'Yes Netanyahu,' 'No Netanyahu' will dominate Israel's elections - opinion

For better or worse it is probably correct that no one in Israeli politics today (or who is likely to enter politics within the next few months) equals Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset, December 2, 2020 (photo credit: YONATHAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset, December 2, 2020
(photo credit: YONATHAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Even though the Knesset has not yet completed the procedures for dissolving itself, the date of the elections to the 24th Knesset has not yet been set and the exact identity and make-up of the parties that will take part in the elections are not yet known, one does not have to be a political analyst to identify the beginning of election campaigns in the air. On the Likud’s part, two of the messages of this campaign are “there is no one who equals Bibi” and “this election should not be about ‘yes Bibi’ and ‘no Bibi.’”
For better or worse it is probably correct that no one in Israeli politics today (or who is likely to enter politics within the next few months) equals Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There is no one with his experience as prime minister. There are very few who have the wide horizons and knowledge that he has (Ehud Barak being one of the few who does, though he is semi-retired from active politics). There is no one as proficient as he is in terms of political cunning, and the arts of political deceit and trickery. And there is no one who has been served with three indictments on criminal charges and is totally immersed in efforts to avoid standing trial, and on tearing down, or at least destabilizing the pillars of the law and justice enforcement institutions in the service of this purpose.
I should like to relate to the first point on this list. There is no one in Israel, dead or alive, who has served as prime minister for longer than Netanyahu. I would add that there is no doubt that in the course of these years he has achieved a lot in the field of foreign policy and the promotion of peace with the Arab world, in the field of macroeconomics and all while strengthening Israel’s military power.
His record is much less impressive in terms of dealing with the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, i.e. the Palestinian issue, microeconomics (how the macro-economic achievement permeate downwards to the individual), trying to decrease social rifts, strengthening the education and health systems, etc. He has failed to strengthen the foundations of the Israeli democracy (perhaps he never intended to do this), and to strengthen Israel’s Jewishness in a manner that is congenial to all sections of the Jewish society – religious and secular alike. Likewise, he has failed to find an efficient and coherent balance between the free economy and the welfare state, which is undoubtedly due to his belief in neoliberalism (except when it comes to his ultra-Orthodox partners, towards whom he practices an extreme form of socialism).
Certainly, experience is important, but one of the basic principles of democracy is that the prime minister or president should be replaced every few years (in the US a president can serve for no more than two terms – 8 years), simply because too many years in power corrupt, encourage autocracy and prevent trying out new approaches and policies. Besides, if one person remains in power for too many years, how will anyone else gain relevant experience? When Netanyahu was first elected prime minister many said that he lacked experience, compared to his rival at the time – Shimon Peres. That did not disqualify him at the time, and in many senses, he was a breath of fresh air (at least at first).
AS HIS second term progressed – after 2009 – Netanyahu started to act systematically to remove or castrate potential rivals. Most recently former minister Gilead Erdan was kicked over to the US to serve as Ambassador to the UN and the US simultaneously. In February 2020, former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat was promised the Ministry of Finance by Netanyahu, but in the 23rd Knesset ended up in the backbenches of the Likud, preparing policy proposals that are ignored by the prime minister and planning to contend for the Likud leadership after the Netanyahu era. The fact that Barkat would have made a much better Minister of Finance than the self-proclaimed King Hordus who occupies the position at the moment, does not impress Netanyahu, who apparently views the talented and experienced Barkat as more of a political threat to himself than the bungling Yisrael Katz.
Very frequently people bring the example of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has served for 15 years since 2005. From a democratic point of view, Merkel has undoubtedly been in power for too long. However, the difference between herself and Netanyahu is that though Merkel has rivals, to most she symbolizes moderation, consensus and tranquility. Furthermore, she has not been involved in any scandals, or criminal investigations, is modest and mentally sound, and she herself has announced that she will not run again for election. No one has called for her resignation – she decided that it was time to quit.
When Likudniks say that the next elections should not be about “yes Bibi” and “no Bibi,” but rather about ideologies and policies, they are ignoring several facts. The first is that the main opposition to Netanyahu is not about his ideology and policies (though there are those who opposed these as well), but because of his conduct, the way he treats his colleagues and foes, his constant lying, his systematic breach of agreements, his attempts to break up the law and justice enforcement institutions for his own personal benefit (unlike the current Knesset Speaker MK Yariv Levin and number two in Yamina, MK Ayelet Shaked, who wish to see changes in these institutions for ideological reasons). Add to all of this Netanyahu’s known stinginess and his inclination to sponge money and other money-equivalent benefits from the State and from wealthy relatives and acquaintances.
In fact, today the not-Bibi camp includes many right-wingers who have been hurt personally by Netanyahu. Some of them joined Blue and White when it was founded. Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu left Netanyahu before the end of the term of the 20th Knesset. Yamina left him when he formed his emergency government with Blue and White, but bad blood ran between Netanyahu and former defense minister Naftali Bennett long before that, and over the years there were differences of opinion about policies as well. Benny Gantz and Blue and White sacrificed their “just not Bibi” principle, and their chance to ever replace Netanyahu, by joining his emergency government for what turned out to be naive altruistic reasons. They were warned that Netanyahu cannot be trusted to do anything that does not help him directly with his legal battle at any given moment of time. They learned the hard way.
The outcome of the next elections is difficult to predict because we do not yet know what parties will run, what alliances and what splits will take place. But most of all we do not know whether Bennett will end up swallowing his pride and rejoin Netanyahu, despite his bitter past experience, or whether he will choose to join those who wish to see the Netanyahu era come to an end.
In the final reckoning, the struggle will again be between “yes Bibi” and “no Bibi.”
Let us hope that one way or the other, this time there will be a clear-cut decision.