Politics: The 7 deadly sins of Netanyahu

From bearing grudges to centralizing power, the prime minister has a reputation for making life difficult for himself.

Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This was the week when the opposition came to life at the Knesset.
Reinvigorated by its new acquisition, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition shrinking to 61 MKs, opposition leaders started walking with their heads held high, actually believing their own rhetoric that they will replace Netanyahu, rather than join his government.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog looked like he was having fun mocking Netanyahu. He still lacks the nastiness necessary for his job, but he had a few memorable lines about the prime minister’s Pyrrhic victory and another election being cheaper than the coalition deal.
Zionist Union faction chairman Eitan Cabel, who led this week’s three-day filibuster, supplied the hyperbole by saying the opposition was “ready for war” and promising to make the coalition’s job a living hell. With such a narrow majority, he asserted, Netanyahu’s coalition could fall any day.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid continued to demonstrate, with his showmanship from the Knesset rostrum, why his background as a news anchor and entertainer will serve him better in the opposition than it did in the Treasury. Liberman looked like a bird freed from a cage spreading his wings, even when the Knesset plenum he addressed was nearly empty.
Humorous amendments the opposition proposed, for a controversial law passed enabling the expansion of the cabinet, included replacing the word “government” with “Bibi’s buddies”; changing the capital from Jerusalem to Olympus; and renaming ministers-without-portfolio “MKs who know they are wasting the public’s money.”
All talk in the Knesset corridors about US President Barack Obama yet again serving as Netanyahu’s main political opposition ended amid the recognition that a new reality had begun. A Knesset that will have no weekly no-confidence motions because the law was changed will nevertheless remain interesting week in and week out.
But despite all the efforts of the opposition heads to attract attention, Herzog, Cabel, Lapid and Liberman would all agree that the politician who harms the prime minister the most by far is none other than Netanyahu himself.
It was an awful week for Netanyahu, who had to be saved from losing votes in the Knesset by coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin – who had to sprint after him to stop him from leaving the plenum. He struggled in appointing portfolios in his Likud Party, just as he struggled to allocate ministries to other parties – making his election victory less than two months ago a distant memory.
So what is it about Netanyahu that makes him so destructive to himself? Everyone has their vices, especially politicians. But those who know the prime minister well and want him to succeed admit he has several flaws that stand out and harm him repeatedly.
The following can be called Netanyahu’s seven deadly sins. They are not as bad as the Christian concepts of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony, but they are nonetheless politically problematic.
Doing things at the last minute It worked during the election campaign, when Netanyahu gained as many as 10 Knesset seats in the final week, but postponing portfolio distribution until just before deadlines was not a good idea for the prime minister.
It led to Liberman’s surprise rejection of the Foreign Ministry, causing damage that could have been avoided. Netanyahu was forced to give the Justice portfolio to the former bureau chief he despises, Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked, just because his back was against the wall.
That was last Wednesday. Since then, Netanyahu could have been negotiating with the members of his party what portfolios they will receive. During those 10 long days, Netanyahu could have been averting crises behind closed doors. The press never would have known.
Instead, at least three of his party’s senior figures came to his office and left unsatisfied. A week that was already bad for Netanyahu got even worse, unnecessarily.
Mistreating No. 2 Moshe Kahlon, Gideon Sa’ar, Avigdor Liberman and now Gilad Erdan. They all have had the simultaneous privilege and misfortune of serving as No. 2 behind Netanyahu on the Likud’s list for Knesset.
None of them is in worse shape than former perennial Likud No. 2 Moshe Katsav, but they all could have had a better situation had Netanyahu treated them better.
Kahlon and Liberman left in frustration to other factions.
Sa’ar spent the week in Spain tweeting happy pictures with his wife, anchorwoman Geula Even, and bickering with Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi about soccer.
Netanyahu could have decided to learn from his past mistakes and stand up to his other loyalists in the Likud, by insisting that Erdan would be his foreign minister. He also could have let Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett take the portfolio, so his internal problems in the Likud could have been avoided. Instead, he walked right into an easily avoidable crisis.
Bearing grudges The story of how Bennett and Shaked were fired for standing up to Sara Netanyahu after she found out that her husband was paying their expenses out-of-pocket has become part of Israel’s political folklore.
But that was so long ago; it has been several years since then. Nevertheless, Netanyahu still goes out of his way to prevent Bennett from entering his official residence.
Liberman and other politicians are known for not being able to forgive and forget. Netanyahu is only human, and he is allowed to dislike certain people personally.
Only when it harms the stability of the government does his bearing grudges become a serious problem. If Netanyahu could just get over it, his job would become so much easier.
4) Centralizing power internally Even though he gives impressive speeches to Congress, unless America repeals its discriminatory law barring foreign-born candidates from being elected president, Netanyahu will never be president of the US.
Prime ministers who have to spread the wealth among their ministers inevitable have much less power than presidents in presidential systems of government.
But Netanyahu’s title before portfolios were distributed was prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, finance, justice, education, health, welfare, environmental protection, communications, immigrant absorption, and science and technology.
His title in the next government will apparently be prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, communications and health. Why couldn’t he let MK Ophir Akunis become communications minister instead of the ridiculous title of minister in the Communications Ministry? Because there are issues on which Netanyahu insists on full control.
5) Centralizing power – Foreign affairs Israel had a foreign minister for much of the past six years named Liberman. But he was not in charge of relations with the US, the Diaspora, strategic affairs or anything to do with the Iranian nuclear threat.
Other ministers have come and gone who were officially responsible for those key issues, but everyone knew they were dealt with at the top.
Now Netanyahu has gone one step further and is keeping the Foreign Ministry for himself. This has led to international derision; American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg humorously tweeted that Netanyahu would send himself to the US to fix the relations with the US that he himself had harmed.
There are plenty of ministers in the Likud who would have gladly taken the Foreign Affairs portfolio and dealt with whatever Netanyahu let them, while letting him run what he wanted. His excuse that he is holding the job for Herzog did not convince any of them; it just angered them.
6) Ignoring internal politics Netanyahu does not like going to internal party events. He only convenes the Likud central committee when he has to. He barely meets party activists.
Unlike other party heads who regularly briefed their factions on political developments in recent weeks, Netanyahu did not bother convening his Likud faction after the election until Monday. When he entered the room, more than half an hour late, he shook hands with everyone. Portfolio-starved MKs treated him with adulation.
But the question must be asked: If you see politics as such a burden, why are you a politician? Netanyahu’s failure to keep in touch with his Likud list and do the upkeep work any boss has to do among his employees harmed him this week.
7) Ideological inconsistency It has been amazing to see that the top question of the foreign press this week has been about how right-wing the government is; they see Netanyahu as much more hawkish than Israelis do.
Have they not noticed how the man who spoke about an “ideological chasm” dividing him from the Zionist Union during his campaign is now desperate to bring Herzog into his government? Netanyahu has come a long way since the days he wrote against territorial concessions and releasing terrorists from prison. Since then he has given up land, offered to relinquish more, and might have freed more terrorists from jails than anyone in history.
But the international community is still so determined to paint Netanyahu as a hawk that they hear him answer yes to a question about whether a Palestinian state won’t be created due to regional discord, and they assume that means he renounced his support for a two-state solution.
Perhaps if the prime minister’s tough reputation abroad was still believed here, it would have been a lot easier for Netanyahu to form a stable government.