On Monday, KAN radio interviewed Likud MK David Amsalem ahead of the upcoming votes on the state budget.
Amsalem was asked about a petition published last week that calls on Likud members to pledge never to form a government or join a government with supporters of terrorism, or one which relies on the support of people who had expressed support or sympathy in the past for terrorists.
Amsalem was not asked why the Likud Party teamed up with Itamar Ben-Gvir, an MK convicted in the past of supporting a terrorist movement, but about Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, whose party is now blamed – by the Likud – for supporting terrorists. He was then asked why nearly the entire Likud faction has signed the petition but party leader Benjamin Netanyahu has not.
Amsalem replied: “The prime minister does not sign petitions.” The answer left the interviewers in shock, and after a couple of seconds, one replied: “What do you mean? I just want to remind you that he is not the prime minister.”
Amsalem then said: “Why does it matter? He’s the prime minister for me. He’s not the acting prime minister, but he was the prime minister, and he will be the prime minister.”
Such a response was not a gaffe. These remarks are part of a long line of statements made by Likud members since the current government was formed, aimed at undermining the government’s legitimacy.
Two weeks ago, Netanyahu celebrated his 72nd birthday at the Knesset. In a video that later went viral, the entire faction was seen giving a standing ovation and joyfully singing: “happy birthday to you, Mr. prime minister.”
One might say the title is an honorific given to those who served in the most senior public position, as is common in the US where “president” is a lifetime title.
But such is not the case in Israel. We have seen prime ministers who stayed in politics after losing an election race, and none have kept the title. When Ehud Barak became defense minister in 2007, no one referred to him as “prime minister Barak” or even “former prime minister Barak” – they called him “defense minister Barak.” When interviewed today, he is simply referred to as Mr. Barak (after being introduced as a former prime minister).
The same is true with Yitzhak Rabin, who served as prime minister between 1974 and 1977, and then served as a minister in the 1980s. Even Yitzhak Navon, after serving as the country’s president, was referred to as “minister Navon” when he became education and culture minister in 1984.
But the issue at hand is not about titles. It is simply about a small, but vocal group that will not accept anyone but Netanyahu as prime minister
The seeds of this poisonous plant were planted when Netanyahu was still prime minister. His fellow Likud members were expected to abide by his rules, express unequivocal support and defend him on TV and radio. Those who dared to speak against him, like Gideon Sa’ar, were immediately labeled as traitors, and – heaven forbid – “leftists.”
The same process is being carried out against Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He is called all sorts of names, and there are continuous efforts to undermine the legitimacy of his term in office.
And there’s a dimension of hypocrisy in this process. When Sa’ar presented a bill recently that would prevent a candidate under indictment from running as prime minister, Netanyahu, and the Likud dubbed it as an “Iranian bill,” suggesting that it was undemocratic. But let’s not forget that it was the Likud that suggested passing a bill to install direct voting for prime minister when it saw Netanyahu could not form a government and the “change bloc” was about to form a coalition.
What’s more “Iranian” – acting as if there’s only one person out of nine million Israelis who is fit to be prime minister or supporting a legitimate coalition that was formed by the majority of Knesset?
It is time for Netanyahu supporters to become mensches and accept the people’s will. There’s a legitimate government in place, and as they always said: a prime minister is replaced only in the ballot boxes.