Reality check: It's all down to Lapid - opinion

Polls show there is an anti-Netanyahu majority in the country

YESH ATID Party chairman MK Yair Lapid speaks in the Knesset in August. (photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/FLASH90)
YESH ATID Party chairman MK Yair Lapid speaks in the Knesset in August.
(photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/FLASH90)
In a way, life would be easier for Benjamin Netanyahu right now if he were leading the opposition and not the incumbent prime minister fighting next month’s elections. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up the attacks Bibi the opposition leader would launch on Netanyahu the prime minister.
For starters, Netanyahu has been in power for over 11 consecutive years (with an earlier three-year spell also behind him). The United States wisely limits its presidents to no more than two four-year terms so as to protect against a slide into autocracy and prevent a president confusing the interests of the country he or she is elected to serve with their own personal interests.
It’s become abundantly obvious as the years have progressed that Netanyahu can no longer distinguish between the two. From the extravagance of the totally unnecessary prime ministerial airplane to the ridiculousness of his framing in a glass box the syringe from which he received the first COVID-19 vaccination in Israel, Netanyahu has clearly lost any sense of perspective regarding his role as a public servant.
The younger Netanyahu, before he became prime minister for the first time, called for limiting a prime minister’s term to two four-year tenures. If he was leading the opposition now, he would be highlighting the fact that our current prime minister has been in power for so long that he has lost all touch with reality, dragging himself off to the airport to greet every vaccination delivery and yet failing to pay his condolences (even by Zoom in these of days social distancing) to any of the 5,000 families who have lost a relative to the pandemic.
When opposition leader, Netanyahu callously and cynically knew how to make political hay out of Israeli fatalities. During the mid-1990s and the Hamas bus bombing campaign, Netanyahu would rush to the charred scene of the disaster and, even before all the bodies had been removed, blame then-premier Yitzhak Rabin for the deaths.
As Haaretz columnist Nehemia Shtrasler has pointed out, Netanyahu the opposition leader never had any scruples “dancing on the blood,” as the Hebrew saying has it, when seeking to topple a political rival. With more than 5,000 Israelis dead and a third lockdown ending with a higher number of infected people than when it began, Netanyahu the opposition leader would be holding daily press conferences alongside the ambulances queuing to unload the latest batch of urgent coronavirus victims, lambasting the government’s failure to enforce lockdown restrictions.
Then, of course, there is the fact that Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, with the next hearing of his case scheduled for Monday at the Jerusalem District Court. Back in 2008, Netanyahu insisted that Olmert had to stand down even before a decision was taken to indict him or not, arguing then that “a prime minister steeped up to his neck in investigations doesn’t have a moral or public mandate to make such fateful decisions regarding the State of Israel.”
Boy, was he right then. As Netanyahu has since proved through his consistent and determined attacks on the judicial and law enforcement systems, a prime minister under investigation – and later, indictment – cannot be trusted to lead the country. Ever since Netanyahu’s future as a free man has depended on him evading justice, the prime minister has held this country ransom, criminally preventing the passing of a state budget to buy himself more time to create a new government that will provide him with the immunity from prosecution he so desperately needs.
AND YET the opposition to Netanyahu has failed to make any of these weaknesses – his overlong period in office; the rising COVID-19 death toll; the fact that he’s been indicted on serious criminal charges; and his deliberate undermining of state institutions – count against him. In part, this is because of Benny Gantz’s disastrous decision to join a government under Netanyahu following the last round of elections.
By betraying Blue and White’s voters and sitting with Netanyahu, Gantz gave a hechsher to the prime minister continuing to stay in office despite his unprecedented legal position. Although Gantz belatedly admitted his error, he is stubbornly insisting Blue and White will fight next month’s elections, putting the anti-Netanyahu majority at risk due to the very real possibility of Blue and White (deservedly) failing to cross the electoral threshold.
With just over a month to go, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid needs to raise his game, convince Gantz to withdraw and take a leaf out of Netanyahu the opposition leader’s playbook by hammering home the point at every opportunity that Israel needs a new prime minister and a functioning coalition government.
Lapid has the advantage that he doesn’t need to convince the electorate to vote for him – right-of-center voters dismayed by Netanyahu’s dismantling of the Likud’s respect for the rule of law have the option of voting for Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party. The polls show there is a majority in the country that wants to see Netanyahu and his family turfed out of the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street; it’s for Lapid to make it happen.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.