Asked what verdict he would have handed one of his characters – an ignoramus who removes screws from a railroad to use them as scales in his fishing rod – Anton Chekhov said he would have acquitted him, but would also tell him: “You haven’t ripened into a conscious criminal; now go ripen.”
This can’t be said of the Likud’s criminality, whose ripeness was just laid bare, as the new coalition agreement unveiled its loss of touch with morality, solidarity and reality.
The deal will be recalled for generations as a celebration of cowardice, aloofness and cynicism, reflecting the political hegemon’s confidence that its hegemony is predestined, inscrutable and eternal.
THE COWARDICE lies in the emerging cabinet’s size, and in the cause it is designed to serve.
David Ben-Gurion’s first government included 12 ministers, and Menachem Begin’s 13. The two’s cabinets later grew a bit, but the new government’s planned size, 36 ministers, will be twice Begin’s largest; 38% bigger than the largest Labor-led government; and 20% larger than the biggest Likud-led government, Netanyahu’s in 2009, which had 30 ministers.
And this is besides 16 deputy ministers that the deal allocates. Obviously, there is no need for even a fraction of this political armada – the US is run with merely 17 cabinet members, including the president and the vice president.
Clearly, this budgetary travesty was not Benny Gantz’s whim but Benjamin Netanyahu’s. Gantz could not demand this gubernatorial bonanza, for the prosaic reason that his faction of 17 lawmakers is far too small to man all the positions the coalition agreement creates.
The deal is therefore designed to feed the Likud’s 36 lawmakers, in total disregard of their duty, the country’s needs, and this precarious moment’s demands.
A lawmaker is elected to make laws and supervise the government. That’s what Ben-Gurion and Begin understood when they created small cabinets. Netanyahu begs to differ. As he sees things, lawmakers are meant to cheer the prime minister, and he is meant to pamper them with gifts.
So unabashed has this transactional politics become that Netanyahu added to his already redoubled spoils system four ambassadorships, which the agreement says he will get to personally appoint, a clause obviously intended to allow him to buy yet more Likudniks with yet more public office.
This is not only immoral but also cowardly. A brave prime minister would have assembled the Likud’s lawmakers and told them they were elected to be lawmakers, not ministers, and that he was elected to govern the country, not to give them jobs.
This would have been true at any time and under any circumstances, but spring 2020 is not any time, and in its unique conditions this conduct is altogether mad.
WITH MORE than a million Israelis suddenly jobless and the unemployment rate scratching 25%, practically any citizen who can understand the nightly news expects from the country’s leaders a measure of solidarity.
It’s basic. When leaders don’t feel the public’s pain, and when they don’t make the public feel that they feel its pain, they are walking in the footsteps of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as the French Revolution approached.
One is at a loss to understand how Netanyahu didn’t get this when he used his deal with Gantz in order to so sweepingly turn public office into political booty.
Thousands upon thousands throughout the country are now staring through dwindling bank accounts at their shuttered shops, locked restaurants, guestless hotels, deserted wedding halls, idle cabs and emptied offices.
Each and every one of the unfolding recession’s victims can be counted on to fume when faced with a ruling party that before restoring the people’s livelihoods takes care of its own, and with such a battery of wasteful and artificial jobs.
This cynicism is encapsulated in Netanyahu’s embrace of Orly Levy-Abecassis.
THE 46-YEAR-OLD social activist has run a strange but legitimate course since entering the Knesset in 2009 through Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu.
Having fallen out with Liberman, she became a one-person faction and established her own party, Gesher, which ran in the first of last year’s two elections, and failed to cross the threshold. Having thus learned the limits of her following, she veered left and teamed up with Labor’s Amir Peretz, and thus returned to the Knesset in last year’s second election.
The lawyer who started off on the Knesset’s far Right then steered even further left, when Peretz teamed up with Meretz. No one in the history of defections is known to have ever journeyed from so far right to so far left, but the journeying wasn’t over, for now Levy-Abecassis rebounded, this time proceeding from Meretz’s abode to Netanyahu’s welcoming bosom.
That, unlike her previous zigzags, is theft. Abecassis cannot claim to have brought one vote to the ticket on which she ran, since its following only shrank after she joined it. Any idiot knows she was not empowered by her party’s lefty voters to take their vote and hand it to Netanyahu.
What this makes of her is less important. What’s more important is what this infidelity makes of its beneficiary – the Likud.
Back when it was on the other end of such defections, the Likud protested at high pitch, and rightly so, most memorably in January 1995, when Gonen Segev, who was elected in 1992 by Rafael Eitan’s right-wing voters, veered left and joined Labor’s government.
How is Orly’s treason different from Segev’s? It isn’t. Why does the Likud condone it? Because its long years in power, and its leaders’ feeling that nothing can remove them from power’s bastions, wellsprings, and caches, have made them lose touch with the people they were elected to serve.
It’s natural. The Labor Party also thought its hegemony was eternal, until the voters told it what they will ultimately tell the Likud: Your criminality has ripened.
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.