Hendel and Hauser: Between a rock and a hard place

Hendel and Hauser are putting the kibosh on Gantz's distant hope that he might be able to put together a minority government.

Yoaz Hendel (photo credit: MEITAL COHEN)
Yoaz Hendel
(photo credit: MEITAL COHEN)
Minutes after the initial exit polls results were broadcast on March 2 – exit polls that smiled at the Right and winked at the possibility of 60 seats for the bloc – speculation began about who Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would peel away from the center-left parties or Yisrael Beytenu and persuade to join his government.
They were called potential “defectors,” and various Likud spokesman gave the impression that there were four out there ripe for the picking.
Among the leading candidates were Orly Levy-Abecassis, formerly of Yisrael Beytenu and most recently with Labor-Gesher-Meretz, and three MKs from Blue and White: Omer Yankelevich, the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman quoted on a tape as speaking very disparagingly of her party leader, Benny Gantz; and Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, part of Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem faction on Blue and White’s right flank.
Amid the sea of commentary that night – much of it rendered irrelevant two days later when it became clear that the Right bloc won 58 seats, not the 60 or even 61 as first anticipated – a large part was devoted to the ethics of defecting from one party to another: How could one possibly justify running on one party’s ticket, and then – following the election – jump to the other side.
Hendel, interviewed by Channel 12 just after the exit polls came in, was asked point blank whether he would be one of the defectors.
“No,” he said. “A simple answer.”
Obviously there were those among Blue and White voters who heard him and were relieved that a person they voted for would not “jump ship” and be among those to coronate Netanyahu for yet another term.
In the course of the six-minute interview, Hendel also made clear that he believes a unity government is needed and necessary. “The only solution now to an Israeli society wounded from the elections is to create a Zionist unity government that will help the society heal, and that is not done through defections or maneuvers, nor through special laws, but through a true desire to heal the society.”
Hendel, who has made clean government one of his calling cards and has said that this is one of his key values, said he has other values as well.
“Blue and White said in the clearest way possible during the last campaign and this time that we will cooperate only with parties that recognize Israel as a Jewish democratic state – that is also one of my values.”
He said he believes and understands that political cooperation can only be done with those parties who “recognize Israel as it is [a Jewish and democratic state], and who are not trying to turn it into something that it is not.”
What that means is that Hendel and Hauser – two veterans of Netanyahu’s office who left/were forced out in 2012-2013 over an issue of principle – are putting the kibosh on Gantz’s distant hope that he might be able to put together a minority government.
Hendel and Hauser are not the only Blue and White MKs opposed. Both Chili Tropper and Gabi Ashkenazi have expressed their opposition. But Hendel and Hauser are the leading candidates to actively vote against a minority government. Both have said that what is needed at the present time is a unity government, even with Netanyahu.
What is interesting about their saga is how a principled stand to one man is a sell-out to another.
When a rumor circulated that Hendel and Hauser might join a coalition to form a government with Likud – something they both denied – they were attacked by some as selling out their voters and not staying true to their positions.
And then, when they said that they must stand by what they told their voters, and that they could not support Blue and White resting on a minority government – meaning that they stood by their campaign promises – they were attacked by others as selling out their party.
Which means that when it comes to the fulfillment, or non-fulfillment, of campaign promises, it all depends on whose ox is being gored.
For instance, had Hendel and Hauser defected, they would have been praised by the Likud for taking a principled stand, and damned by Blue and White for lying to their voters. Yet if they bow to the majority of their party’s wishes and do go along with a minority government, most in Blue and White will praise them for falling in line with the party, while the Likud will castigate them as liars who abrogated promises to their voters.
Both Hauser and Hendel now find themselves in a situation where they will be damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. But they have both been there before. In 2012 they both had senior and comfortable positions inside the prime minister’s office: Hauser as cabinet-secretary, and Hendel as Netanyahu’s media adviser.
Then a female employee in the office came to them with a sexual harassment complaint against Natan Eshel, who was then the prime minister’s chief of staff and the most powerful man in the office. They didn’t sit on the complaint, but took it to the attorney-general, and the Civil Service Commission, who forced Eshel out. Netanyahu was furious that they did not come to him first. Hendel left his job when Netanyahu said he lost confidence in him, and Hauser’s tenure as cabinet-secretary ended shortly thereafter.
They obviously know that taking the stand they did in the Eshel affair would cost them their jobs, but they took it anyway. They stood steadfast on their principles at the time, even though they knew it would cost them. The two men may be facing a similar dilemma now – though over a vastly different issue.