Likud needs a change of guard if democracy is to be served

Democracy must serve its citizens, and not the other way around.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 15, 2019 (photo credit: GALI TIBBON POOL/REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 15, 2019
The Israeli government has not been functioning for the entire year of 2019. We’ve already had two elections, and a third election season is now upon us. Government offices, which even in more stable times have no long-term strategic plans in place, are barely functioning. No decisions regarding the functioning of the country as a whole are being made, budgets are not being passed and some local authorities are “rebelling” against the national government. Hospitals are collapsing, infrastructure plans are not being approved, and there is no sign that anything will change in the near future.
Some commentators will claim that this is the price of living in a democracy. But that’s just not true. Democracy is indeed the foundation upon which the State of Israel was built, and the Declaration of Independence states that the country is both a Jewish and democratic state. Nonetheless, democracy must serve its citizens, and not the other way around. For citizens to feel that they are an integral part of the democratic system, they must be able to trust their elected officials, the electoral system and the government’s structure. The government must represent them and fulfill their needs.
Unfortunately, something bad has happened here in Israel over the last decade. The ideal of democracy seems to have gotten lost as a handful of elected officials have taken over and begun ruling the country according to their whims. They have their own laws and they make up new rules as they go along. They apply democratic principles only when it suits them.
The ruling party, Likud, has been in power almost continuously since 1977, with just a few short breaks. In fact, I would venture to say that it is the only significant democratic party in Israel. And yet, something very undemocratic has been taking place within its walls for some time now.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has headed the Likud Party and been prime minister for over a decade now, in addition to his previous term. He has done a tremendous amount of good for our country, while cementing his standing in all the party institutions and surrounding himself with an almost blind loyalty from other politicians and businesspeople who take care of themselves before thinking about what’s good for the country.
No, Netanyahu is not a magician, though he did serve the country for many years and represented Israel in the world quite honorably. He is a brilliant diplomat and a gifted politician. But he did lose in the Likud primaries when he ran against Ariel Sharon, and in 1999 he lost in the election to Ehud Barak, which led the Likud to an all-time low of just 19 seats in the Knesset.
In 2006, Netanyahu once against suffered defeat and brought the Likud to a record low of 12 seats in the Knesset. Since 2009, the Likud has remained in power with Netanyahu at its head. The last time primaries were held in the Likud was in 2014. Since that time, the big guns of the Likud have ensured that no potential rivals might jeopardize his position.
BUT THINGS have changed since then. Gideon Sa’ar returned to politics, and to his home party, Likud. He’s garnered substantial support in his efforts to wiggle his way up the top of the list, despite great efforts by Netanyahu and his associates to thwart Sa’ar’s rise. And so now, after Netanyahu served as prime minister for over 10 years, and failed to form a government after both of the elections that took place in 2019, Sa’ar is demanding change. He’s demanding that the Likud uphold its democratic character and hold primaries.
This is not a putsch or a betrayal. No one is being disloyal to a ruling leader. This is simply the necessary step that must take place in Israel’s most popular party if there is to be any hope of a functioning, stable government being formed.
One of the Likud’s greatest strengths is the loyalty of its members to whichever leader is in control, even in times of crisis. Despite what has happened in the Labor Party, this loyalty has proven itself and brought about long-standing stability within the Likud leadership. Nonetheless, the time has come for change. It’s time to thank Netanyahu for his loyal service, and to replace him and his close supporters with a new leadership. This form of action is the only option available for the Likud if it wants to survive.
After the dust settles, Netanyahu’s replacement will have to begin repairing all the broken parts and establish a proper political relationship with the political Left, the religious parties and representatives of the Arab sector. The party needs to reinstate the party’s vision established by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and do what’s best for the people and not just its leaders.
There is no one today who is more fitting than Gideon Sa’ar to take over the Likud leadership. Sa’ar brings with him many years of political expertise, intelligence and critical thinking. He is capable of long-term strategic planning, is a great speaker and a courageous leader with the air of senior official. He is also the only figure who is capable of bridging the gaps between the various political camps and maintaining a functioning, stable government.
In the past, Sa’ar has proven himself through his long-term strategic planning in the fields of education, health, welfare and security. It’s hard to think of any other politician with such a successful record since the days of David Ben-Gurion. All the polls are showing that if a new Likud leadership is chosen, the party would grow to such an extent that it would succeed in forming a stable, long-standing government.
It’s time for a change of leadership in the ruling party. The people are demanding this and the country needs it. It’s time we started dealing with the issues and solving our problems. The next items on the agenda need to be changing the electoral process and government structure. We don’t have any more time to waste on unnecessary and expensive elections.
The writer is a former deputy Shin Bet chief, an intelligence and terrorism specialist, and an author.