Capitol riots: Could they happen in Jerusalem? - analysis

American democracy is less envied now in Israel

The exterior of the Knesset is seen in Jerusalem on January 7, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The exterior of the Knesset is seen in Jerusalem on January 7, 2021.
The Knesset was eerily empty on Wednesday, which had been set as the last day before the parliament would adjourn for its election recess.
The overwhelming majority of the MKs did not even bother coming, with the notable exception of new, Philadelphia-born MK Moshe Tur-Paz (Yesh Atid), who was sworn in the day before and arrived at 9 a.m., eager to work.
Hours later, another parliament 9,490 kilometers away was anything but quiet, as an angry mob of protesters supporting outgoing US President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol Building in a demonstration that went way out of control.
The following day, Knesset members pondered whether such events that were previously unimaginable in Washington could happen in Jerusalem. The MKs – as usual – spoke along party lines, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies warning that anti-Netanyahu activists could cross such redlines, and the prime minister’s opponents suggesting that it was his backers who could storm the Knesset at Netanyahu’s behest.
Those on the Left cited the fact that a national leader was assassinated in Israel more recently than in the US, and that it followed what was seen as incitement by Netanyahu himself. Those on the Right noted protests against Netanyahu near his residence that had been especially intense.
What the MKs could agree on, however, is that the Knesset Guard is resolute and knows a possible emergency when it sees one and would not let such a riot even come close to happening. Israel’s security agencies and its protection of its politicians are very professional, and the Knesset is much more protected than the Capitol Building was on Wednesday.
Netanyahu, like Trump, is very resolute about not leaving office. His family has been steadfast about keeping the Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour and Smolenskin streets as their own personal fiefdom.
But Israel’s voting system is much less complicated, involves no technology and leaves less room to question the results, even in a country with the most lawyers per capita. And while Israel has adopted American hyperpolarization, it is questionable whether any of its sectors would get so unruly in response to election results they disliked.
A video clip circulated by journalist Akiva Novick on social media late Wednesday was a powerful reminder that even incitement and threats do not mean they will be actualized. In the clip, Likud minister David Amsalem, who is close to Netanyahu, warned on the right-wing Channel 20 of what would happen if Netanyahu’s legal cases advanced.
“If the prime minister is indicted, hundreds of thousands, even millions of people will rise up,” Amsalem said. “They won’t accept it.”
The indictment happened. His supporters were upset, but they moved on.
Another reminder of how Israel and the US are different happened a year ago, when Netanyahu faced a legitimate challenger in the Likud primary in Gideon Sa’ar. Where were the Republican Gideon Sa’ars to challenge Trump in their party primary?
One cynical pro-Netanyahu politician said there was one more reason why what happened in Washington could never happen in Israel: Unlike Trump, Netanyahu will never lose. He will remain in power forever and ever, so there will never be a reason for his loyalists to riot.
The politician was licking his chops at the political events of the past week that gave him hope that the March 23 election would be a cakewalk.
FIRST OF all, the courts gave final approval to Netanyahu’s request to cancel the party’s primaries and let him save six slots on the Likud list for his handpicked candidates. Meanwhile, the leaders of other parties made mistakes that gave Likudniks hope.
More and more parties were formed this week that will spread the anti-Netanyahu vote, cutting his potential rivals down to size. There is now a Veterans Party, a Democratic Party, an Economy Party and a Unity Party.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has forced out former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem Party, which could further split the anti-Netanyahu vote.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s Israelis Party debuted at eight seats in the polls. On a day when he unveiled five new candidates, his party fell to only six mandates.
A court ruled that the Labor Party will have to have a leadership primary, which could result in a new leader who could revive the party and spread the center-left camp even further.
Sa’ar called a press conference with great fanfare for Wednesday night, and ended up not making headlines. Instead of revealing an inspiring new candidate, he just spoke about the coronavirus. He is against it.
Raising expectations unnecessarily could be a bad omen for Sa’ar, because it only helps fuel the Likud’s recent attack on him that he is “uninteresting.”
The anti-Netanyahu vote could be further hurt by the resurgence of Blue and White, which bounced back upward in the polls, but is still teetering on the electoral threshold. Party leader Benny Gantz burned bridges with Lapid and Huldai’s party over the past week, making a merger much less likely.
Gantz has had to dispel recent rumors spread by his former allies that he intends to run together with Yamina. Another rumor that he himself won’t run but Blue and White would bond with Yamina without him was mocked by both Gantz’s and Naftali Bennett’s associates as “pathetic.”
If Gantz would decide not to run at the last minute, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi would come back and lead Blue and White and perhaps have a better chance, because he is seen as relatively untainted by Gantz’s unpopular decisions.
One Blue and White MK said in the Knesset corridors on Wednesday that the rumors about Yamina should not be believed, because “he [Bennett] is just using us to bring down the price for the party he really wants: MK Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union,” which he renamed the Religious Zionist Party on Wednesday.
A Channel 12 poll indicating that Yamina would be better off without Smotrich helped bring down the price as well. But sources close to Smotrich said they had their own polls, and Yamina leader Bennett is still traumatized by past polls that made him overconfident and kept him out of the Knesset.
Sources in Yamina said a decision about the party’s future would be made in the week ahead, unlike the last election, when moves were made at literally the last minute, to the point that they did not finish writing out their list of candidates when the deadline hit.
Bennett will have an especially tough decision, because Smotrich wants to be part of a right-wing government under Netanyahu. On the one hand, that would also be good for Bennett, who does not have an interest in Sa’ar becoming the first of their generation to succeed Netanyahu, instead of him.
On the other hand, Bennett has good reason to not trust Netanyahu, especially after the prime minister left him in the opposition and broke his rotation agreement with Gantz. Shedding the excess baggage of Smotrich could help him become prime minister in the future.
Other political mergers and bonds will be made only just ahead of the February 4 deadline for lists to be submitted to the Central Elections Committee.
Once all the parties are in place, the race will intensify, until it culminates with Election Day and the coalition building afterward.
Whether it happens after this election, another one or more, the next change of power in Israel is extremely unlikely to be violent.
After Wednesday night’s events in Washington, American democracy is not the role model it once was for Israel. The quiet of the Knesset the same day can certainly be envied in the US Capitol.•