Who's afraid of a fourth round of elections? – opinion

Cries of 'Bibi must go' couldn't me more ironic, with most Israels having no desire to return to the ballot box for the fourth time in under two years.

Israeli self-employed protest the lack of financial support from the Israeli government in times of Corona, when many find themselves unemployed, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2020.  (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Israeli self-employed protest the lack of financial support from the Israeli government in times of Corona, when many find themselves unemployed, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2020.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Israel’s High Court of Justice on Wednesday rejected a petition by residents of Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood – the location of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official Balfour Street residence – that the continuous mass protests in the area be limited or halted completely.
According to the dozens of petitioners, the demonstrations not only have been causing a severe disruption to their daily lives – with the deafening din disturbing their sleep – but pose a health risk. After all, participants at these events, many without face-coverings, or who wear their masks around their necks, gather in the thousands, making it impossible for them to adhere to coronavirus social-distancing regulations.
Justices Uzi Vogelman, Yael Wilner and Alex Stein ruled that due to the special status of the Prime Minister’s Residence, the rights of political protesters must be given priority over those of neighborhood denizens. The judges also opined that a reasonable balance between the rights of the demonstrators and residents has been achieved through the presence of police, who have been entrusted with enforcing COVID-19 mandates.
So far, however, enforcing the law at these events has been difficult, leading to clashes between police and demonstrators, with the former using water cannons as one method to disperse oversized crowds.
This hasn’t caused the anti-Netanyahu hysteria to die down, however. On the contrary, those attending what have become Woodstock-like happenings are given a shot of adrenaline at the sight of men and women in uniform trying to do their jobs.
There’s nothing quite like screaming about “police brutality” to invigorate “peaceful protesters” in weird get-ups, rolling around the streets playing bongo drums and waving hand-made posters calling on the “crime minister” to resign.
Their gripes are as varied as their outfits and makeshift instruments. But their message is loud, clear and uniform: Bibi must go.
Nothing could be more ironic these days, with talk of another round of elections in the air – something that the self-anointed champions of democracy demanding Netanyahu’s ouster vehemently oppose.
They’re not alone. Most Israelis have no desire to return to the ballot box for a fourth time in less than two years, especially not with the pandemic taking its toll on the economy. Yet it is precisely a battle over the state budget that is threatening to topple the government.
Observers from abroad might be puzzled that the key bone of contention between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its chief coalition partner, Blue and White – headed by Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz – is the term length of the budget and not, say, the handling of Hamas terrorism or the normalization treaty with the United Arab Emirates.
TO BE SURE, Netanyahu and Gantz disagree on many issues, but it is the former’s desire for a one-year budget and the latter’s insistence that it be for two – as was stipulated in the coalition agreement – that is at the root of the current deadlock.
Both positions have merit. Gantz is correct to point to the terms of the coalition deal that constituted the basis of the national-unity government forged between the two rivals. Netanyahu is right to assert that the coronavirus crisis has rendered any fiscal forecast beyond the very near future useless.
The trouble is that, according to the coalition agreement, if the budget isn’t passed by August 25, the Knesset will disband automatically, and new elections will be scheduled, probably for November. To stave off this possibility, Derech Eretz Party MK Zvi Hauser proposed a bill to extend the deadline. The bill passed its first reading on Monday, but cannot be legislated until it passes three readings and is approved by the Knesset Finance Committee.
But a meeting of the committee on Wednesday – the same day that the High Court denied the petition against protests near Netanyahu’s residence – exploded when Likud and Blue and White duked it out over conditions for the budget.
In other words, time is running out and rumors are rampant that both Netanyahu and Gantz are gearing up for another election campaign.
Netanyahu’s detractors are accusing him of using the budget as an excuse for new elections. They say that he wants the government to collapse so that Gantz doesn’t get the chance to replace him at the helm on November 17, 2021.
Some even claim that he is seeking elections in order to avoid standing trial in January. Others maintain that his interest in running again derives from the polls, which show Likud leading all other parties by a wide margin, and Yamina, led by Naftali Bennett, soaring. (Anger among many right-wingers at Netanyahu’s having halted plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria – as part of the US-brokered deal with the UAE – is likely to boost Bennett’s numbers even further.)
THE ALLEGATIONS about Netanyahu’s machinations are amusing. In the first place, his trial will proceed as scheduled, whether or not new elections are held. Secondly, the only way that Gantz won’t have the opportunity to become prime minister next year is if Netanyahu squarely defeats him and the left-wing bloc in said hypothetical elections.
Herein lies the crux of the matter. The ongoing anti-Bibi protests – reported by the media as gaining momentum with each passing week – clearly do not reflect the sentiment of the majority. If they did, the demonstrators would welcome new elections.
Indeed, voting is the vehicle through which a populace in a democracy expresses its will. And though the “anybody but Bibi” camp gave Netanyahu a run for his money in the past three rounds, they were unable to unseat him.
The twist this time around is that Blue and White – the conglomeration of disparate parties bent on replacing the longest-serving premier in Israel’s history – is but a shell of its former unjustly glorified self. Once Gantz decided to join a unity government with Netanyahu, his bloc fell apart.
But even Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, which split from Blue and White and today heads the opposition, isn’t posing a genuine challenge to Likud. To form a government if given the chance, his only recourse would be to court the far Left and anti-Zionists – something the Israeli public does not countenance, to put it mildly.
Nobody is more aware of the above than the protesters themselves, as is illustrated by their puerile venting about everything under the sun and nothing in particular. Chanting slogans such as “Netanyahu’s corrupt government stole from the poor to give to the rich,” “Bibi, let my people go” and “Netanyahu is detached from the nation,” these paragons of social justice act as though Netanyahu inherited a throne by birth. Or by accident.
“If Netanyahu doesn’t leave, Israel will cease to be a democracy,” one woman wailed to a reporter visibly happy for the headline. It is not clear how she imagines that democracies operate; perhaps she’s rusty on the meaning of the word. Or maybe the millions of Israelis who voted for a Netanyahu-led Likud, and who will do so again in the event that the Knesset dissolves next week, could enlighten her and her anti-Bibi cohorts.
The High Court determined this week that the protesters’ right to riot against their elected leader outweighs his neighbors’ request for some virus-free peace and quiet. The petitioners ought to have known that this would be the judges’ response. Contrary to the protesters’ yammering, the only person whose freedom of speech is curbed in Israel is Netanyahu’s.
Thankfully, and much to the dismay of the demonstrators, he has not lost the right to run in an election. Despite their hype, Israel is, always has been and will continue to be a democracy.