Why did Bennett avoid making a decision on Netanyahu probe? - analysis

Why did Bennett choose to abstain in the vote on the Submarine Affair committee of investigation?

 Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid and Minister of justice Gideon Saar attend a plenum session for the 73rd establishment of the Knesset,  in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 17, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid and Minister of justice Gideon Saar attend a plenum session for the 73rd establishment of the Knesset, in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 17, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

When the vote took place on forming a commission of inquiry to investigate the role of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the “Submarine Affair,” there were protesters outside the Prime Minister’s Office who would have been furious had he voted against it.

Coalition partners Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar would have also been very upset.

Bennett also faced pressure from the other side from his longtime political ally, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who wanted him to vote against forming the commission. There were plenty of others on the Right lobbying the prime minister as well.

So Bennett ended up choosing instead to anger all of them by abstaining.

Abstaining is rare for prime ministers, who are expected to take a stand on key issues voted on by their own government.

Protesters gather to drive in a caravan with F-35 and submarine props, demanding an investigation of Benjamin Netanyahu and the submarine affair, Case 3000. November 28, 2020. (credit: INVESTIGATION NOW)Protesters gather to drive in a caravan with F-35 and submarine props, demanding an investigation of Benjamin Netanyahu and the submarine affair, Case 3000. November 28, 2020. (credit: INVESTIGATION NOW)

Dr. Assaf Shapira of the Israel Democracy Institute said that there are no previous examples of a prime minister abstaining from an important vote, though the results of every vote were not always published. Retired parliamentary reporter Gideon Allon, who covered the Knesset for more than 30 years, said he also could not recall a single instance of a prime minister abstaining.

So what was Bennett thinking? There are four answers.

First, what he said publicly, which is that since his party’s other two ministers, Shaked and Matan Kahana, voted differently, he saw merit in both of their points of view, and he did not want to pick between them.

“I listened to the point of view of the Interior minister about the time that has passed and the problem with a government investigating its predecessor,” he said. “I also see and accept the point of view of my partners on the importance of removing the plague of corruption. it is important that the issue not be used as a political tool to increase disagreement and hatred.”

The second answer is what Bennett was quoted as saying privately. The prime minister told confidants that he brought the proposal to a vote even though he did not really believe in forming the commission, because he is trying to walk between the raindrops.

“It was important to my coalition partners,” he reportedly said. “But I also understand the danger of losing supporters by voting for it.”

The third answer came from the analyst who broke the story on alleged illegal activity in the submarine deal, Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker, who said Bennett’s vote was purely political.

“Gantz presented the plan for the commission in November and Bennett froze it,” Drucker said. “But last Friday, Bennett called Lapid and said he can raise the issue, due to Netanyahu negotiating a plea deal. He thought raising the sub probe could help maintain the coalition’s glue if Netanyahu leaves. So Bennett took credit for enabling the commission’s formation, and then he changed his mind again and abstained.”

The final answer takes the other three even further.

Bennett’s government is different from all of its predecessors, where the prime minister had a point of view on every issue. This government, which is the most diverse in Israel’s history, is much more careful and sensitive. Bennett has learned to pick his battles, and he decided to stay out of this one.

This was not the only issue about which he is not talking or taking a side. He did not talk about the Arabs who were vandalized by settlers over the weekend or about removing the illegal Khan el-Ahmar encampment. And he’s not talking about forming new settlements or removing them.

He talks about more consensus issues like preventing the nuclearization of Iran and COVID-19.

On many other issues, abstention for Bennett has become an article of faith.