In taking responsibility for his decision to run on a joint ticket with ultra-nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu, Netanyahu owned up to a controversial move for the second time. The first was exactly one year ago, when he ruled in favor of the deal to release captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
The common denominator in both decisions was that Netanyahu seemed to have taken a bold step, but in actuality he only made his decision after public opinion had necessitated it, and not a minute sooner.
Netanyahu can now place himself at the edge of the far right, as the public appears to have reached a point where not only is it no longer horrified by Avigdor Lieberman's views, it sees them as legitimate ones, as an integral part of the ordinary Israeli experience.
Netanyahu may not be the only prime minister who only dares to act when he feels the polls demand it (consider Ehud Barak and the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon). But in the case of both Shalit and the occupation of Southern Lebanon, public support was drummed up by civilians, who launched initiatives to persuade the public while the country's leaders showed a lack of action.
Long before the union of Lieberman and Netanyahu, the Israeli public was growing more radical, thanks to the policies implemented by Netanyahu in his most recent, and almost finished, political term.
Netanyahu's most useful tool for pushing the Israeli public's consensus to the fringes of democracy was the same "lack of accountability" so skillfully implemented throughout most of his term. Incitement of violence against strangers? Netanyahu waits a day until he issues a weak condemnation of Likud MK Miri Regev and her colleagues. This is enough time for them to make their position known, but the tone of his condemnation is sufficiently reproachful to distance himself, and his image, from their racism. Legitimizing the Ulpana Hill neighborhood of the Beit El settlement? Netanyahu, with Lieberman's help, was portrayed as having blocked its enactment, but not before he ordered the attorney general to find ways to circumvent the Supreme Court rulings on the matter.
And this is only the beginning of the list.
These positions, as a quick peek at the long list of anti-democratic laws is enough to tell you, illustrate the similar ideologies of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. And even though legislative proposals come from these parties, which are the main members of the coalition, they bypass the usual state mechanisms. Most of the proposals were not submitted as government bills, and the people who proposed them were usually relatively obscure members of Knesset – those who were easy to float like a trial balloon.
Some of the bills were initiated by Kadima MKs. Almost miraculously, the instigator of one of the most significant proposals was Avi Dichter, who became a minister in Netanyahu's government only a few weeks ago. He planned the "Basic Law: Israel – the Nation-State of the Jewish People," which makes Israeli democracy subject to the nation's Jewish identity, abolishing, among other things, Arabic as an official language.
Nevertheless, the Kadima MKs are relatively minor characters, and it is less convenient to hide behind when advancing policies that stink of fascism. And as long as the burning stench of democracy is pleasant to most Israelis, the prime minister prefers to attribute that stench to MKs from his own camp – those who can be pushed away with one arm and kept close with the other.
In this sense, Netanyahu and Lieberman are political twins who were separated at birth. They both sent their slightly less official minions to execute their policy decisions. Lieberman sent Dudu Rotem, Hamad Amar and others, and Netanyhu sent Zeev Elkin, Ofir Akunis, Danny Danon and Yariv Levin.
But Netanyahu outshines his twin brother. He may be the leader, but he didn’t hesitate to hide behind them. But Lieberman, who appoints the members of his faction, knows that in public they look like his envoys. And Netanyahu dared – the importance of this daring shouldn’t be diminished – to send Lieberman out to meet the world's nations as his foreign secretary, while he hides behind him, reprimands him and announces that "the foreign minister's position is not the government's position."
Without accountability, Netanyanu was able to push Israel further and further to the right while positioning himself as the sole person who could curb the extremism -- extremism shaped by his very hands. The electorate should be aware of the conduct of the Netanyahu-Lieberman duo, and withhold support both from the two of them and from those who are liable to unintentionally -- or worse, with full awareness -- become part of this system.