A presidential pardon in turn for retirement

Middle Israel: Mutiny on the Likud’s ‘Bounty’

Benjamin Netanyahu at the postelection rally in September  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Benjamin Netanyahu at the postelection rally in September
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘I am a Ford, not a Lincoln,” said Gerald Ford upon installment as vice president, an automotive analogy that would be vindicated the following year, as he launched an anticlimactic, 30-month presidency that ended in electoral defeat.
Even so, Ford did one important thing: he granted Richard Nixon a presidential pardon, and thus helped cleanse a contaminated public atmosphere and repair a shaken political system’s soul.
That is what now needs to happen here.
RECENT DAYS’ events have vindicated economist Pinchas Landau’s prediction, cited here half a year ago (“Bibi Netanyahu: Get ready to step aside,” 24 May), that prior to his departure Netanyahu will be abandoned by his own colleagues.
This process began last week at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference with MK Gideon Sa’ar’s call on the Likud to hold a primary election prior to an early election, should one result from the current political stalemate.
Sa’ar and his argument, that Netanyahu must step aside because he has failed twice this year to produce a government and will certainly fail again, were soon embraced by three of the Likud’s mayors: Shimon Lankri of Acre, Itzik Danino of Ofakim, and Carmel Shama Hacohen of Ramat Gan.
Anyone who understands the Likud’s structure knows that these people are meaningful, since two of them, Lankri and Danino, enjoy grassroots followings in the geographic periphery that is a pillar of the Likud’s constituency, while Shama Hacohen, until recently Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, has links to the party’s financial supporters.
The common denominator among these mayors is that they don’t need much from Netanyahu in order to sustain their political careers, unlike the Likud’s ministers, who owe him their appointments, and unlike many lawmakers who still hope he will make them ministers or deputy ministers.
This selfish thinking is what Sa’ar was addressing, hoping to convince those still out to personally gain from Netanyahu’s political survival that they have little to expect, since his incumbency is in its twilight even if he fails to step aside.
Such argumentation may prove effective politically, but morally it misses the point, which may yet be made in upcoming days, whether by Sa’ar or someone else, as the mutiny within the Likud expands.
Netanyahu faces mutiny because, much like what happened during the fabled Bounty’s voyage across the Pacific in 1789, too many of the captain’s crew are sailing not for him, but for themselves, and much like the Bounty’s skipper, Netanyahu has made too many of his fellow travelers resent him.
The list of the people Netanyahu has put off over the years, and now needs, is breathtaking.
The defense, finance, and foreign ministers he lost in his first government last century (Itzik Mordechai, Dan Meridor and David Levy, all of whom resigned) no longer matter, but others – Moshe Kahlon, who was his communications minister, Sa’ar, who was his interior and education minister, Avigdor Liberman, who was director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during Netanyahu’s first premiership, Naftali Bennett, who was his chief of staff, Ayelet Shaked, who was his office manager – all care for Netanyahu no more than the Bounty’s rebels cared for Captain William Bligh.
These and others will happily see Netanyahu off, and soon they indeed will. The question is no longer whether, or even when (soon), only how.
THE PROBLEM with Sa’ar’s rallying cry is that it is morally weak.
The Likud’s mutineer does not call on his party’s followers to ask what went wrong with their leader, and not what his legal travails say about the political culture in which he and they thrived. Instead, Sa’ar tells the Likud’s members to ask ‘What’s in all this for me?’ Netanyahu, he effectively tells them, will not deliver you the political bounty you crave; I will.
That is a selfish argument. The moral argument that should replace it is that the party founded by arch-legalist Menachem Begin and inspired by his liberal mentor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, cannot be led by a man who drags his party into his personal situation, much less by one who, in order to flee justice, is prepared to hammer at the Zionist enterprise’s judicial pillars and social foundations.
If anyone within the Likud emerges in upcoming days with this kind of rhetoric, he or she will first draw fire, but then will attract those who care about what the rest of the citizenry care about most: the truth.
And the truth is that no one anywhere in the law enforcement apparatus has set out to frame Netanyahu, as he brazenly claims. For a prime minister to make such an allegation is scandalous enough, but to do so just in order to serve himself is altogether horrifying.
That is why this is the worst political crisis in Israel’s 71 years, and that is why it must be brought to an end not after Netanyahu’s day in court ends, but before it begins.
One way this can happen is a plea bargain. However, that would mean that Netanyahu would have to admit some of his alleged crimes, a prospect that currently seems unlikely.
The other option is what Hebrew University historian Alex Yakobson suggested the morning after the election, and Rabbi Yaakov Medan suggested this week, in the spirit of what Gerald Ford delivered Nixon the day he took his seat: a presidential pardon in return for Netanyahu’s immediate retirement.
The precedent for this was set in 1986, when president Chaim Herzog pardoned Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Avraham Shalom in return for his departure, following the killing and cover-up scandal known as the Bus 300 Affair.
The rationale back then was to reboot the Shin Bet’s work, just as Ford’s was to restore the American presidency’s dignity; just as what we now need, all of us, is a cleansing of the political ecosystem that Bibi Netanyahu has defiled.
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019), is an interpretation of the Jewish people’s political history.