustle and hubbub of the capital’s most famous market, the answer is not as clear as one might have thought.
Although support for the Likud and Netanyahu remains strong, there was a feeling that now would be a good time for the prime minister to step down.
At the same time, there was widespread agreement that the “Left” was responsible for Netanyahu’s legal woes, and that the criminal charges against him were part of a leftist effort to bring him down.
Moshe Rotem, owner of a fresh vegetable stall and a devoted Likud voter, was adamant that Netanyahu need not step down as prime minister and, like others, asserted that he was being persecuted “by the Left who want to take him down.”
“They have inflated his cases and done everything to topple him,” said Rotem, explaining when asked that “they” referred to “the Left,” and the legal establishment.
But Rotem nevertheless said that he believed it was time for Netanyahu to step down.
“He should step aside and let someone else have the job. There should be primaries in the Likud,” he asserted, although adding that there was no one with Netanyahu’s skills and experience to replace him at present.
A butcher in the “Iraqi market” area of Mahaneh Yehuda, who gave his name simply as David, was less nuanced.
“If there hasn’t been a ruling in court against him, he can continue to serve as prime minister – simple as that,” said David, who said he had “always voted Likud and always would vote Likud.”
He continued: “Bibi doesn’t need to resign – and besides, there’s no one better than him on the economy, on security. No one is better than Bibi.”
Asked if the public should expect a higher standard from its leaders than strict adherence to the technicalities of the law, David retorted that “maybe he’ll be acquitted and then he would have quit for nothing,” although he added that he did not believe the prime minister to be a tzadik, or righteous man.
Shimon Ozeri, a butcher in the covered section of the market and another serial Likud voter, argued that low-level corruption among politicians was nothing new, but that the justice system, which he said was in the hands of “leftists,” wanted to remove Netanyahu from power and so pursued the cases against him.
“Others have done a lot worse than Bibi, but they wanted to take him down, so they looked at every case in minute detail in order to topple him,” said Ozeri, who when asked said that “they” referred to the various actors of the justice system.
And the butcher said that if there were new elections, he would still vote Likud if Netanyahu remained head of the party.
But at the same time, Ozeri questioned why Netanyahu wanted to continue in office, noting that he had served for 10 years “and doesn’t need this anymore.”
Ozeri said that he would therefore prefer Netanyahu to step aside at this stage and allow primaries in the Likud to take place in order to avoid a third election which, he said, would result in the same political map and the same political stalemate.
Netanyahu and his Likud Party still enjoy overwhelming support in the bellwether of working class politics that is Mahaneh Yehuda, and there is little evidence that its denizens would abandon the Right because of the indictments against the prime minister, especially in these most tribal of times.
But also evident was a certain feeling that it might be best, to avoid new elections and for the good of the country, for Netanyahu to allow someone new to lead the Likud forward.
Such sentiment in Mahaneh Yehuda does not bode especially well for the prime minister.