Avichai Mandelblit has fallen off the radar. The attorney-general – who became one of the Right’s most hated government officials over his decision to indict Benjamin Netanyahu, a decision that drew death threats requiring unprecedented protection – is barely seen or heard from these days.
Wondering where he had gone, I logged onto the Jerusalem Post’s internal archive system on Wednesday, and looked up how many times the word “Mandelblit” has appeared in the paper over the last 100 days, since the government was formed on June 13 by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.
It was 36. Mandelblit was mentioned in stories about the legality of West Bank outposts, voting on the budget bill, plans to approve an egalitarian plaza at the Kotel, and the ongoing state commission investigation into the Lag Ba’omer disaster at Meron.
I then checked the previous three months, from March to June, when Benjamin Netanyahu was still prime minister. “Mandelblit” appeared 62 times in the paper. The three months before that? Fifty-eight times.
What were those extra 22-26 stories mostly about? You can guess: Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial, Likud attacks against the attorney-general, and the overall weakening of the justice system.
That drop in recent months of the number of mentions of Mandelblit is something of a weather vane for Israel today, telling a story about the change that has taken place since the Bennett-Lapid government took office.
It is not about Mandelblit – he is just a dugma mushlemet as they say, a perfect example – but rather about the change being felt in the political system and across government ministries. Things are quieter, a bit more normal. You don’t see political mudslinging as much anymore.
And that is a good thing. During the last few years of Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister, the situation became overwhelming. The mudslinging never seemed to quit, even for a second, and people stopped trusting in government institutions.
Every day saw a new political battle, with accompanying headlines. There was always news. Some of the stories were about Netanyahu’s accomplishments and policies, but over the last few years it was mostly focused on the negativity that he brought to our political structure: attacks on the criminal justice system, his trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and his never-ending hostile rhetoric against anyone who stood in his way.
Those stories are gone. Not because we don’t want to cover them, but because they aren’t happening. Netanyahu appears less in public, doesn’t speak as often, and, as is common with former prime ministers, has fallen a bit off the national radar.
The result is that Israel today feels just a bit more normal. And this is the new government’s greatest achievement in its first 100 days in office.
But while all that is refreshing, not being Netanyahu will only get you so far. The goodwill that Bennett and Lapid have built up from the world leaders they interact with is due to the concern that if this kaleidoscope government falls, Netanyahu will come back. But that too will wear off at some point. To build everlasting goodwill, the government will need to enact policies and get things done for the country and its people.
On the surface, this government’s policies do not seem that different from the last. Gaza is still a problem and another operation might be on the way; the strategy to combat corona remains vaccinations; and while the new government wants to work more with the Biden administration on Iran, it remains – like its predecessor – opposed to a new nuclear deal, a message Bennett will transmit at the United Nations next week in his inaugural address.
Of course, there are differences on substance.
Gaza: This government is exploring the possibility of an economic initiative in the Gaza Strip, even as it ponders military operations, and it is not willing – unlike Netanyahu – to transfer suitcases of Qatari cash to Hamas.
Corona: Bennett is against lockdowns, and while the infection rate is still high, the country is wide open, people are going to the office, and so many took a hiking vacation this week for Sukkot. Had Netanyahu still been in office, it is possible that we would be in a fourth lockdown.
Iran: While Bennett, like Netanyahu, remains opposed to returning to the JCPOA nuclear deal, he will not blowup relations with the Americans over it. He agreed with former prime minister Ehud Barak’s diagnosis – laid out in a Yediot Ahronot oped – that Israel had made crucial mistakes in recent years in trying to stop Iran. But he disagreed with Barak’s prognosis.
While Barak claims that Israel can no longer stop Iran, Bennett disagrees. And that is a message he will take to the UN next week, hammering home the position of nearly all Israeli political parties: Israel will do what it needs to do to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.
To show how they are different from Netanyahu, Bennett and Lapid are trying to conduct a new way of doing business in the United States and Europe. It’s called working together.
We saw the fruits of that effort in Europe this week, when Sweden announced that it was boycotting the Durban conference taking place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. The decision came just days after Lapid spoke with Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, the first conversation between the two country’s foreign ministers in seven years.
Is Sweden suddenly supporting everything Israel does, and all Israeli policies when it comes to the Palestinians? Of course not. But this shows that dialogue and working together can create results.
Despite the goodwill being shown by the Biden administration, Israel received a reminder this week of how tough is the battle in America, which will not be won easily or quickly. The opposition by members of The Squad to the bill that would have allocated $1 billion to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome batteries – and the Democratic Party’s surrender to their dictates – shows just how contentious an issue Israel has become within America’s ruling party.
Iron Dome is a system that does one thing: it saves lives. What many fail to understand is that it doesn’t only save Israeli lives, it also saves Palestinian lives.
Imagine, for example, that Israel did not have the Iron Dome, had no way of shooting down rockets fired from Gaza. What would have happened in May when 4,000 missiles were shot toward Israel? Imagine how many people would have been killed, how many people would have been hurt, how paralyzed the nation would have become.
It would have been dozens dead. Possibly more. Israel would have needed to respond. It would have needed to send ground troops into Gaza, or launch an aerial assault the likes of which have never been seen. Would it have had the luxury to call homes before bombing them, or holding back from attacking when seeing civilians approaching a military target about to be bombed? Unlikely, since rockets would have been raining down on Israel at the same time.
All the members of The Squad needed to do was ask Colin Kahl, the under-secretary of defense for policy in the Biden administration.
Kahl is a strong Democrat, and believes passionately in the two-state solution. But he was also one of the key Obama administration officials who pushed through the first US funding of the Iron Dome system in recognition of what it could do to save Israeli lives, and give citizens a sense of security along the border with Gaza.
The members of The Squad probably don’t know all this, but even if they did, they wouldn’t care. Their issue is not with Iron Dome, it is with the State of Israel.
They want an Israel that is weak and cannot protect itself. The success they had in stopping the bill for Iron Dome needs to concern Bennett and Lapid, since it shows the level of influence and what the progressive vanguard will do the next time military aid is set for renewal, or another defense package comes up for approval.
One hundred days may have passed relatively quietly. This is just the beginning.