netanyahu - AFP - October 11 2010
Prime Minister Netanyahu on his way into the cabinet meeting on Sunday. Photo by AFP
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Political legend has it that the dramatic, down-to-the-wire election campaign that swept Benjamin Netanyahu into the Prime Minister's Office in 1996 was decided by the last-minute offensive in which he flooded the country with the famous slogan: "Netanyahu is good for the Jews." That ad campaign, which was backed financially by the wealthy Australian Chabadnik Joseph Gutnick, gave Netanyahu thousands of "Jewish" votes and helped him beat Shimon Peres in a photo finish.

During that first term in office, when the country was mired in destruction, in-fighting and strife between left and right, religious and secular, a counter-slogan made the rounds: "Nu, is it good for you Jews?"

Over a decade has passed, and Netanyahu is once again revisiting the "Jewish" issue. His government met for hours yesterday, discussing and finally approving the unnecessary, useless bill requiring non-Jews seeking citizenship to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It is a bill that does nothing to serve the Jewish people or the state of the Jews. It is a bill whose political damage is greater than any benefits that can be derived from it.

Perhaps it serves Netanyahu by shoring up his base of support on the right, but that, too, is doubtful. What is certain is that it reinvigorates those same political circles that rose up against him 13 years ago: the left, jurists, academia, artists and writers. What is even more certain is that it extraordinarily serves Yisrael Beiteinu and its chairman, Avigdor Lieberman.

"Without loyalty, there is no citizenship" was the successful campaign slogan conjured by American political guru Arthur Finkelstein and used by Lieberman during the previous election campaign. When Netanyahu grants him the gift of a loyalty oath, to the dismay of the left and the Arabs, he strengthens and legitimizes him. By the same token, he also highlighted the boundaries that separate Labor from the remainder of the coalition, thus casting his key partner, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in a ridiculous light.

Barak is used to that light, anyway. Perhaps Bib did him a favor when he refused to bring to a vote Barak's proposal to affix the words "in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence" to the bill. What is Netanyahu's problem with the Declaration of Independence? That remains unclear. But by refusing to bring up the issue, the premier gave Barak the perfect excuse to vote against, together with the four other Labor ministers and three Likud ministers - Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan. Their Likud colleague, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, is also among the most vocal opponents of the proposal.

This was how Barak quite deftly managed to chalk up the following achievements: He deepened the chasm that separates him from the ministers and MKs in his party, one of whom, Avishay Braverman, called him "a satellite that has lost touch with the mother ship"; he incurred the obvious wrath of the few of his voters that remain; and he was forced to vote nay in concert with his ministers, who greatly enjoyed the sight of their boss wavering, according to witnesses.

Not only did the cabinet take notice of Barak's distress, but also of the unholy alliance that has been forged - again - between Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas. It was Lieberman and Shas chief Eli Yishai who vetoed all attempts at compromise, including the one surprisingly put forth by Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman, who advocated applying the law on Jews who also seek citizenship. Lieberman and Yishai, once at war with each other, showed everyone with whom they feel most comfortable, most in synch and most Jewish.