Center Field: Bibi ‘habayta’ – go home with a pardon, not to jail

Another big Bibi lie claims that the elections were unclear, as he threatens triggering a third election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia September 12, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/SHAMIL ZHUMATOV)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia September 12, 2019.
Channel 13 reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s representatives explored a clemency deal with President Reuven Rivlin. Netanyahu denies that report, along with rumors he might plea-bargain.
Does anyone believe Prime Minister Lo-Ken, Mr. No-Yes, anymore? Like that old Zionist chant “alo-aken-aken-alo,” Bibi throws denials as wildly as a flailing boxer throws punches. Bibi denied he was seeking immunity during the last election – then sought immunity during his failed coalition negotiations. He denied he wanted a national unity government two weeks ago – and now champions it as if he invented the concept. And he denied accusations that he disrespects democracy – even while trampling democratic sensibilities.
Another big Bibi lie claims that the elections were unclear, as he threatens triggering a third election.
I love watching Israeli democracy in action, but this is ridiculous. We may boast how Israel furthered its streak as the only Middle Eastern country with free, fair elections. Still, enough is enough!
Bibi take note: The people delivered three powerful noes to his mass manipulations and litany of lies. For starters, they said “no Kahanists welcome.” Only 1.88% of the electorate, barely 83,000 people, chose Otzma Yehudit. The people said no to Netanyahu’s double ask: for the power to immunize himself from prosecution and for the opportunity to assemble an aggressively right-wing, theocratic coalition. Finally, tens of thousands of Likud voters said “no more anti-democratic bigotry and incitement.”
By swallowing up Kulanu and Zehut, Netanyahu should have won 41 seats. Instead, while unintentionally inspiring Arabs to vote, he lost 300,000 Likud voters: in the Gaza border communities, among Ethiopians and soldiers, and in Likud strongholds like Nahariya, Acre, Netanya.
These Likud runaways repudiated Bibi’s antics. Unfortunately, they lack a leader. The leading Likudniks fear confronting Bibi. But to avoid more voter desertion, they must stand up and tell Bibi it’s time to go: he lost the election he cast as a referendum about him.
So, despite Bibi’s denials, let’s play “let’s make a deal”: President Reuven Rivlin should offer clemency, if Bibi resigns. I proposed this in August 2017, hoping Israel would “be spared a lengthy, bloody political battle that will trash his reputation – and rock Israel’s justice system.” All leaders have expiration dates. Three-quarters of Israeli voters just confirmed that Bibi’s sell-by date has passed.
Something’s rotting. But most Israelis don’t need him trading pinstripes for prison stripes. “Bibi habayta” means “go home,” not “go to jail.”
IRONICALLY, A Netanyahu-free national unity government could preserve Netanyahu’s legacy. It could hold his line on security, and continue expanding Israel’s diplomatic network, as Netanyahu has done effectively. It could preserve Israel’s prosperity, building on Netanyahu’s bounteous decade – whereby, despite his ugly rhetoric, more Israeli Arabs joined more ultra-Orthodox in integrating into middle-class society.
At the same time, a Bibi-free government could change the tone, launching the moral renewal Israel needs. Ultra-Orthodox and Israeli-Arab economic progress isn’t enough. Israel needs a new conversation defining every citizen’s rights and responsibilities, pivoting around the value of national service by every 18-year-old.
A national unity government could embrace a new ethical agenda. It must minimize incitement, name-calling and demagoguery, especially by ministers, including the prime minister. While we should never bash rivals – unless they really deserve it – we really must end the delegitimizing “they”-talk about any sector within the Israeli democratic family, which includes Arabs and ultra-Orthodox citizens.
Political arguments are inevitable; trash-talking isn’t. Demonization debases democracy and demoralizes da people. Our leaders must recognize that, even if they think it scores them points.
New leaders can set a new tone with important symbolic moves, too, emphasizing an Old-New Israel fulfilling the Zionist vision of a Jewish-democratic state seeking to be a light unto the nations – while surviving pragmatically in an ugly world.
The ongoing scandal whereby Israel seems to be shielding an alleged serial sexual abuser, Malka Leifer, must end. Extradite her back to Australia to face charges. If she’s innocent, she can beat the rap in court there.
The ongoing embarrassment whereby Israel sells arms to evil regimes must end, starting by cutting off Israel’s Rohingya-murdering Burmese customers.
The ongoing failure to ensure that every schoolchild learns certain basic facts, skills and binding civic ideals must end.
And the Joint List is right: the lawlessness whereby the police have abdicated control in certain Arab villages – and southern Tel Aviv – must end.
Former education minister Shai Piron has wisely proposed creating a National Society Council to parallel the National Security Council. Experts should brief the next prime minister regularly about the quality of Israel’s community, advancing ideas to unite and inspire us.
Unlike worthy initiatives such as securing the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul as well as freeing Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, let alone quieting our borders, these moral moves don’t rely on our enemies’ reactions. We can take these lofty steps ourselves, with the right – meaning a properly centered – leadership.
Let’s make these High Holy Days healing – and more meaningful than simply preparing the right menus, choosing the snazziest outfits and enduring the endless prayers.
Personally, let’s be more Jewishly ambitious, setting ethical, spiritual and relationship-building goals. And collectively, we – and our leaders – should be more aspirational in our Zionism, setting ethical, practical, nation-building goals.
We’ve been treading water for too long, demoralized by stale, amoral leadership. It’s time to start stretching and soaring personally and nationally again.
The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.