Netanyahu's successors must fix political value that he ruined

MIDDLE ISRAEL: the victims of Netanyahu’s many betrayals have come home to roost, and while at it are avenging his demolition of the concept of alliance.

ARE PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, going to be saying goodbye soon? (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
ARE PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, going to be saying goodbye soon?
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
 It’s coming. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon vacate his seat.
Even before his brazen attempt to appoint a justice minister illegally, it was clear that the fabled poker player had run out of cards and was beginning to panic. Like the biblical character that met a lion while fleeing a bear and after running indoors was bitten by a snake (Amos 5:19), Netanyahu was struck in recent days by a succession of political creatures with astonishing rapidity, cruelty and ease.
First, Bezalel Smotrich punctured the tires of the wedding limousine in which Netanyahu planned to ride into the sunset with Mansour Abbas. Then Naftali Bennett fled from under Netanyahu’s gilded canopy into Yair Lapid’s arms. Then Gideon Sa’ar wouldn’t even climb the pumpkin carriage Netanyahu refurbished especially for him. Finally, Abbas took the engagement ring Netanyahu gave him, and after displaying it to the wedding’s invitees, auctioned it to the highest bidder.
“Traitors,” one can imagine the serially abandoned groom murmuring while weighing all the titles, offices and budgets he stuffed into his multiple dowries.
“Allies don’t behave this way,” he may have muttered in the shower, conveniently forgetting how he scarred each of his betrayers; how he plotted to besmirch Bennett’s wife and father, how he ostracized and humiliated Sa’ar, how he made fools of his far-right partners when he lied to them about his annexation plans, and how he stereotyped Abbas’s family, friends and neighbors when he texted to thousands a warning that “the Arabs are flocking to the ballots in droves.”
Yes, in a rare moment of multi-layered poetic justice, the victims of Netanyahu’s many betrayals have come home to roost, and while at it are avenging his demolition of the concept of alliance in general, and its Israeli meaning in particular.
THERE WERE three major alliances in Israel’s political history.
The first, deepest, and noblest was the covenant between religious Zionism and the Labor movement. Struck already in 1931, when the Mizrachi movement helped crown David Ben-Gurion chairman of the Jewish Agency, the two movements’ alliance lasted nearly half a century.
The second historic alliance was struck in 1965 between Menachem Begin’s Herut and the Liberal Party. It lasted for 23 years, and ended with a total merger, 15 years after the pair created the Likud and jointly formed its spine. 
The third alliance was Likud’s with ultra-Orthodoxy, whose fidelity has been such that its politicians now loom as Netanyahu’s last loyalists.
As noted here last year (“Dangerous liaisons,” October 2, 2020), Labor’s alliance with religious Zionism was the inversion of Likud’s deal with ultra-Orthodoxy. Labor and its religious allies shared ideals, fought together, mourned together, dreamt together, and built together the Jewish state.
Likud’s alliance with the Liberals had a measure of this common denominator, as both parties’ leaders believed in Zionism and capitalism. Some in Herut also shared the Liberals’ disdain for religious coercion, and some among the Liberals shared Herut’s hawkishness.
Likud and ultra-Orthodoxy, by contrast, shared no ideals other than the horse-trader’s quest to pay less and get more. They never fought together, they never mourned together, and they also never built together.
It was, and remains, the kind of shallow alliance that suits an ally like Bibi Netanyahu. It demands little sacrifice, offers quick rewards, and requires no emotional investment.
That was Netanyahu’s mind-frame in most of his political alliances, which on the whole were celebrations of opportunism and cynicism. Benny Gantz saved Netanyahu from political death only to soon see him throw their agreements out the window. Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni were Netanyahu’s loyal coalition partners only to be fired – with no reason – within barely two years. Ehud Barak was Netanyahu’s defense minister only to now hear his former ally’s son publicly call him “pedophile.”
Such interpretations of the concept of alliance might be good for Netanyahu, but Israeli society needs – now more than ever – the kind of alliances that once were political pillars of the Jewish state.
THE ALLIANCE Israel now begs should not fully replicate the past.
The Jewish state that religious Zionism and Labor set out jointly to build has been built. The accommodations they sought between secular and observant citizens have been crafted. The capitalism that Menachem Begin and the Liberals sought has long been delivered, for better or worse (largely by the Liberals’ last leader, Yitzhak Moda’i).
Now a new alliance must cultivate entirely different causes: social appeasement and political peace.
For this to happen, all political parties that care for the Jewish state’s democratic soul and institutional guts must get together and set aside all other issues, until the system’s stability is restored and the public’s nerves are soothed.
The agenda this entails – economic rehabilitation, a judicial reform hammered jointly by Right and Left, and a status quo on Palestinian issues – has been outlined here three weeks ago (“The onus on Bennett,” April 8). However, before approaching this political work, all of us must undergo an emotional overhaul.
Netanyahu’s legacy of social divisiveness, political belligerency, rhetorical incitement, personal condescension and culture of autocracy and self-celebration must make way for a mentality of humility, a culture of dialogue, a politics of compromise, a social search for common ground, and a consensus of morality, solidarity, tolerance and compassion.
Bennett, Lapid, Gantz and Sa’ar all understand this, and there are signs that the Right and Center which they represent will be joined in this by the Left’s Merav Michaeli and Nitzan Horowitz as well.
No, they don’t have to deny their differences or shed their identities. They just have to recall the concept of alliance which our founding fathers practiced, Bibi Netanyahu mocked, and Bill Clinton once articulated: “We are all in this together,” he said, “is a better philosophy than what’s in it for me.”


Amotz Asa-El’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.