What is Netanyahu fighting for?

Netanyahu is not waging a war against the coronavirus. He’s managing a war for his own survival, and nothing else.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the nation on Tuesday March 17 2020 regarding the novel coronavirus  (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the nation on Tuesday March 17 2020 regarding the novel coronavirus
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Benjamin Netanyahu, the interim prime minister, is not fighting to establish a national-unity government because he believes it’s the right way to handle the coronavirus pandemic.
Netanyahu, the head of the Likud Party, does not really want to establish a government based on a reasonable balance of power and responsible management of state affairs. The interim prime minister, who is using every legitimate, and mostly illegitimate, excuse to evade showing up at court, is only concerned with one single matter: how to retain his position as prime minister and to evade prosecution.
There is no other way to explain the situation. The various individuals who are currently contending for political positions are certainly subject to constraints that affect their decision whether or not to publicly and openly comment in a firm manner on what many people feel. I am exempt from these constraints. Not only do I have the right, but also a duty, to say what has become the central subject of nightly conversations in many homes in the country.
Netanyahu is not waging a war against the coronavirus. He’s managing a war for his own survival, and nothing else.
The novel coronavirus is a very serious threat. In some respects, it’s a greater threat than anything the world has faced in the last few hundred years. In contrast to previous pandemics in the last few centuries and that resulted in tens of millions of deaths, humanity has developed capabilities and tools that have enabled us to find effective responses against the coronavirus. It’s only a matter of time until these tools, medicines and treatments will be ready to protect most people who are exposed to this unmanageable danger.
I was health minister during the First Gulf War. At the time, our biggest concern was protecting ourselves from chemical and biological warfare, which required an extremely comprehensive assessment of the country’s health systems, hospitalization capabilities, and purchasing of medicines that would be necessary in case of a chemical or biological attack.
At the time, the public sector in general, and especially the public health system, functioned in an excellent manner to address the threat. At the end of the day, it was a useful exercise that thankfully we didn’t need to experience in reality.
The current crisis is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in the past. Under no circumstances should the risks involved here be understated. We must take any and every precautionary step recommended by the professional authorities in an effort to minimize the threat of infection to each one of us as much as possible.
It’s difficult not to be impressed by the TV and other media professionals who’ve spent hours in the studios. Most of them relay the relevant information in matter-of-fact and eloquent tones that are catchy, but also subdued. Health Ministry officials, and its director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, have created the impression that they know what they’re doing, that they are sensitive to the fears that a large portion of the population naturally is feeling, and that they understand the need to take appropriate precautions to protect Israel’s medical practitioners in hospitals, clinics and any place where there is reason to believe that people who’ve been infected need help.
Health ministry officials, as well as former and current hospital administrators, have shown impressive knowledge and seriousness in the way they describe the current situation, and in the way they divulge difficult facts that although they are hard to hear, must be stated.
I am not in a position to judge, nor is the vast majority of the public, whether the restrictions that are being imposed on us are excessive or unavoidable. Did they hold organized discussions to weigh various alternatives? Did they consider ways to limit the economic damage and social ramifications, while also taking into account the inevitable risk factors of an extensive spreading of the virus?
Did they consider the possibility that the complete collapse of Israel’s economy, which might happen if all general activity is brought to a complete standstill, could result in more lasting damage and possibly more casualties and fatalities, than if we had chosen a more balanced reaction that would enable us to maintain a higher level of economic activity, employment and freedom of movement than is allowed at the present, and which might become even more restricted in the coming days.
There is no simple answer to these questions. I assume that the National Economic Council, a governmental organization which I established when I was prime minister, and which discusses topics such as the crisis we’re currently experiencing, is most certainly considering alternatives. The National Security Council, which also deals with such questions, is also involved in the decision-making process, together with various governmental offices, regarding decrees that will be made in the upcoming days and weeks.
None of this has any connection to the prime minister’s ludicrous solo performance on the news each evening during prime time. The only person who has turned the coronavirus into a theatrical performance is Benjamin Netanyahu. His recurring performances every evening do not offer any helpful information to the public. He doesn’t say anything that’s important for the public to know or how we should be comporting ourselves in order to reduce the potential harm and danger to fellow citizens.
Watching Netanyahu perform is experiencing theatrical art at its best. Every performance – and I say this from first-hand knowledge and following years of experience with the actor and seeing how he prepares himself for his performances – is planned down to the minutest detail. He carries out rehearsals in front of the mirror at home (his mirror on Balfour Street is big enough, I know) so he can practice all the nuances that turn his performances into an art form.
Someone might, heaven forbid, think that during one of his recent televised press conference performances in front of a small group, when he told the people sitting in the audience to sit with extra space between each other, that this was a spontaneous comment. It wasn’t. He’d prepared this moment ahead of time, just as he had with the tissue that he took out of his pocket to wipe his nose.
Every little detail was meticulously prepared in advance. Like the actors in the world’s most sophisticated theaters, not one action was unintentional. Nothing happened by chance or was spontaneous. Netanyahu has turned the coronavirus into one long swirl of macaroni, which he’s climbing with vigor in order to keep from falling into the abyss.
Even Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who’s been forced to play a supporting role in these daily recitals, has shown restraint in his recommendations. In actuality, what he’s saying is: I’m here because I don’t have a choice. But it’s not my show – it’s Netanyahu’s. All the other participants are accidental extras, by virtue of their roles and the responsibilities they’ve been given. They are fulfilling their mission, as best they can under the circumstances, and yet the prime minister presents them as a group of butlers whose only purpose is to shine a light on him.
It’s perfectly clear now that Likud members are not really focused on finding a solution to the coronavirus threat. Instead, they are busy dealing with a much more severe threat – the plague that threatens our country’s democratic principles.
There’s no more overwhelming proof of the Likud’s priorities than their insistence on retaining Yuli Edelstein in the position of Knesset speaker.
Edelstein is a worthy individual. His Likud membership does not disqualify him and does not diminish his talents, leadership capabilities and the respectful way he has fulfilled his role, even during the most difficult constraints and provocations from the imperial family – the father, the mother and the crazy son. Take, for example, the famous ceremony on Mount Herzl celebrating the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel almost three years ago.
We are now experiencing a new political era in which 61 members of Knesset have expressed their desire to bring in a new Knesset speaker. In the past, and in all nine times that I was sworn in as a member of Knesset, the first session was run by a member of Knesset who was voted in during the most recent election, or was one of the most veteran MKs. There has always been a broad-based agreement between the parties regarding who should lead the new Knesset sessions until a new speaker can be chosen. In many instances, the speaker was chosen during the first session. Sometimes it took a few weeks, but there was always agreement, and always an understanding, that the previous Knesset becomes irrelevant once new members are sworn in.
The Likud’s insistence on maintaining control of the position of Knesset speaker is insufferable. My complaint has nothing to do with Edelstein – he is a gentleman from a previous generation, the likes of which are no longer common in our surroundings. After agreeing to allow the Knesset plenum to convene for a vote regarding immunity, Edelstein was almost crucified. Now he is under pressure to insist on something that is in direct, blatant contradiction to the sensible rules of democracy.
But what choice does he have? Will he have the strength to do the right thing, even if it is harmful to his imperial highness, the imperial queen and their son, who control every move the right-wing bloc makes? It’s perfectly clear that the only reason for holding onto the speaker position is to prevent Blue and White from beginning legislative proceedings that would prevent Netanyahu from continuing his term as prime minister.
It’s clear that controlling the Knesset’s agenda is another measure designed to enable this group of criminals to supervise any moves that would prevent the unexpected collapse of control they’ve created to extend Netanyahu’s rule. Apparently, nobody really cares if we remain a democracy.
This issue reveals the Likud gang’s true intentions. They have no interest in forming a unity government or reaching a national reconciliation. They could care less about intra-party solidarity or mobilizing all of the efforts, talents, resourcefulness and capabilities of citizens.
For Netanyahu, the supreme value that soars above all others – which is higher even than the state itself – is his own survival.
This is exactly why Gantz needs to take on new traits. He needs to be firm, resolute and completely disregard the Likud members’ self-righteous eye-rolling.
Anyone who engages in incitement and polarization, who insults and disqualifies a large part of society for years, and who considers his political opponents, three of whom are former IDF chiefs of staff, as collaborators with people who supposedly call for Israel’s destruction, is the last person who should be allowed to talk about unity and national responsibility.
The only way we can take responsibility for national unity, make way for change, and remain hopeful is for Netanyahu to step down and leave the government.
We will survive the coronavirus without him.
The author was the 12th prime minister of Israel.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.