Choosing between Netanyahu and a leader from the ideological right

Bennett and Sa’ar are both members of the ideological Right – but more on the side of the liberal Right than on the conservative or fascist Right.

GIDEON SA’AR visits Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem last week. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
GIDEON SA’AR visits Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem last week.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Against the background of the realization that the only democratic way to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power by democratic means, at this point of time, is to elect a right-wing leader to replace him, part of the Center-Left in Israel is currently engaged in a bitter argument as to whether a committed right-wing leader is preferable to Netanyahu, or vice versa – in other words, which of the two options is the lesser evil, in center-left eyes.
There are those, like former Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who believe that the two most visible candidates to replace Netanyahu at the moment – Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar – are both extreme ideological right-wingers, who are much more dangerous to Israel’s democracy and even to its existence than is the rather opportunist Netanyahu, whose ideology seems quite flexible and dependent on current circumstances and his immediate personal interests. In other words, in the absence of a center-left leader with any chances of beating Netanyahu in elections, Netanyahu is preferable to Bennett and Sa’ar.
I disagree, on several counts.
First of all, though the Center-Left has some ideological issues with Netanyahu, the main issue is not ideological. The issue is Netanyahu’s conduct, his autocratic inclinations, his constant lying and breach of agreements and promises, his three indictments, which he refuses to deal with fairly and squarely, his deliberate incitement against the ideological Left and anyone who opposes him for whatever reason, which is liable to lead to violence and even bloodshed at the hands of individual right-wing hoodlums, and last but not least – his use of every conceivable means to remain in power, not giving anyone, even within his own party, a fair chance to contend with him on equal terms.
As to Bennett and Sa’ar, undoubtedly, they are both members of the ideological Right – but more on the side of the liberal Right than on that of the conservative or fascist Right.
Both believe in Greater Israel, in the Jewish right to settle anywhere in the Land of Israel, and reject the two-state solution. That is what being right-wing means in Israel today, and it is not illegitimate, any more than being left-wing, believing in the two-state solution, and in equality for all citizens of the State of Israel.
Both believe the Israeli legal system ought to be reformed, in order to better represent the various sections of society – not in order to serve the legal interests of a particular person.
Both are neoliberals in their economic positions, even though the current coronavirus crisis has proven once again that there are certain matters that cannot be left to private initiative, and that the government has to be willing and able to offer its citizens solutions in times of crisis, in addition to appropriate welfare services at all times.
Bennett is “light religious,” and Sa’ar is what is known as “traditional” (he keeps the Sabbath and kashrut, but does not ordinarily wear a skullcap).
At the same time, both are pragmatists, neither is more racist than the average Israeli (both Jewish and Arab), neither speaks of a transfer of the Arabs or against equality for Israel’s minorities as individuals, and both have a proven track record of close cooperation and even friendship with members of the opposite camp – Bennett with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, and Sa’ar with former Labor leader and MK Shelly Yacimovich, who speaks of him with affection to the present day.
True, Bennett has some ideological problems in his party in the form of MK Bezalel Smotrich and his National Union Party, which is one of the components of Yamina in opposition today, but he managed to keep the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit Party out of Yamina toward the elections to the 23rd Knesset last March, despite efforts by Netanyahu to get him to include Otzma Yehudit in the Yamina list, so as to maximalize the right-wing vote.
In short, though I would be happy if a worthy center-left leader would emerge and have a chance of winning sufficient support to form a government after the next elections, I would certainly breathe a sigh of relief if either Bennett or Sa’ar would form our next government – preferably an authentic national-unity government, truly representing the Right, Left and Center, which Netanyahu is simply incapable of forming in good faith.
HOWEVER, THERE is another aspect of the question that ought to be taken into consideration. After over 10 years in power, the Likud needs to be weaned from the Netanyahu cult, the likes of which no Israeli party has ever experienced before.
Even David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who was revered and respected, was not worshiped as Netanyahu is, even though his understanding of the issues of state, and his achievements, were monumental and far more impressive than Netanyahu’s. Ben-Gurion also never went about bragging about his achievements, and never failed to share vital information or consult the relevant professional personnel and his relevant political colleagues.
Not only must the Likudniks be weaned from Netanyahu, most of all for the sake of democracy within the Likud, but like the Labor Party in the late 1970s the Likud must recover from the sense that “l’état c’est nous,” and the cockiness of some of its representatives, which can be sickening, as it was in the case of many Laborites before the political upheaval of 1977.
An example of what I am talking about occurred exactly two weeks ago when Transportation Minister Miri Regev and MK Osnat Hila Mark – both members of the Judicial Selection Committee, and both staunch and outspoken supporters of Netanyahu – wanted to twist the arm of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn from Blue and White and prevent the meeting of the committee to select 61 new judges, because they disapproved of an Arab candidate for the Jerusalem District Court – Abbas Assi – whom they consider to be “anti-Zionist,” due to some of his verdicts as judge in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. Their plan was to stay away from the meeting, together with another member of the committee – MK Zvi Hauser, from Derech Eretz, who had his own ax to grind with the committee – under the assumption that the meeting could not be held without them. But they were wrong. The meeting took place and the judges – including the Arab candidate – were selected. With a huff and a puff and all sorts of accusations against Nissenkorn and
the committee, Mark and Regev petitioned the High Court of Justice, which last Monday threw out their petition.
So perhaps the Likud needs some time out of government, to reorganize for the post-Netanyahu era, to relearn some humility, and to digest the fact that a growing part of the “just not Bibi” bloc is ideologically right-wing, and not composed of “leftist traitors.”
By tomorrow we shall know whether elections to the 24th Knesset will be held in March, or whether the play will be put off by a few months, until such time as the theaters will reopen.