What derailed Israel's unity government?

Middle Israel: A broad government is needed in order to do things in two fields that Netanyahu never touched during his long years in power: religion and state, constitutional reform.

NETANYAHU NEVER wanted a broad government, even when establishing one would not have involved his personal fate, let alone these days, when it would have diluted his persona power and prevented his trial’s delay. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
NETANYAHU NEVER wanted a broad government, even when establishing one would not have involved his personal fate, let alone these days, when it would have diluted his persona power and prevented his trial’s delay.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
"A politician will do anything to keep his job, even become a patriot,” observed newspaper mogul William Randolph Hurst.
With Benjamin Netanyahu it was other way around. When he returned here from MIT to fight in the Yom Kippur War, he was a patriot. Now, having led the country where it has arrived, he is an anti-patriot, one who rather than sacrifice for the state is making the state sacrifice for him.
Penning a political tragedy with its pages nailed to our backs, Netanyahu spoke patriotism while in fact he was the clandestine gynecologist performing an embryonic Knesset’s abortion, before shedding crocodile tears while playing its requiem’s first violin.
NETANYAHU’S PSEUDO-PATRIOTIC claim that a unity government is needed in order to annex the Jordan Valley crashed at takeoff when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied he and Netanyahu had discussed the idea, thus implying Washington won’t back such an annexation.
Besides being a diplomatic nonstarter, Bibi’s ploy was also a political lie. A broad government is needed in order to do things in two fields that Netanyahu never touched during his long years in power: one is religion and state, the other constitutional reform.
Change on religious-secular issues is anathema to Netanyahu because he consciously surrendered this front to ultra-Orthodoxy.
Never mind that a pressing issue like pluralism at the Western Wall is just not on his hopelessly secular mind. Much more crucially, Netanyahu did nothing about semi-Jewish Israelis’ inability to get married here, despite the fact that they were born here, served in the IDF, and speak Hebrew as a mother tongue, and despite the fact that most Israelis see them as Jews, at least as much as they see in Rabbi Ya’acov Litzman an Israeli.
This is why we need a broad government, not the Jordan Valley. Even more pressing is the judicial reform that Netanyahu is in no position to deliver.
THE WAR that Netanyahu has waged on the judiciary by accusing its judges, attorneys and investigators of having conspired to unseat him makes a broad government even more urgent than the religious-secular front.
The issue’s sensitivities cannot be exaggerated, and tackling it demands impartiality, conviction and consensus, all of which Netanyahu, in this context, cannot deliver.
As argued here previously, Israel sorely needs a constitutional convention, one that will redesign executive-judiciary relations while probing questions like what should reach the High Court of Justice’s scrutiny, who should be allowed to petition, or what majority will passing Basic Laws require.
Netanyahu cannot be part of such a process as long as he is himself a defendant in the judiciary’s courts. Considering the rhetoric with which he responded to his indictment, he is partial.
On the consensus front, Netanyahu has fashioned himself as its antithesis. By repeatedly and loudly demonizing “the Left,” he has shown that in any emotional sense and social regard he is the high priest of divisiveness, and can therefore not inspire the broad agreement that constitutional reform requires.
This is besides the role he played in amending the Nation-State Law with a narrow majority, the first time such a thing happened in Israeli legislation. That is besides that move’s provocation of the Druze minority. And that is besides Netanyahu’s toleration, not to say inspiration, of the riffraff’s attack on the military court, and on the IDF’s high command, during the Elor Azaria affair.
Finally, Netanyahu cannot deliver on this front because it’s not his passion, having only begun to discuss the judiciary when its work threatened his career. Until then, during decades in public office, the judiciary’s clout and delivery were not even on Netanyahu’s back burner, because he focused on the foreign affairs and economic issues that have always been his passion.
In short, despite his patriotic canting, Netanyahu never wanted a broad government, even when establishing one would not have involved his personal fate, let alone these days, when it would have diluted his personal power and prevented his trial’s delay.
This, then, is why the Likud’s negotiators with Blue and White never even began tackling issues other than Netanyahu’s personal fate.
Netanyahu’s claim that “Blue and White imposed on us an early election” can hardly be more duplicitous. He imposed this election – on Blue and White, on his own party, on Israeli society and on the Jewish state, all for no cause other than his personal situation, and for no reason other than his personal gain.
Netanyahu chose consciously not to follow the example of Yitzhak Rabin, who resigned in 1977 after the attorney-general’s decision to indict Rabin’s wife, Leah. Netanyahu made this cowardly choice despite the fact that the voters did not hand him a majority, and in fact gave his ticket less than one-third of their votes.
That is why this winter’s election, which is even more scandalous than last autumn’s, will be about the law, pitting the rest of Israel against the man who waged war on the judiciary while backed by a three-way anti-judicial coalition: ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers who think the ghetto is above the law, ultra-Zionists who think Greater Israel is above the law, and die-hard Likudniks who think the leader is above the law.
Fortunately, there are weak links in each of this chain’s three parts.
There are Likudniks who pride themselves on the legacy of the late Meir Shamgar, an Irgun veteran, a Supreme Court president, and a builder of the judiciary at which Netanyahu is hammering.
There are settlers who recall fondly Menachem Begin’s willing submission to, and admiration of, the judiciary, in the spirit of his quip “There are judges in Jerusalem.”
And there are rabbis who recall that bribery is anathema not only to Israeli law, but also to the Torah, which says “you shall not take bribes” for they “upset the plea of the just” (Deuteronomy 16:19).
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019) is a revisionist reading of the Jewish people’s political history.
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