More than a few Likud politicians — most of them no longer in politics, but a few of them still out there — learned a painful truth over the years: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t know what it means to be a friend. At the moment of truth, the value of collegiality simply escapes him.
Now this lesson has been learned by Environmental Protection and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin, who on Tuesday lost the Jerusalem mayoral election. Netanyahu’s support for the campaign of his closest, most loyal and most committed cabinet colleague was a case of too little, too late.
During the months that Netanyahu remained silent, ignored the situation, didn’t force the local Likud branch to stand behind the candidate or to go out on a limb for him, across the street Elkin’s rivals were working deliberately and diligently. Arye Dery, Moshe Gafni and Avigdor Lieberman, foxes every one, were playing in the vineyard by themselves. They leveraged limited electoral power into a critical mass that brought their candidate, Moshe Leon, to pole position for the mayoral race.
If Leon wins the November 13 runoff election against Ofer Berkovitch and replaces outgoing Mayor Nir Barkat December 1, it will be not under his own steam. Rather, he’ll be leaning on Dery, Gafni and Lieberman, particularly Gafni and Dery. The vast majority of Leon’s votes, 85 percent, was from Degel Hatorah and Shas voters. Leon himself generated only a few thousand votes. His slate didn’t win a single seat on the city council.
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That’s unthinkable in a large city: a mayor without a nucleus, or even a crumb, of control. Leon is likely to be a puppet on a string, controlled by his patrons on the council.
There’s no telling if the result would have been any different had Netanyahu gone all out for Elkin. But it’s not only results that matter; so does intent. Over the past week, Netanyahu did wake up; he toured Mahaneh Yehuda market with his candidate (we won’t be cynical and say the visit was for himself) and he issued a video.
This is reminiscent of his belated efforts on Yuval Steinitz’s behalf during the contest for Jewish Agency chairman. For long months Netanyahu didn’t lift a finger, while Isaac Herzog was slowly and quietly preparing to become the senior representative of the Jewish people. When Netanyahu finally jumped in, it was too late.
Elkin on Wednesday wouldn’t say a bad word about the prime minister. At most one could hear a trace of bitterness in his voice when he admitted, in a conversation with activists, that had the leader enlisted earlier it would have been easier. Perhaps it would have blocked the rise of Berkovitch, who was dubbed the “secular candidate.”
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Elkin behaved like a perfect gentleman. The moment the results were announced he said that in his ministerial role he would help whoever is elected.
Soon he will have to gird his loins and launch a new struggle in the Likud primaries for the next general election. He’s been away from the national scene for half a year, while his party rivals have been crisscrossing the country.
Moreover, Elkin is returning to the national league as a loser. He can only hope that people’s mercy and empathy will prevail over the gloating.