The heart resists heaping praise upon a party that dragged Europe into Brexit, but Britain’s Conservatives have offered a shining example of how a modern conservative movement need not abandon all decorum.
It was an internal rebellion by the Tories that brought about the resignation of the strangely brilliant but ultimately unworthy Boris Johnson.
This stands in striking contrast to their Likud counterparts in Israel, who stick like superglue to the unworthy Benjamin Netanyahu – and to US Republicans still faithful to Donald Trump, whose vileness few adjectives can adequately describe.
This is especially striking considering that Johnson delivered the Tories a huge electoral victory less than three years ago, and then fulfilled his primary promise of executing Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The last elections
Netanyahu, meanwhile, failed to win four straight elections since 2019 (in the Israeli sense of “winning,” which is to build majority parliament support for a one-time installation vote).
In the last election, in March 2021, 68 of the 120 Knesset seats were won by parties that opposed Netanyahu’s remaining in power – and that includes Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, who stands accused now of treachery by the Netanyahu camp.
Netanyahu is a master propagandist, and he has succeeded in dragging Israeli public opinion to the right. As some readers will know I consider this calamitous, because wedding Israel to the West Bank will kill the Jewish state demographically and eviscerate its democracy.
But most Jews in Israel prefer to ignore the rumbling volcano, helping the right. For this Netanyahu – despite generous assistance from Palestinian rejectionists and terrorists – must be awarded the lion’s share of the credit.
It also means that without Netanyahu – who has been abandoned by the principled minority of the ideological right – the right-religious bloc would have an excellent chance of reclaiming power. It could almost certainly set up a government in the current Knesset.
There’s more. Beyond political expediency, Netanyahu has become breathtakingly unworthy as a public figure.
Having once argued for term limits, he’s now running for prime minister for the 11th time after already posting a record period of time in the office.
Netanyahu and Olmert
Having once argued that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should resign just because he was under police investigation, he is himself now running while actually on trial – for bribery and breach of trust on multiple counts.
Having once defended the independence of the judiciary, he now agitates wildly against the deep state and the justice system, accusing investigators, prosecutors and even judges of forming a cabal against the right and joining journalists in a conspiracy to hound him.
Yet the Likud is backing a Netanyahu return to office even as evidence being presented to the court paints a credible and blood-curdling picture of the prime minister and his wife demanding and receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels (and dollars’) worth of gifts from billionaires currying favor.
All of which come on top of even more serious charges before the court, and genuinely bizarre testimonies in the media from candidates for the most senior positions who claim they had to undergo bizarre interviews by the first lady and not the prime minister. It goes on and on and on; the Tories would be shocked.
Yet the Likud Party is sticking with him.
Similarly, the Republican faithful (and with them the party leadership) appear to be sticking with Trump despite astounding evidence provided by his inner circle in recent weeks to the Jan. 6 committee. It showed that fresh from trying to blackmail future Ukrainian hero Volodymyr Zelensky for dirt on Joe Biden, and from a catastrophic mishandling of the Covid crisis, Trump attempted to steal the 2020 election and abet a deadly assault on Congress.
Compared to such crimes and misdemeanors, the reasons Johnson was hounded out of office – mostly involving lies about attending parties that violated Covid protocols – are something a traffic violation.
Moreover, Johnson cut a distinct contrast to the Israeli and American duo in resignation remarks that could be reasonably characterized as gracious.
Rather than bitterly complaining about the deep state that discovered his missteps, he praised the civil service. Rather than trying to burn down the house as a disruptor at war with the elites, he praised the “brilliant, Darwinian” system that both elevated and deposed him.
Rather than resorting to phrases such as Trump’s “I alone can fix it,” he underscored that no one is irreplaceable.
Johnson cultivates a clownish and bumbling image but it has served him well, and at the core, he is a debater and a Machiavellian politician with stores of eloquence and charisma to call on in the trenches. Despite the polite resignation speech he fought on in recent days to hang on against what he described as the “herd.”
That this herd showed him the door is another sign that Britain, where I lived for seven years, is somehow special. Sure, it has its football hooligans and drunken yobs, but more than most places it retains an adorable and occasionally useful respect for tradition and elegance. Things that are “just not done” are indeed not done, without the need for the courts to intervene.
One wonders if we will ever see a similar moment of grace from the Israeli and American right wings, and their increasingly unhinged leaders.
The writer is the former London-based Europe/Africa editor and Cairo-based Middle East editor of the Associated Press, and served as chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem. He is managing partner of the New York-based communications firm Thunder11. Twitter: @perry_dan