When the laughter ends

Netanyahu’s coalition allies are not prepared to write a blank check to keep him in office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads from a speech in Knesset March 12, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads from a speech in Knesset March 12, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scornful taunting of the Zionist Union opposition in the Knesset last week as the threat of an election in June suddenly evaporated was totally justified. The prime minister hit the nail squarely on the head when he mockingly described the feeling of relief sweeping the opposition benches the minute they realized they were not going to be left to the mercy of the electorate.
Despite being the official head of the opposition, the Zionist Union singularly failed throughout the whole recent political crisis to act as any self-respecting parliamentary opposition should, and actively seek to bring the government down as soon as possible. Although Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay publicly declared the party’s readiness for early elections, the Zionist Union’s senior Knesset members worked behind the scenes to neutralize Netanyahu’s plans for a June polling date by insisting they would help block the necessary legislation to disperse the Knesset.
On the face of it, there can be some understanding of the Zionist Union Knesset members’ stance. According to the most recent polls, the next elections are going to be a disaster for them, with a Channel 2 News poll predicting their winning only 13 seats, compared to the 24 they currently hold, with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party overtaking them as the leader of the center-left bloc in the Knesset.
Nevertheless, in a parliamentary democracy, the duty of the opposition is to oppose the government at almost any and every opportunity. The Zionist Union’s spineless failure to do so last week will do little to persuade voters, come whenever election day may, that they deserve their support at the ballot box.
However, it’s not all plain sailing for the prime minister. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s strident remarks in a television interview at the end of last week that Netanyahu will have to stand down if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decides to issue an indictment against him is the first clear indication that Netanyahu’s coalition allies are not prepared to write a blank check to keep him in office for the rest of this government’s full term.
With the 2019 state budget already approved by the Knesset and house prices beginning to fall – according the Central Bureau of Statistics, the cost of housing fell by 1% in December and January compared to the preceding two months – the Kulanu leader has real accomplishments he can show the electorate. And unlike the cowardly Zionist Union, Kahlon credibly threatened Netanyahu with an early election if last week’s political crisis over drafting haredi soldiers derailed the passing of his budget.
Kahlon’s insistence that Netanyahu must step down if an indictment is served is significant because without Kulanu’s 10 seats in the Knesset, Netanyahu no longer has a government. Just as importantly, Kahlon’s position forcefully challenges the narrative promoted by Netanyahu’s allies inside the Likud, who have claimed that Netanyahu has the right of presumption of innocence, and is free to serve as prime minister up until the day he is convicted, should it come to that.
It’s saddening that we’ve reached a stage in Israel’s development where a declaration like Kahlon’s needs to be made, rather than it being obvious that a prime minister under indictment can no longer continue in office, but given that is the sorry state of affairs inside the country’s ruling party, Kahlon’s intervention is timely and proper.
In his television interview, Kahlon made the point that nobody is above the law, a point which was also echoed in the first excerpts of former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s autobiography In First Person, which was serialized over the weekend in Yediot Aharonot’s weekend magazine. Aside from settling scores with political rivals ranging from former Labor leader Ehud Barak to Netanyahu, the disgraced prime minister, who was sentenced to 18 months in jail on corruption charges, also writes about his experience in prison.
“When there’s a duty rota, I’m there, I don’t want to be an exception,” the former prime minister writes. “When the corridor floor needs washing and it’s my turn, I wash the floor. When vegetables need slicing for a salad, I do so as best I can. The same as everyone. No favors, no benefits.”
“The same as everyone. No favors, no benefits.” A lesson, perhaps, the current prime minister still needs to learn.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.