Ehud Olmert to 'Post': Netanyahu getting defectors is 'worst of all evils'

How can we form a new Israeli government, and will 61 members of Knesset support the interim prime minister?

LIKUD ELECTION ballots are seen on the floor at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Monday night. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
LIKUD ELECTION ballots are seen on the floor at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Monday night.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
I’m doing something extremely illogical; I’m writing these words in the early morning hours after the recent election, before we’ve been given an accurate picture of the results. But the early signs are beginning to appear, and they are different from the winners’ triumphant rejoicing that was heard on election night.
Twenty-four years ago, on election night in 1996, some will recall, when we went to sleep, Shimon Peres was prime minister, but when we woke up, Benjamin Netanyahu was.
Maybe – with an emphasis on maybe – it’s possible that we are seeing a similar scenario now, but under completely different circumstances that are surprising and in any case different in their political significance. It’s possible that tonight, tomorrow and throughout the upcoming months, the picture might be quite different.
The key question we’re grappling with at the moment is: How can we form a new Israeli government, and will 61 members of Knesset support the interim prime minister? According to hordes of commentators who are flooding the news studios to the point of fatigue, the most likely way Netanyahu will succeed in forming a government will be to steal members of Knesset from left-wing blocs by offering them enticing options if they defect to his bloc. This is the quickest way for Netanyahu to reach the minimum number of MKs to form a government.
The most shocking thing is the blasé tone, and the seemingly obvious assumption that this is exactly what was expected to happen. Some people have even pointed to the list of enticements that have been offered to MKs if they agree to defect and move over to Likud. This means that personal bribes, using the state’s resources, personal favors, promises of long-lasting and stable political stature, are no longer promises that need to be whispered surreptitiously in someone’s ear, and denied when confronted. The opposite is true. These actions are now considered perfectly legitimate public actions.
This could actually be the worst of all the evils that have fallen upon us this past year. We have now descended into the depths of squalor, and this appears to be the new normal.
In 1992, “The Dirty Trick” took place. It was a political scandal involving the Labor Party, including the active involvement of the late Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, and led by Haim Ramon and Arye Deri. The scandal brought down the government and caused pandemonium in the political sphere as Peres failed in his attempt to form a minority government. In the end, a government was finally formed by the prime minister who had suffered the no-confidence vote: Yitzhak Shamir.
Rabin, who later defeated Shamir and formed a government, called the scandal “The Dirty Trick.” Those are very strong words. They saved the dirty part of the trick for a later time, when they wanted to form a government. Then, the Labor Party succeeded in bringing over to their side Avraham Sharir, who’d been a minister in the Likud government, while at the same time the Likud succeeded in enticing MK Efraim Gur to defect from Labor to Likud.
TWO HAREDI (ultra-Orthodox) MKs, Avraham Verdiger and Eliezer Mizrahi, expressed their independent views and rebelled against their parties – in part due to pressure from the Admor of Lubavitch. The two of them refused to support the coalition that Peres was trying to form, without which Peres’s plan could not succeed. That dirty trick has a wonderful, sweet aroma compared with the Likud leaders’ public revelations, whose heads are spinning following their feeling of victory. They are openly and publicly talking about buying MKs from the Center-Left, as if this were the preferred and most legitimate option available.
I know that to write these words now is more than a bit controversial. Some people might interpret them as a result of the frustration I feel following my hopes that have not come to complete fruition as I’d hoped (even though I am not a member of a political party, and I have not done any work or offered any consulting for any political organization, contrary to the falsehoods disseminated by Netanyahu). I simply feel it is my duty to say these things in the most objective and unbiased way possible.
Netanyahu, the interim prime minister, is instilling norms of organized crime into our lives. He secretly records representatives of rival parties, and even takes advantage of rabbis and persuades them to break the most sacred codes. These include the trust people have in them when they come with their most intimate and sensitive issues. Netanyahu advises his staff to offer political and personal bribes to rival MKs. He does not hesitate to offer them political favors in exchange for their support.
He decided to directly, crudely and violently ambush Israel’s attorney-general, whom his supporters are demanding he fire. Soon, Netanyahu will pounce on the Supreme Court justices, and will attempt to paralyze their authority and ability to do their jobs. He might not even hesitate, if he can garner enough support, to undermine through legislation the authority of the police, the prosecutor’s office and the courts.
In other words, at this very moment, the biggest danger from the current election is a violent feeling of power that could undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy, equality before the law and basic human decency, which act as the anchor that keeps our society stable.
This could easily lead to confrontation between groups of citizens that could quickly spill over into the streets.
Anyone who thinks these ideas are delusional needs to ask: Did they ever think the day would come when a prime minister who is charged with serious offenses would demand that the judges who are appointed to rule on his case declare that they are not leftists, since he is the one who decides who is fit to carry out judgement on his case? This is a fact. It has already taken place.
WHAT HAPPENS next is a result of this stage. From this point until all of the crazy things I mentioned happen is much shorter and more dangerous.
We have no choice but to go back and look at the numbers. Success cannot be measured by the level of victorious screaming, or even by the overt and implicit threats. The only thing that matters is the composition of political forces that resulted from the series of elections which took place over the last year.
If the Netanyahu bloc manages to scramble together the 61 mandates required to from a government, which is not likely, the enlightened powers of the State of Israel will need to muster an incredibly large amount of patience, determination, strength and courage to fight the government in circumstances where the rules of democracy might be different from those we’ve known since the founding of the state.
If the distribution of mandates remains consistent with the way it was when these words were written. When the right-wing bloc is close to the goal line, but still with 58 mandates, it will require an inordinate amount of intelligence, good judgment, patience and stability to manipulate the political system in this new reality. We must remember that after the April 2019 election, Netanyahu’s bloc had 60 MKs without Liberman, and he failed to form a government.
Unity government is a deceptive slogan. Anyone who lends his hand to the formation of a unity government led by Netanyahu will primarily be betraying their own credibility, the integrity they tried to demonstrate all year long, and most importantly, the moral validity of the trust the public placed in them.
It’s hard for me to believe that people who supported the Blue and White Party could just stand by as its leaders – Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Bogie Ya’alon and all the rest who’ve accused Netanyahu of introducing a new standard of crime into the public’s lives – agree to crown Netanyahu as prime minister. Would it be normal to choose Erdogan as the senior pilot in the cockpit? I think that’s pretty unlikely. This possibility must be unequivocally and firmly rejected in a way that leaves no option for considering such an arrangement, if the Blue and White leaders do not want their party to completely implode.
The solution that is currently being formulated, but has not yet been finalized, is not flattering for Blue and White, the party that received the most votes in the September election. The gap between it and Likud is painful, and certainly disappointing not just for Blue and White supporters, but also for many others who voted for other parties and who hoped that Blue and White would succeed in forming a left-center bloc.
Blue and White stormed onto the scene in Israel as a representative of values such as honesty and consistency, and with promises to maintain its credibility even if that required paying a political and personal price. And now they’re being asked to join a man whom some people even compare to Turkish President Recep Erdogan?
IT’S CLEAR that Blue and White’s commitment not to join Netanyahu was made only in a situation in which they would be tempted to carry out such a move. Everyone knows that if the left-center bloc had 65 mandates, no one would ever expect them to leap into the arms of the transgressor, the one who has been charged.
However, the political situation we find ourselves currently in is such that Gantz had to announce that he would not sit in a government with someone who has been charged with bribery. So could he break that promise and breach all of his commitments? I doubt that Gantz and his fellow party leaders could reach that level of cynicism. They’re too decent to do such a thing.
Netanyahu has no problem engaging in such egregious acts. In his victory speech, when he was convinced that his success was decisive, he ruled out the option of forming a unity government. But if he runs into obstacles in forming a government, he’ll go crawling on his hands and knees to Liberman.
At the same time, he’ll try to tempt MKs from the Center-Left, and if necessary, even to the Joint List, and offer them a partnership, a division of powers, unexpected political temptations and, of course, unparalleled sectoral and personal benefits. It is not likely to work, since Netanyahu seems to be close to the end of his career.
The State of Israel has no borders. It doesn’t have borders that it or any other country in the world officially recognizes. The lack of physical borders, however, is just a symbol of the absence of boundaries in general. The government has no boundaries when it comes to good taste, morality, tolerance of others, respect for people who are different, or esteem for anyone who is not completely enslaved to the new rules of the game the government is trying to play.
This government is expressing its hatred for its rivals; however, their tone of contempt and disdain for those who support it with endless enthusiasm is not any weaker.
A perfect example of this contempt was expressed by Natan Eshel, who is extremely close to the imperial family. He spoke the truth, which we have heard in the past from Empress Sara and her crazed son. They rely on the support of Israeli citizens whose families come from Middle Eastern countries, Ethiopia and from the Druze community. In their hearts and with their words, however, the royal family despises, disrespects and insults them.
I had been hoping that this third election would extricate us from the jaws of this crazy family. That day will come soon, even if we have to wait for it just a little longer.
The writer was the 12th prime minister of Israel.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.