Middle Israel: Bibi’s most eligible successor

Moshe Yaalon is an experienced, balanced, and practical straight-shooter, and his personality is the antithesis of Netanyahu’s culture of hedonism.

Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon (photo credit: REUTERS)
Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Bibi Netanyahu is not going anywhere. The legal process he faces will take at least a year to mature, and the prime minister is determined not to resign.
Even so, the issue of Bibi’s successor must now be raised, and not only by the ruling party, since at stake is the leadership of the Jewish state.
The jockeying is indeed gathering momentum. Faced with multiple investigations, allegations and revelations backed by two state’s witnesses who only the other day were Bibi’s confidants, any aspiring successor must suspect that his own moment in the sun might arrive sooner rather than later.
Who, then, should this person be?
Obviously, Netanyahu’s successor must be someone who has already held public office and used it to deliver change and solve national problems.
This should disqualify Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. The 47-year-old lawyer from Ashkelon actually conceived the public broadcast reform, but when Netanyahu tried to undo that scheme, Erdan vanished, displaying his lack of the very spine that an Israeli prime minister must possess.
Fellow lawyer Gideon Sa’ar, 51, has not displayed such weakness, but as education minister in 2009-12 and as interior minister during 2013-2014 he left no indelible imprint, certainly not such that would make an Israeli government’s collection of self-important politicians respect and obey him.
The failure to leave a national imprint also goes for Naftali Bennett, whose performance as education minister is, like Saar’s before him, reasonable but not remarkable. This is besides Bennett’s reckless conduct during the 2014 fighting in Gaza, when he publicly breathed down the prime minister’s neck while serving as a member of his war cabinet.
One who has had an impact in her position is Ayelet Shaked. The 41-year-old justice minister’s imprint on the judiciary during less than three years in office has been profound, as her supporters and opponents all agree. No politician before her, from either Right or Left, managed to reshape the High Court the way she has while inserting into it four conservative justices.
However, Shaked has been an executive for only three years, and has not been tested in crisis situations, not even in her capacity as a security cabinet member, where her leadership would be tested only as part of a collective.
ONE WHO does bring extensive executive experience to this contest is Avigdor Liberman, who over the past 17 years has had three stints as minister of transport, infrastructure, and defense, and two as foreign minister.
However, Liberman’s repeated bravados over the years – such as his jingoistic vow that as defense minister he would give Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh 48 hours to return Israeli prisoners or be assassinated – exposed the current defense minister as a frivolous opportunist and demagogue.
This is besides his electoral performance. The shrinkage of Liberman’s following to hardly 5% of the electorate reflects his marginal position in the very political mainstream that an Israeli prime minister must represent.
A candidate who does represent average voters and has earned experience, delivered change, and also never publicly lost his cool is Israel Katz, who has been transport minister for the past nine years, after a stint last decade as Ariel Sharon’s agriculture minister.
The 62-year-old Katz’s delivery of railways, highways, interchanges, seaports, airports and low-cost air travel adds up to a transport revolution, which proves how much a politician with a sense of mission can get done.
In addition, Katz’s idea of building an island opposite Gaza shows he is also thinking of problems larger than his specific assignment, and that he can think outside the box. Finally, the burly Katz, even after his bariatric surgery, has an authoritative personality, certainly more than his party colleagues Erdan and Sa’ar.
Katz’s only drawback is that he is a creature of the very Likud apparatus that has blindly cheered Netanyahu all along his journey to perdition.
A politician since his years as a political-science undergraduate at the Hebrew University 40 years ago, Katz has been chairman of the Likud’s secretariat since 2003. The Tammany Hall machinery that inherited the infamous Mapai as Israel’s main distributor of political jobs is the ecosystem in which Katz has matured and thrived. For better or worse, his career has both overlapped and reflected the Likud era.
That is the context in which then-attorney-general Meni Mazuz ruled in 2009 that Katz acted “inappropriately” when Likud activists got assorted jobs in the Agriculture Ministry, and that is also the context in which Katz pandered to the mob when he called last year for Sgt. Elor Azaria’s pardon.
The next prime minister’s résumé cannot include such lines; he or she must bring not only an executive record and personal clout, but also moral authority. There is only one man who answers all these criteria: Bogie Ya’alon.
AS AN EXECUTIVE, Ya’alon was the chief of General Staff who led Israel to victory in last decade’s war on terrorism.
As defense minister, he produced the plan to streamline defense spending through five-year budgets, unlike his predecessors’ habit of battling every prime minister every year for yet more billions.
The Ya’alon Plan reflected a kind of rational, systemic, long-term thinking that has never been previously applied to Israel’s biggest expense. Such is also his current plan to expand civilian spending over a decade by an annual 1% of GDP in order to gradually close gaps with OECD investment standards in infrastructure, education, health and productivity.
Moreover, the tall but – unlike other retired generals – soft-spoken, modest and ever-listening Ya’alon has not compromised his moral values and humble ways since becoming a politician last decade.
That is why he opposed West Bank land-ownership legislation that would compromise Arab citizens’ property rights; that is why he ignored the riffraff during the Azaria Affair; that is why he refused to play foul in buying the IDF’s submarines; and that is why the farmer from Kibbutz Grofit in the Arava Valley, who spent years milking cows and shows up to summertime meetings in sandals, could not be more distant from Netanyahu’s culture of hedonism and weakness for luxury.
That is why Bogie Ya’alon should be Netanyahu’s successor.