Netanyahu Portrays the Israeli Left as Violent, but It’s He Who Wants Chaos

The government may reduce the incidence of disease, but the prime minister will never break the chain of incitement that keeps him in power

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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In the summer of 2020, Netanyahu sets Israel ablaze
Credit: Amos Biderman
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s leading generator of violence. The prime minister is the superspreader who has infected an entire country with schizophrenia. He complains, incites, lies and, as the slime production line works 24/7, his son and gang of Bibi-ists inflame the activists in the field.

Israel's Locked-down, Let-down Youth Rattles Netanyahu's Cage. LISTEN

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He did his internship in 1994 and 1995, in the days of the Oslo Accords. Recently, as his political, legal and familial woes have increased, he has been implementing the decisive stage of his plan: going from superspreader to firestarter and setting Israel ablaze.

Taking their cue from his hints, squadrons of far-right thugs have forayed into Tel Aviv wielding clubs, pepper spray and bottles. They’ve swooped in on their prey: protesters against the king of corruption and the public security minister – actually the Netanyahu security minister – Amir Ohana. That goon is set to commit even worse villainy than he attempted, with partial success, when he was justice minister.

Netanyahu, the fastest gunslinger in Twitter nation when it concerns him or his son, waited 14 hours to post a sanctimonious, hypocritical tweet dealing mainly with himself and the growing threats on him and his family. He called on the police “to find the truth” – that is, find who attacked whom. Was it Shay Sekler, not exactly a Schwarzenegger,  or the incited hooligans in black shirts who stabbed him in the head with a broken bottle?

True, there was a feeble rebuke somewhere in there too. When the first demonstrator is murdered, Netanyahu will feign innocence and say, “But I denounced it!”

As the protests against him expand, Netanyahu cries out that he’s the “most threatened” prime minister ever, the “most incited against.” He tells the police to investigate every drizzle of abuse against him on Facebook. But when it comes to his corruption he complains about the high cost of police investigations. Any threat one-tenth as serious is investigated at once; people are arrested and interrogated, but that apparently isn’t enough for him.

He’s working 24/7 to tie the protest against his failures and vast corruption to “anarchists.” He’s trying to portray the “left” as suffused with violence.

He should hit the history books, which he’s fond of rewriting no less than reading. He should remember Yona Avrushmi and David Ben-Shimol, Baruch Goldstein and Ami Popper, Jack Tytell and Yigal Amir. He should remember the groups Kahane Chai and Lehava, La Familia and the Jewish underground, one of whose members was interviewed this week and warned that a prime minister might be murdered. Oh the irony.

The balance of violence is zero on the left and a lot on the right. To counter the far-right phalanges’ attacks on the protesters, Netanyahu cries “murder threats.” The two leading “threats” this week both emerged as fakes; one was posted by the fake profile “Dana Ron.” The call to murder him reeked of Bibi-ist trolls.

The other threat was a “demonstrator” who showed up armed at the Prime Minister’s Office to slay the Almighty’s envoy. Ooops! It turns out he was a disturbed homeless man who isn’t connected to the protest; for some time now he has been screaming threats at every institution, community and religion in Israel.

Netanyahu is crying out for attention. His fabricating of threats or blowing them up beyond proportion is touching, a kind of Munchausen syndrome. If only Yitzhak Rabin had devoted an iota of his time to the threats that simmered against him.

But this is exactly the difference between these two prime ministers. One never played the victim and became one. The other always played the victim, while the real victim is the society he leads.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in May 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The chain of incitement

The protests are expanding around the country, and so are the violent militias acting in the name of the robbed Cossack from Balfour Street. Netanyahu says he’s focused only on the coronavirus – of course another lie in the great sack he carries on his back. It’s like the statement that “all the economists” are in favor of a three-month budget, while no serious economic expert supports one.

Netanyahu’s head is in his corruption trial, first and foremost. His mind is calculating scenarios and Knesset seats. Maybe the new coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu, will do the work for him on the viral front – only to see the credit snatched up by the prime minister.

The economic woes and the disgust for the man who has been living in the prime minister’s residence 11 years in a row will grow further, as will the protests against him – but so will the reaction from the leader and his supporters, which will get much bigger and scarier. Simply put, the government may reduce the incidence of disease, but the prime minister will never break the chain of incitement. Nor will he try to, because chaos and blood flowing in the streets serve his immediate interests.

When the indictment was filed against him I wrote that to prevent the trial and the hearing of witnesses who signed plea deals, whose testimonies are expected to end Netanyahu’s political life, he won’t hesitate to burn the house down. Now the testimony stage is nearing. In five months the first of three witnesses who turned state’s evidence will take the stand. What can stop this? A civil war, for example. Or a siege on the Jerusalem District Court.

In Israel today patriotism isn’t the (only) refuge of the scoundrel. Another refuge is the unholy balance between a prime minister protected to the tune of tens perhaps hundreds of millions of shekels a year, and young people protesting in the streets. And there’s nobody between the protesters and the thugs out to assault them, except a few allegedly undercover cops who can’t distinguish between good and evil.

To kill a protester you only need a resolute far-rightist with a club, knife or broken bottle. To harm the world’s most guarded prime minister – as it should be after November 1995 – you need a state or advanced terror group.

Another murder of an Israeli prime minister is almost science fiction. The murder of a demonstrator is a clear and present danger. The writing, scrawled in blood, is on the wall.

Young members of the La Familia far-right group at Jerusalem's First Station, July 30, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Gantz has had enough

In his autobiography, Bill Clinton wrote about his eight years in the White House that even his worst day was a good day. It seems that Benny Gantz would depict his 70-plus days in government a bit differently. “Even my best day was a bad day,” he might say.

Gantz, people who talk to him say, is in what's called “a mental state.” His insistence on not caving on the budget issue, even at the cost of an early election in November that could be disastrous for him, stems from the understanding that sometimes you have to say “thus far but no further.” As far as he’s concerned, he has taken too many sips from the poisoned chalice forced down his throat by a fraudulent leader – Netanyahu – and a party that’s a disgrace to its name.

As of the end of the week, an election seems the more likely option. Not only is Netanyahu not inclined to compromise, he isn’t offering Kahol Lavan any dignified way out if it agrees to his demand. This could happen later; we still have three weeks for the ax to fall.

The budget fight isn’t the only malfunction between Likud and Kahol Lavan, but it’s the worst. This government, both sides say, hasn’t known a moment’s peace. It was born moribund and its condition is worsening. When the minister liaising between the cabinet and the Knesset, David Amsalem – also the “national cyber and digital matters minister,” in case you didn’t know – rants from the Knesset podium against his co-ministers, the “leftists,” “the State of Tel Aviv” and Netanyahu’s critics, he’s representing Kahol Lavan’s Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi, Chili Tropper and Izhar Shay as well.

Plenty of Kahol Lavan ministers and legislators would be glad if Gantz folded. An election would be postponed and their political life expectancy would rise.

To them, the insistence on the budget, a technical issue that isn’t a matter of principle, unlike so many other principles they’ve put aside, is unnecessary. If we’re doomed to die, what’s the hurry? Why this November? At least let’s buy another year or so in power; there’s no telling what will happen by then, whether in Netanyahu’s trial or elsewhere.

Gantz knows all the rational arguments but won’t listen. Foreign Minister Ashkenazi, who once was inclined to compromise, is now with Gantz. Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, the most experienced politician in the group, who sometimes tries to reconcile the sides, isn’t trying to make his boss see the light.

As Gantz said to friends recently, he hopes Netanyahu will blink first because of his plummet in the polls and the chaos in Likud. In a November election, there’s no certainty Gantz will be first in the party or that Ashkenazi will want to lead. Both have gone from highly esteemed former army chiefs to punching bags. The Israeli political grinder is spitting out pieces of their flesh.

On Sunday we’ll get an indication of where the governing coalition is heading. On the desk of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation headed by Nissenkorn lies a bill sponsored by rightist Ayelet Shaked for overriding Supreme Court decisions. If Likud insists on bringing it to a vote, it will mean Netanyahu wants to blow up the government and head to an election. If the bill is rejected, consensually, as Kahol Lavan has demanded, it may signal an approaching compromise.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Jerusalem, June 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Mofaz doctrine

Gadi Eisenkot, the previous army chief, is the last deus ex machina in the tragedy of the long suffering center-left. The leftists’ irresistible yearning for discharged chiefs of staff is reflected in the many articles published about this phenomenon, including in this newspaper.

Now Eisenkot is being called on to take over Kahol Lavan and replace his disappointing predecessors. It’s not certain this would be good for him, assuming he’s resolved to enter politics.

Kahol Lavan’s fate as a brand seems sealed. Out of 19 Knesset seats in the polls when Gantz entered the government, only nine or 10 remain. Even if Gantz and Ashkenazi give Eisenkot the party with their best wishes and a free iPad, he could find himself in the shoes of another burned-out member of the chiefs-of-staff old boys' club, Shaul Mofaz.

In 2012 Mofaz inherited Kadima from Tzipi Livni with 28 Knesset seats and about 10 in the polls. Under his leadership in the 2013 election, Kadima won two seats.

Mofaz, unlike Eisenkot, had experience in politics and the Knesset. It did him no good. When the brand name dies it dies. The only real option for Eisenkot is to join up with Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon; this would catapult Yesh Atid-Telem above 20 seats.

Lapid says he’s not making room for another chief of staff. He’s had enough. He’ll work at convincing the public that he’s the candidate for prime minister in the next election. His efficacy as opposition leader is beginning to show results. Large groups that despised him now see him as the go-to guy.

Will that suffice to make him the alternative? Will he acquire something new and shiny like Eisenkot? We’ll only know when the election campaign’s opening bell is rung.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu presents a part of his coronavirus program at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, July 29, 2020.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Likud in turmoil

Netanyahu doesn’t make many mistakes. Year after year he shows a high level of political skill; he’s the Michael Jordan of politics.

This week something happened to him that’s hard to understand. The trigger was Kahol Lavan’s vote last week passing the ban on “conversion therapy” for LGBT people. Everyone expected Netanyahu to settle the score with Gantz’s party.

Initially the plan was to push provocative legislation that would embarrass Likud’s partner in the unity government. That didn’t happen. Instead, Netanyahu decided to punish his legislators who didn’t show up for the vote, as well as the two legislators, Amir Ohana and Michal Shir, who supported the bill.

Most of the punished legislators kept away after agreeing with opposition members that none of them would vote, with the permission of Likud’s not-so-functional floor leader, Miki Zohar. But two minutes before the vote, Zohar told them, on Netanyahu’s instructions, that all such agreements were off.

Zohar of course was ignored, because Knesset agreements must be kept, not to mention that the party chairman himself disappeared without bothering to set himself off with an opposition member. So the Likud caucus that allowed its members to be absent later punished them for doing so.

Cue the hornets’ nest. The Knesset members and ministers lashed out at Zohar, an easier target than the man pulling his strings. Everything came out on Twitter. So Likud’s list of open disputes only grew; there’s Nir Barkat versus Yisrael Katz, and Zohar, separately, versus Katz, Yifat Shasha-Biton, Shlomo Kari and Eli Cohen, with a pinch of Uzi Dayan, who was recorded calling Zohar a donkey.

Likud hasn’t seen such chaos in a decade. Of course, we can’t decouple this from the leader’s situation, from the sweeping loss of confidence in him and the free fall in the polls. In two months, the party has lost more than 10 MKs, the polls show.

If an election were held today, parliamentary giants would go down such as Osnat Mark, who declared this week that she wants to break up the bar association. Her scribbling in the media resembles a parody of herself; it’s probably time to reach for a grammar book.

Netanyahu is losing altitude. According to a Likud poll, the party is convulsing at 29 or 30 seats, down about half a dozen from its current Knesset tally, while Lapid’s Yesh Atid-Telem is stabilizing above 20, compared with its current 16.

Another mistake Netanyahu made was to fire Shasha-Biton as head of the coronavirus committee, which still needs approval in the Knesset. This isn’t just a mistake but complete idiocy.

Shasha-Biton is the nation’s darling. Whole industries representing hundreds of thousands of people, including the self-employed, owe their livelihoods to her. They believe her more than they do the prime minister. They wouldn’t buy a second-hand night table from him but would trust their life savings with her. And anyway, he took away her authority with the coronavirus law.

Why was it so important to humiliate her with a dismissal, and by Zohar, the golem that Netanyahu created? Maybe because she dared to defy him; she revealed him as nonfunctional with all his flip-flops.

In the public’s eyes, Shasha-Biton is the flavor of the month, the one who shouted that the emperor has no clothes – but not as a child in the crowd but as a member of the court itself.

Gadi Eisenkot speaking at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, February 2020.Credit: Gilad Kavalerchik

Golda corner of Bibi

After Ronni Gamzu, the new coronavirus czar, finished his presentation on fighting the virus, Naftali Bennett took to Facebook. “A really infuriating evening,” he wrote in an uncharacteristic understatement. He had suggested the same models and methods at the beginning of the crisis.

“We could have averted the terrible economic crisis that struck Israel’s citizens .... Unfortunately, probably because Netanyahu feared that ‘Bennett would be too successful,’ none of this happened. It’s a fiasco in the magnitude of the Yom Kippur War.” In an interview with Channel 13 News, Bennett said “it’s not certain that next time we’ll recommend Netanyahu” to form a government.

The immediate inclination is to ask Bennett to stop talking nonsense. But with due caution, maybe this time the opera will end on a different note.

Bennett 2020 has grown up. Six months as defense minister and the millionth slap from Netanyahu, who can’t resist, and from she who also can’t resist, finally did something to him. His statement wasn’t a slip of the tongue but deliberate and calculated. So was the comparison of the 1973 failure to the present one. It equates Benjamin Netanyahu with Golda Meir.

In the five elections in which a party of his ran, Bennett promised his voters to recommend Netanyahu as prime minister. No more. He always said in private conversations that Bibi was a crap person but an excellent prime minister. Again, no more.

In Bennett’s eyes, Netanyahu has failed disastrously in managing the country and ruined the lives of millions, just for ego reasons and an inability to share the credit. This time, Bennett said that Netanyahu is responsible for “one of the greatest failures in Israel’s history and chose his petty ego over the good of the country,” and that he must go home. He sounds like he means it.

Obviously the coronavirus will be the key election issue, whether it’s in November this year, March 2021 or somewhere in between. Bennett will make the mistake of his life if he scatters in irrelevant directions, like the late annexation plan.

His best card, one of the very few he has, is his achievement on the coronavirus front in recent months, when his opinions were fully aligned with public opinion while someone else held unnecessary press conferences.

His Yamina party is rising in the polls; 13 Knesset seats, even 15, compared with the six it won in the March election. Almost all the added seats are Likud refugees. The way to keep them is to pound Mr. Failure with the corona hammer and stick to his noncommitment to recommend Netanyahu or anyone else. His commitment is to his voters, colleagues and himself, not to any walking disaster.

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