Like a desperate gambler begging the croupier to spin the roulette just one more time, Bibi Netanyahu is running out of luck.
Having followed the turret’s spin once, twice, thrice, and also a fourth time only to see the skidding plastic ball repeatedly land below 61, Netanyahu turned from his one gamble – premature elections – to his other two: libeling the judiciary and othering “the Left.”
“The public gave the Right’s parties a clear majority,” he canted last week, suggesting the election was about issues like Oslo, settlements and Gaza. The denialism behind this statement is dumbfounding. Naftali Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar and Avigdor Liberman, all of whom said squarely Netanyahu must go, won between them 731,367 right-wing votes. Evidently, this vote of no confidence means nothing to Netanyahu.
Those 731,367 right-wingers are part of the real majority, the Israelis who think Israel’s problem right now is not its territorial overweight or underweight, but its political lungs and democratic heart.
Then, as if to remind us what the election he imposed was all about, Netanyahu libeled the state attorney’s lawyers. “They abuse their power,” he charged, and are “staging an attempted coup.”
This concern for power’s abuse comes to us from the man who has castrated the government, the legislature and his own party; the man who to serve his personal interests torpedoed the budget’s passage; the man who negotiated peace agreements without telling his foreign minister; the man who sidelined Likud’s ministers in order to star alone in the election he imposed on them; the man who is now auctioning seven of Likud’s Knesset seats to Bennett, without even asking Likud’s permission.
So no, this election was not about Right and Left. It was about right and wrong; about equality before the law, about the Jewish state’s slide to one-man rule, and about the consensus Netanyahu set out to destroy. That is why the anti-Netanyahu majority must coalesce and produce a game plan for the morning after Netanyahu.
CHANCES ARE GOOD that at the end of the 28 days he was given to form a government, Netanyahu will learn that his luck has run out; that there are no political adulterers for him to seduce, and that he can’t re-choreograph his ballet with Itamar Ben-Gvir into a hora with Mansour Abbas.
That is why Bennett, Sa’ar, and Yair Lapid shouldn’t just wait until Netanyahu leaves the casino with empty pockets and heavy legs. They must reach this moment with a plan of action.
The post-Netanyahu government’s plan should have two parts: do and don’t do. The don’t-do will be the issues on which its leaders disagree; the do will reflect their consensus.
The main don’t do will be on the Palestinian front. Where super-hawks like Bennett and Sa’ar will cohabitate with Meretz’s ultra-doves, no formula will reconcile their inverted views on issues like annexation. The formula will therefore be status quo, and freedom of parliamentary voting.
Fortunately, there is plenty on which the post-Netanyahu government can agree and act.
First will be the economy. The post-Netanyahu government can quickly pass a budget that will narrow the deficit and restore the pre-pandemic economy’s growth. The candidate for overseeing this is Avigdor Liberman, who as finance minister can make good use of his 11 years’ experience as minister of defense, foreign affairs and three other portfolios.
On foreign affairs, if Bennett is the first rotational prime minister, Foreign Minister Lapid will improve relations with the Biden White House, which are currently burdened by memories of Netanyahu’s provocation of the Obama administration.
On the military front, Benny Gantz will remain the reasonable defense minister he already is.
As education minister, New Hope’s Yifat Shasha-Biton will do a better job than Yoav Gallant, who has been an elephant in a china shop during a tornado. The knowledge and assertiveness she displayed as Knesset Corona Committee chair are just what the school system needs in order to recover from its pandemic trauma. Her PhD in education will also be useful, no less than Gallant’s background as a naval commando, probably more.
Yet the most urgent task will be judicial restoration.
Netanyahu drove a wedge between the courts and the Right. However, the High Court’s interventionism over the years has also been decried by pillars of the Left, like jurists Amnon Rubinstein and Daniel Friedman, and political scientist Shlomo Avineri.
That is why the post-Netanyahu government must restore the judiciary’s public legitimacy, and at the same time define relations between the three branches and also rewrite the prime minister’s legal status and term limits. It’s a huge task, as prickly as the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
None of this can be done exclusively by either the Right of the Left. It should be done through a broad consensus, the kind that Bennett, Sa’ar, Lapid, Gantz and Labor’s Merav Michaeli can jointly inspire, the way Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir jointly reformed the economy in 1985.
The justice minister should be Sa’ar, but the judicial reform’s torchbearer should be Bennett, whose voters’ hostility to the judiciary is second only to their hostility to Hamas. Bennett will have to confront them, the way Peres confronted the unions while he led Israel’s retreat from socialism.
As prime minister, Bennett would have to restore national respect for the legal system’s impartiality and professionalism, and for the High Court’s role as the executive branch’s counterweight.
Our forebears, he will tell his voters, first appointed judges and only centuries later anointed kings, and even then the judges were demanded to be independent, impartial and brave, as King Jehoshaphat told them when he launched his own judicial reform: “Act with care, for there is no injustice or favoritism or bribe-taking with the Lord our God.” (Chronicles II 19:7)
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.