Search and Hit Enter

Israel’s chances of a political assassination rise, and Netanyahu is the only reason

In October 1995 the streets were ablaze. Extreme hatred ran rampant through the cities. The prime minister was nearly attacked while visiting the Wingate Institute in Netanya. Doctored posters of him wearing an SS uniform were hoisted at protests.

The opposition leader led marches with a mock coffin and a noose (which he never saw. He never saw). At the Knesset gates, young people stormed a minister’s car. “I saw murder in their eyes,” he later said. “Someone is going to get killed.”

A Kahanist thug ripped the hood ornament off the prime minister’s Cadillac and boasted: “We’ll get to him, too.”

In October 2021 the streets are relatively quiet. There are no marches or major protests, except for the ones by medical interns and, alas, anti-vaccine activists. Zion Square is empty. Occasionally there are shrill choruses in front of the homes of senior government officials, while other times protesters are sent to harass the prime minister’s elderly mother.

Most of the hostility is channeled onto social media, a cesspool of verbal filth, and worse, into the Knesset. Parliament has become today’s street. In its marketplace of ideas, vulgar barrow boys and girls ply their trade.

Wednesday, though, shattered records of de-evolution. As it does every week, the opposition submitted a series of private member’s bills. The coalition voted them down. When Arye Dery raised a motion to establish a “national authority to combat poverty” (which he suddenly cares about; until four months ago there was no poverty in the land), a commotion broke out on the opposition benches. They were preparing for Naftali Bennett’s nay vote.

As the prime minister’s turn to vote came, hoarse voices – amid bulging eyes and protruding veins – roared at him: Go away! Get lost! Fraud! Thief! Cheat! Corrupt! For minutes they growled like a pack of rabid dogs. They couldn’t be calmed.

Bennett looked at them, appalled. He removed his mask so as not to appear he was hiding behind it. Other coalition members stood by him in an act of solidarity. When the noise subsided a bit, he went down to his office on the second floor, where a hearing on reforming the cosmetics industry was being held. “Israeli democracy is as vibrant as ever,” he said.

Never has an Israeli prime minister suffered so much filth, obscenity, invective and calumny in the Knesset.

Not Yitzhak Rabin during the time of the Oslo Accords, not Ariel Sharon during the Gaza disengagement, not Ehud Olmert, who went to Mahmoud Abbas with far-reaching peace offers, burdened by criminal investigations and near-zero public support. And not even Golda Meir after the Yom Kippur War.

Alongside the ideological heirs of assassin Yigal Amir in 1995 (as Yair Lapid accurately put it at this year’s Rabin memorial), sits the next generation. At home, in front of the TV or computer sits a right-wing ideologue. Maybe he wears a skullcap. Either way, he sees a regular ritual: a verbal lynching of the prime minister.

The lynch mob is made up of Knesset members, some of them former ministers. The wildest among them are members of Likud, the largest party in parliament. Close behind are most of Shas and the religious racism party headed by Bezalel Smotrich. The head of the collective, the opposition leader, silences none of them, he’s immersed in his papers. Once again he didn’t see, he didn’t know.

Did I earlier call the Knesset a street? Sometimes it’s a gutter. “Israel hater” and “voting with terror” is what Likud’s Miri Regev called Yesh Atid’s Ram Ben Barak, a former deputy Mossad chief who has risked his life for this country in operations she hasn’t even read about.

He’s also a bereaved brother; his brother was killed in the Yom Kippur War. This is another thing the former prime minister, who worked very closely with Ben Barak for many years, tweeted absolutely nothing about. Others in Likud did.

The Attorney General, well acquainted with Benjamin Netanyahu’s shenanigans, thinks that even in his current role Netanyahu is a clear and present danger to democracy.

And when none of this calms down but rather intensifies, it’s clear that the threat of violence, including political murder, has tripled for one reason only: The Likud leader was forced to part with the seat he believed he held title to.

A democracy booster

Bennett will spend most of Friday in Sochi meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The language, mannerisms and gestures will be studied under a microscope, and not only in Israel. The two will mostly discuss Iran and Syria.

Bennett said in a closed meeting that he won’t leave to his successor what he inherited on the Iranian front. These are mere words, but their meaning can’t be ignored. The need to deal with the problem may fall on his watch. He’s currently overseeing an immense resupply and upgrade effort ahead of a possible confrontation.

And like every Israeli prime minister, dependent on a coalition and its rogues and malcontents, he’s forced to maneuver between his partners’ wants and needs. He didn’t like what Lapid said in the Knesset about Yigal Amir’s ideological heirs. He hoped that the day wouldn’t be so political. But he didn’t make a big deal out of it. Every politician has a base, so you can take it as long as it’s just words, even if they wound.

Some of his time over the past two weeks has been devoted to talks with party leaders ahead of what he calls “the third hurdle.” The first was forming the coalition, the second was getting past the Delta variant, and the third is the state budget.

After that, he’s considering an idea he heard from somebody: Gather the coalition heads for a day or two somewhere away from the madding crowd, put all the problems on the table and try to create a consensus package where everybody gives up something and everybody gets something.

“After the budget” is the new “after the holidays,” the fall holidays that Jewish Israelis use to stoke their procrastination. Potential land mines are being laid on the government’s desk whose defusing is being put off until the Knesset passes the 2021-22 budget and the accompanying Economic Arrangements Law.

The most explosive is the amendment to the so-called Citizenship Law on Palestinian family unification, which Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked wants to pass in its original wording, contrary to her and Bennett’s promises under the coalition agreements with left-wing Meretz and the United Arab List.

Not only have those two parties, 10 MKs combined, announced that they will actively oppose the bill, Lapid has also made clear that Yesh Atid’s 17 legislators won’t support the proposed wording. If the prime minister and interior minister’s promises don’t find their way into the text, the Prime Minister’s Office sees this situation escalating into a coalition crisis. Shaked, meanwhile, is digging in.

This week Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar filed the proposed bill and explanatory notes tagged as the Anti-Bibi Law, designed to prevent a person under criminal indictment from forming a government.

It can’t be called personal legislation; it will go into force during the next Knesset. And nobody would have imagined such a law if not for the near-death experience of Israel’s democracy and institutions in recent years at the hands of the man who led it.

That’s what Lapid meant when he said from the Knesset podium: “At the last moment we prevented an assassination.”

Had Netanyahu formed his purely right-wing coalition after one of the previous four elections, democratic Israel would have been murdered.

The plan was to fire the Atorney General, appoint a puppet in his place and a matching state prosecutor, pass an explosive package of clemency and “override” laws and the like, all to extract the man indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust from the maw of Israeli law. This abomination was prevented by the new government.

There is no precedent of a parliamentary democracy passing such a law, Likudniks say aghast. True, in healthy, robust democracies the criminally indicted go home and don’t hold their countries hostage. Less robust democracies become Turkey. There is a direct line between the corruption of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for instance, and his campaign to crush democracy in his country.

Every country and its own model. Just as Israelis needed a third COVID shot before people in other countries did, so our weakened model of government, having suffered abuse, needs a booster. The criminal-indictment law is the essence of democracy defending itself.

Bennett’s choice

“The person leading the opposition isn’t Netanyahu; he’s too weak. The man leading it is Itamar Ben-Gvir,” Lapid said this week at a meeting with party activists, referring to the far-rightist.

“Likud has replaced national pride with Arab hatred La Familia style. They’ve decided that if democracy means they can be removed from power, it’s time to get rid of democracy. As long as it’s up to me, we won’t let them.”

Lapid continues to scurry between ministers and coalition MKs, making sure nobody is preparing a November surprise for November 3, at the Knesset’s final votes on the budget. He held a long talk this week with Eli Avidar, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, who was left with less of a future after Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern torpedoed his chance at the plum appointment of Jewish Agency chief.

The day after Lapid’s speech at the meeting in memory of Rabin, Shaked published a post directed mainly at him; she confessed to “cringing in her chair” at Lapid’s words. “The tagging of a large voter bloc as opponents and assassins of democracy is a terrible wrong done to ideological, determined and value-driven people.”

Shaked intentionally twisted the original meaning. Lapid didn’t refer to voters but to a plan that was ready to be whipped out the day the government was to be formed.

This week, as before, Shaked kept sprinkling spikes and daggers along the coalition’s already obstacle-laden path. After the post (which annoyed even Bennett), she announced her opposition to Sa’ar’s bill.

This was to be expected. Shaked prefers that the prime minister’s chair be occupied by a mega-crook who plans to turn the state into a dictatorship.

She doesn’t want a “clerk” – that is, the Attorney General – to dictate via an indictment who is unfit to form a government.

She believes that. This is undoubtedly her right. But in the cabinet she’s in the minority. All the party chiefs in the coalition (except Mansour Abbas, who has yet to decide) support the bill: Sa’ar of course, Lapid, Benny Gantz, Avigdor Lieberman, Merav Michaeli and Nitzan Horowitz.

Bennett hasn’t indicated where he’s headed, though he probably knows by now. Everything, he says, will wait “until after the budget.” Then he’ll convene the caucus of his Yamina party.

The following are his options: 1) Support the bill in the cabinet and the Knesset despite the opposition of Shaked and Yesh Atid’s Matan Kahana. By the way, remember that these two aren’t MKs. They have no voice in parliament. 2) Oppose the bill and utilize the right awarded to each party in the coalition to veto a change to Basic Laws. 3) Allow a free vote, which means the bill passes – with the support of the six members of the Joint List.

The free vote scenario seems the likeliest at the moment. Bennett’s dilemma is easier than it seems. The bill enjoys broad popular support. In a Channel 12 News poll two weeks ago, 63 percent of respondents said yes to the bill and only 22 percent said no. More importantly, 49 percent of right-wing voters support the bill (against 31 percent opposed).

The minority here is the base Bennett has lost and won’t get back. The majority is the base he seeks to gather. If he tanks the bill, he loses both worlds. The Bibi-ists won’t be grateful.

It’s not just the aspect at the ballot box. When forced to choose between Shaked, who has long been getting on his nerves, and his other partners, it’s easy to guess his choice. They made him prime minister and she dug tunnels to Likud behind his back up to a moment before the confidence vote in the Knesset. And she has been making his life miserable ever since.

There’s the Citizenship Law and Sa’ar’s bill, but she’s also against a commission of inquiry into the submarine affair. (“What good will it do?”) She’s throwing up roadblocks against the bill for connecting unrecognized Arab homes to the power grid, something dear to the United Arab List’s heart. (Late this week a positive development seemed imminent.) And she insists on building 10 or 11 new Jewish settlements in the Negev, but only three for Bedouin.

She’s trying to torpedo the plan by Health Minister Horowitz to provide health insurance for asylum seekers, and she held failed talks with Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman on his racist immigration law.

There is no realm Shaked sets foot in without leaving behind a bad atmosphere and tense relations. Only last week three party heads (Lapid, Lieberman and another) called her asking to honor what she promised to Meretz and the United Arab List. The lady is high maintenance.

This week she took another defiant step: a dinner out with Boaz Bismuth, editor of the free tabloid Israel Hayom and the confused voice of the pro-Bibi right wing in the studios, and with businessman, political fixer and broadcaster Jacob Bardugo.

Some of Shaked’s colleagues wondered: Why does a cabinet member need a link with a character like Bardugo? Well, he’s a vital cog in the mechanism of incitement and defamation by Likud and Netanyahu against the government.

He spreads lies about the cabinet, mocks its leaders and despises them, all at the behest of the leader exiled to the wilds of Caesarea.

It’s unclear whether the poll sent to thousands of cellphones a day later was authentic; it tested the popularity of a possible party featuring Shaked and Bardugo. This was more likely a trolling attempt at driving another wedge between Bennett and his old partner.

But there’s really no need. Shaked takes to the limit the strategy of being in the coalition without feeling any commitment to it. With that attitude, it’s pretty clear that serving under Lapid as prime minister following the rotation would be hopeless for her. The question is, will she even last that long?

Who’s the useful idiot?

Three times in the past four months the opposition beat the coalition in the Knesset: in the votes on the Citizenship Law and the (original) Cannabis Law, and this week in the vote on establishing a parliamentary commission of inquiry to examine the assigning of Arab teachers in the school system. The motion was proposed by the Joint List’s Ahmad Tibi.

Likud voted for the motion, a notch under Tibi’s belt. No such commission will be formed, though one would be good. But the opposition, with the religious racism party absent, celebrated as if the government had just collapsed and the police had evicted Bennett from his office, using reasonable force.

Bibi is your useful idiot, someone said to Tibi after the vote. He serves your interests, but there’s no reciprocity. “That’s a very hard thing to say about the opposition leader,” Tibi said with his typical sarcasm.

The talks between Likud and the Joint List were held through Shas chief Dery, who has been maintaining good relations with both sides for many years. Dery, by the way, is the originator of the Knesset version of the summud strategy: Oppose any proposal from the coalition, even if it’s at the heart of right-wing ideology, and even if there’s occasional collaboration with the Joint List. Netanyahu, whose ear Dery has, took his advice. In hindsight, this seems less than wise. The effort was great, the fruits meager.

An hour before the Knesset vote on Tibi’s proposal, Mansour Abbas and his United Arab List announced the formation of a subcommittee to address the Arab-teachers issue. It was a somewhat ham-handed attempt to harm Tibi’s chances of carrying the vote. As the coalition still controls the Knesset, that’s what’s likely to happen in the end: a subcommittee, not a commission of inquiry.

“The coalition that’s courting us ahead of the budget is acting against us again,” a senior person in the Joint List told me. “Every move like this makes it likelier that we’ll vote against the budget,” he said, careful to maintain ambiguity.

I asked Tibi about the meaning of his constructive relations with Dery. That right-winger is Netanyahu’s most loyal ally.

“It’s the simplicity,” he told me.

“On the political issue there’s a gulf between us, but talking with him is always eye-to-eye. Yesterday we voted against a Likud no-confidence motion with Netanyahu offered as prime minister, but we voted for a Shas no-confidence motion with Dery offered as prime minister. We know who would head a government he would presumably get the mandate to form, but he, unlike many others, isn’t paternalistic and doesn’t condescend to us.”

I asked him if he meant anyone specific.

“Yesterday I spoke with a person in the coalition,” Tibi said. “He came complaining to me, ‘Why are you making this proposal and going for our heads after all we’ve given you?’

“‘You’ve given us?’ I asked him. ‘What have you given us?’ ‘I don’t know. I was told we’ve given you all sorts of things.’

‘Don’t worry,’ I told him, ‘you haven’t given us anything.’”

Source: Yossi Verter – HAARETZ