Presidential Race Pits Netanyahu Against Israeli Democracy

The prime minister is determined to keep Reuven Rivlin, whom he loathes, out of the President’s Residence.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin, right, in 2012.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin, right, in 2012. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The general feeling in the media and the political arena on Sunday was that there is no way the election for president will be delayed has not stayed the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On the contrary. Even from far-away Tokyo he continues to mix in and pressure and persuade and threaten his coalition partners and party colleagues.

He is running amok, he’s crazed; say his interlocutors. They describe him as a raging bull that sees nothing but the red cape whirling and provoking him, and he is determined, determined to strike at Israeli democracy.

He is determined to keep Reuven Rivlin, whom he loathes, out of the President’s Residence. And he’s even more determined to do away with the presidency altogether, because at stake is the ultimate thing; the source of the continued existence of the state and the entire Jewish people − his next term as prime minister. As has been noted, and it’s the naked truth, Netanyahu is deathly afraid of the next post-election process of the political parties informing the president of their choice to form the next government. He believes no one will recommend him and he’ll lose the premiership forever.

Netanyahu took off for Japan on Saturday night, leaving behind − in an unprecedented fashion, it should be noted − his bureau chief, Eyal Haimovsky, and his cabinet secretary, Avichai Mendelblit. They were confined to base for one purpose only: To continue to exert pressure on the main players in advance of next week, which looks to be the week of judgment for the prime minister and the presidential candidates alike. Moreover, at the last minute Netanyahu sliced a day off his trip to the land of the rising sun. He plans to land in Israel on Thursday morning and harangue Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and Tzipi Livni in an effort to assure himself the needed votes to head off the presidential balloting.

On the eve of his trip he spoke with political allies and detailed his plan: To get a delay in the election approved by the cabinet next Sunday, and by the Knesset plenum the following week. At the same time, he will appoint a committee that will examine ways to nullify the presidency by changing the rules − either establishing a presidential regime (with a wink toward Lieberman), or determining that the head of the largest party after the election automatically forms the next government, with no need for a mandate from the president (with a wink toward Livni and Lapid).

The key person in this smelly saga is Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. The former Prisoner of Zion, who displayed such incredible courage in the Soviet Union, has turned into a meek and frightened serving tool, a puppet of the prime minister. He has been suspending and delaying and avoiding confirming a date for the presidential election to give Netanyahu a chance to implement his plot. That way he, Edelstein, will be interim president for at least six months. On Sunday, his office announced that this week he would “consult with the candidates” about setting a date, but that no decision would be made before next week. How convenient.

Everything is being coordinated and orchestrated with the prime minister’s bureau, and to hell with the damage done to the status of the Knesset. It’s the Knesset, not the prime minister, that chooses the president. But Edelstein is willing to go with the flow. That’s why he was appointed to his position. His deposed predecessor, Rivlin, would never have allowed this (just as he would never have allowed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to conduct itself for half a year without a chairman).

So now, more than a year after the last general election, everything is starting to float to the top. Before we could only smell the stench. Now we can see its source.

And where, pray tell, is our Mrs. Clean? Where has the champion of law and proper administration disappeared to? After all, these are exactly the moments when the justice minister is meant to harness the entire weight of her office against efforts by the head of the executive branch to grossly, shamelessly, and for such transparent motives, change the rules of a game in progress and rape a national institution like the presidency for personal reasons. It’s hard to imagine another justice minister (except perhaps for Yaakov Neeman) who would exhibit such weakness and subservience at such a time. Livni’s silence is even more embarrassing given that she heads the only coalition faction that has put up a presidential candidate − and a worthy one, at that − MK Meir Sheetrit.

In Livni’s absence, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar seems to have assumed leadership of the rebellion against Netanyahu’s intentions. In the not-so-distant past, one assumes that we would have heard Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan coming out vehemently against this nauseating maneuver. After those three were dumped from the current Likud list, Sa’ar is taking no small political risk by daring to raise his head against Netanyahu. For now, the only ones joining him publicly are MKs Haim Katz and Miri Regev, but there will be others.

One last question: At what point will we hear what Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has to say about all this?

Credit: Amos Biderman

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