Could it happen in Israel? - comment

The question entered my mind while I watched the events evolve on CNN and Fox News on Wednesday, and continues to haunt me.

What exactly of what happened in Washington could be transposed to the current Israeli reality? Pictured: Supporters of US President Donald Trump during a ‘Stop the Steal’ protest outside of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, last week. (photo credit: STEPHANIE KEITH/REUTERS)
What exactly of what happened in Washington could be transposed to the current Israeli reality? Pictured: Supporters of US President Donald Trump during a ‘Stop the Steal’ protest outside of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, last week.
(photo credit: STEPHANIE KEITH/REUTERS)
Given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s increasing autocratic mannerisms, and paranoid behavior vis-à-vis all the law enforcement authorities that one way or another are involved in the investigations against him and the decision to indict him on criminal charges, and the possibility that he might be ousted from power in March, it is not surprising that last Wednesday, in view of the storming of Capitol Hill by a rabble of Trump supporters, who had been incited by the president in person to try to stop Congress approving the presidential election results, there were numerous commentators who asked the question: “Could anything like this happen in Israel?”
The question entered my mind while I watched the events evolve on CNN and Fox News on Wednesday, and continues to haunt me. However, I keep asking myself: What exactly of what happened in Washington could be transposed to the current Israeli reality?
For example, is a successful storming of the Knesset building by a mob of several thousand persons who are not heavily armed with firearms possible?
Anyone familiar with the security arrangements in the Knesset would say that this is impossible, unless the speaker of the Knesset, in cahoots with the prime minister, were to order the Knesset Guard not to stop the mob from entering. However, in the current situation it is totally unlikely that either Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin or Netanyahu would do anything of the sort, or even consider it, for whatever reason.
So what is it about what happened in Washington that reminds us of our own political tribulations?

THE FIRST thing that comes to mind is the suspicion that Netanyahu might not be averse to using his supporters to demonstrate against developments that run contrary to his interests and wishes.
True, Netanyahu himself does not speak of this, but some of his henchmen occasionally warn that if this, that or the other will occur, “the people” will refuse to accept it.
For example, at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, the then-coalition chairman MK David Amsalem stated in several interviews to the media that if the attorney-general would decide to indict Netanyahu before the elections [to the 22nd Knesset], “millions will go out to the streets to protest.”
However, what causes greater concern is the question of how Netanyahu is liable to react should he lose the approaching elections.
Of course, losing a presidential election in the US is something very different from losing a general election in Israel. Presidential elections in the US are a zero-sum game, and the only grounds for a rejection of the results are suspicion of fraud – which has been President Donald Trump’s reaction, even though there has been no evidence of any major fraud.
In Israel, losing an election means being unable to put together a coalition that commands the support of a majority of the Knesset members, and when nobody manages to put together a coalition, then the only way out of the deadlock is to hold an additional round of elections, with the hope that the results will break the deadlock. That is what happened in Israel after the elections to the 21st and 22nd Knessets, and initially after the elections to the 23rd Knesset. In the latter case Netanyahu finally chose the option of forming a unity government with Blue and White, which he could have formed after the two previous elections as well, but which he didn’t really want. He chose this option only because it was the only way to hold off a fourth round of elections for a while.
Netanyahu had no grounds to blame his inability to form a coalition on fraud, which did not mean that he did not use a real or imaginary apprehension of fraud taking place before the elections in order to intimidate rival parties by proposing all sorts of draconian precautionary means, allegedly to prevent fraud from taking place – most recently a plan before the September 2019 elections to enable Likud observers with cameras to enter “problematic” (i.e., Arab) polling stations on Election Day. These efforts failed because of objections by the attorney-general, and the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, though it did tighten its own means to prevent fraud in all polling stations.
Of course, we do not know whether the approaching elections will end with a clear decision that will either enable Netanyahu to form the right-religious government he covets, or enable the “just not Bibi” right-center-left bloc to form a unity government without the Netanyahu-led Likud, and possibly even without the ultra-Orthodox parties, whose conduct in the current battle against the COVID-19 pandemic has convinced large parts of the population that these parties need to reconsider their attitude toward the state, from the opposition benches.
Netanyahu’s best chance to win will occur if Naftali Bennett’s Yamina will gain fewer votes than either Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and/or Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, but enough votes to provide Netanyahu with the majority he needs. In this situation Bennett might decide to join a government led by Netanyahu in return for the ministries of Defense and Justice, and a rotation agreement, despite his belief that it is time for Netanyahu to go.
No doubt Netanyahu will do his utmost to maximize his chances to reach this situation, and can be expected to play every trick in the game to succeed. However, should he fail, he will certainly have a difficult time adjusting to the new situation, in which he and his family will have to leave the official residence on Balfour Street, and in which he will have to contend with his legal predicament without the shield of the premiership.
True, back in 1999, after losing the election of that year to Ehud Barak, Netanyahu left Balfour Street, but his comment to the evicted settlers of the Amona outpost on the night of December 20, 2016, to the effect that “I understand what it means to lose one’s home. After the 1999 elections, with no warning, I and my family were evicted from the house in Balfour. Just like that, with all our belongings, we were simply thrown out into the street, and had to go to the Sheraton Plaza. It was a horrible feeling,” emphasizes how traumatic the experience was for him, not because he had nowhere to go – his private home in Jerusalem on Aza Street, about half a kilometer southwest of Balfour Street, where he and his family had resided for only three years. If this should recur (and sooner or later it will recur), the Netanyahus will be forced to evacuate the official residence for a second time – this time after 11 years of living there – and the trauma will undoubtedly be much more severe.
MK Avigdor Liberman predicted, in an interview to Channel 12 on Saturday evening, that if Netanyahu will lose, the violence that occurred in Washington on Wednesday will be much surpassed here, but did not explain to what end.
In another two-and-a-half months we shall be wiser. I sincerely hope that if indeed Netanyahu will lose, he will not follow Trump’s outrageous example, for his own sake, and for that of the State of Israel. But, of course, he might not lose.
The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job.