The dozens of right-wing activists who gathered at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park on Tuesday evening, spitting and hurling invective at members of bereaved families, are the embodiment of human ugliness and evil. Wednesday’s torchlighting ceremony in Jerusalem included heartwarming expressions of the Israeli spirit, but an evil, sick spirit has been spreading here in recent years.
The events of the joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony at Hayarkon Park will go down in history as one of the signs of the apocalypse, the collapse and the crumbling of Israeli society, but it’s only a symptom. The source of the infection is in the residence of Benjamin Netanyahu, on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. The protesters were buoyed up by Yair Netanyahu, one of the prime minister’s sons, who chose the day that to many Israelis is more sacred and painful than Yom Kippur to tweet his unlearned opinion on “a tiny minority of mentally deranged bereaved families who are interested in this ‘ceremony,’” in which Palestinians who have lost loved ones and seek peace and reconciliation hold hands with their brothers in grief on the Israeli side.
If we wanted to wallow in the foul swamp in which this privileged weed sprouted, we’d say he’s the last one who should talk about mental illness. But why complain about him when his father hasn’t yet bothered to denounce these words, to renounce them, to express some kind of discontent? Perhaps he’s afraid of the son’s harsh response. Perhaps he agrees with the psychological diagnosis.
Netanyahu, as defense minister, denied entrance to most of the Palestinians who wanted to take part in the ceremony. He gave no reason, no justification. (Avigdor Lieberman started it last year). The High Court of Justice threw him too out of court.
“There are 99 ways to commemorate, 99 ways to express bereavement. Here lies the core of the freedom of expression, of the personal autonomy that grants each individual the possibility to write and shape his life’s story,” wrote Justice Isaac Amit in his ruling. Such words, such spirit, can be seen today only at two sites in Jerusalem: the Supreme Court and the President’s Residence.
Yair Netanyahu, like his father, like the scumbags from Hayarkon Park, despises these values. Like his father, who has been riding the memory of his own brother Yoni, who was killed in Entebbe, for four decades, Yair Netanyahu also played the bereavement card in justifying his viewpoint. “Here I come from a bereaved family and say shame on you,” he preached in his customary inarticulate way, to the “leftists.”
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For this he should be told, as Ehud Barak told the prime minister from the Knesset podium some 20 years ago, in different circumstances: “Yoni would be ashamed of you.”
The immunity clock
By Friday, Netanyahu’s deliberately unpaid lawyers should notify the attorney general whether or not they plan to attend the hearing scheduled for July 10. Avichai Mendelblit instructed them to do so in a formal letter two weeks ago, after he got fed up with Netanyahu’s obvious tricks to evade trial.
Theoretically, if the lawyers fail to keep the deadline, Mendelblit can file an indictment against Netanyahu already on Sunday in three bribery cases, on the basis of the 57-page draft indictment issued during the election campaign.
But Netanyahu does not seem perturbed. He must be plotting something. A leader about whom “the people have had their say” won’t be led to court like a lamb to the slaughter.
Meanwhile, the formation of the new coalition is taking its time. The 28 days the president gave Netanyahu will expire Wednesday; he is expected to request a final extension of 14 days.
The immunity bill, chosen as Netanyahu’s escape-from-trial tunnel, hasn’t been broached yet by the Likud team, headed by Yariv Levin, and the other parties’ teams. Ostensibly, it doesn’t exist. It is clear to all the players that the demand to support this disgrace will be served to them at the last moment, after all the disagreements are solved, the portfolios are distributed and the intoxicating smell of power hits their noses and confuses their senses.
Netanyahu will have no more than two months, eight weeks, to complete the legislation, assuming he chooses the legal route, rather than some ad hoc order. The legal and parliamentary time tables will race against each other. Those will be interesting days in the Knesset and the debate will spill over into the street. The opposition is planning protest moves that haven’t been seen so far — so they promise in Kahol Lavan — in view of the prime minister’s planned assassination of Israeli democracy. This will be the first test of the large party and its opposition partners. This will be its resurrection or cessation.
In November, after Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at his birthday party about that “plot of the century” meant to rob him of the option to set up a coalition, one of the two alleged conspirators, President Reuven Rivlin, called his co-conspirator, Gideon Saar. “The next time we plot something together don’t forget to update me,” he said.
Half a year elapsed and that idiocy has given birth to another. The goal, to topple a prime minister, remained the same. Rivlin, who stopped being an imaginary threat after authorizing Netanyahu to set up a government, was replaced by freshman MK Zvi Hauser of Kahol Lavan. After Saar criticized the cease fire deal between Israel and Hamas, the prime minister’s spokesman, hiding behind “Likud officials,” said Saar was persisting in his efforts to topple his majesty the ruler and now he was “completely coordinated with Hauser who defected to the left.”
On Monday Hauser ran into Saar in the Knesset plenum. “I’m waiting for your orders,” he told him. The players change, the joke remains.
Saar’s tweet on Monday morning, “the cease fire was not an achievement for Israel,” was pretty minor. At the same time MK Bezalel Smotrich (Union of Right-Wing Parties), the prime minister’s new BFF, lambasted the way the warfare in the south had ended. He received no response. Silence on the web. The “officials” had swallowed their tongue.
Smotrich, Bibi’s favorite son, a brick in the new coalition and the engine behind the immunity-initiative, can get away with things that Likud members are absolutely prohibited from doing — even senior ones, even those who were elected no thanks to Netanyahu. They are all ordered to shut their mouths. And if they open them they must stick to the talking points dictated from above. On Monday morning, when Saar’s tweet appeared, the prime minister’s aides started bombarding Likud MKs with requests to give interviews on the air and speak out against Saar and denounce him. Most MKs ignored the request. Their silence was thundering.
And who rushed to obey? Miri Regev, the constant groveler, and spineless Yoav Galant and Nir Barkat. BTW, Netanyahu despises them the most. He treats his party’s MKs, from the backbenchers to the senior ones, like castrato choir members, whose voices are high and squeaky. Whoever dares to step out of line is immediately smacked down violently and brutishly. The filled bedpan ever ready beside the keyboard is poured automatically on his head. Immediately he is blamed for plotting Netanyahu’s ouster, joining the enemy, treason, back stabbing, leftism. This is also the preventive blow meant to warm others not to even think of emitting an iota of an independent opinion.
Saar’s criticism came at a highly sensitive time, three weeks before the end of the second part of the coalition talks. Likud members are waiting for crumbs to drop their way after the coalition partners have had their fill; Jobs of ministers, deputy ministers, committee heads, coalition chair, caucus chair, members of judges’ appointment committees, etc. There’s enough for all the little piggies in Bibi’s market stall.
This is when Saar signaled to Netanyahu that he has no intention of being one of his chorus boys or of castrating himself. Not even for a minister’s portfolio, or for some other meaty position. When he has something to say, he’ll say it. This could be seen as suicide on live Twitter. Has the man gone mad? On second thought, this is how a leadership alternative is built.
When did Likud turn into a one-man play? When was the once democratic, ideological, spry movement’s image trampled and corrupted until it became a herd of submissive, bleating sheep? What was the turning point for the four-year change, which ended with no more party, only family? Likud is the Netanyahu family, the Netanyahu family is Likud.
Some say the turning point occurred in July 2007. About a year after the Second Lebanon War ended, Ehud Olmert’s government was dying. The prime minister’s popularity hit rock bottom. Likud in the opposition smells the intoxicating scent of power. Netanyahu, who is responsible for the worst election result in the party’s history — 12 Knesset seats — pulls himself together, emerges from his depression and pushes up the party leadership primaries. Not six months ahead of election, as customary, but right away. Ten MKs go along with him. The only objector is Silvan Shalom. The brilliant maneuver caught him unprepared. He tries to fight but in vain. Shalom states he won’t contend and coins the phrase “under Netanyahu’s leadership Likud has become a show like the Ba’ath Party in Syria.”
In those days it sounded hysterical, despicable. But it was one of the most politically accurate prophecies of the decade. Shalom didn’t know it at the time. He certainly didn’t imagine how far things would deteriorate a decade later.
After the 2015 election and Netanyahu’s great, personal achievement, all the stops were pulled out. Six months after setting up his government, Netanyahu again advances the primaries “to be prepared for election” (which came more than three years later). This time Shalom was already out of political life. Israel Katz took on himself the oppositionist’s role. He was quickly thwarted. Secretariat decisions were revoked under pressure and threats, the institutions were voided of content, the power moved to the Balfour Street residence, where all the decisions were and are still made.
Anyone who dared to voice a different opinion was degraded and attacked and brutally de-legitimized. And so we come to these days, when the bullying and cult of personality on one hand and the groveling and self-effacement on the other would make even the Ba’ath elders in Damascus blush. If Syrian President Bashar Assad had a chance to watch the torchlighting ceremony on TV, he must have envied the Israeli leader. Even he would have thought twice whether to produce such a shabby, nauseating Soviet-North-Korean propaganda clip as the one broadcast here at prime time.
Assad junior would surely have given credit to his father Hafez, who ruled the state for decades before him. Netanyahu crudely wiped out the existence of his predecessors. He took credit for all of Israel’s achievements – its power, glory, spirit, army, entrepreneurship, economy and agriculture. All these didn’t exist before the almighty sent us him — and her, of course, in all her grotesqueness.
Netanyahu even exploited cynically the Beresheet spacecraft, which was initiated, built and mostly financed privately, to which his government gave no more than pennies. Just as well Morris Kahn, the elderly billionaire who lit a torch, reminded us in an unruly, half satirical monologue who is behind the almost complete success of the ambitious project.
Ben Gvir alert
When Netanyahu’s fifth government is sworn in, MK Itamar Ben Gvir, No. 7 on the Union of Right Wing Parties’ slate, will be in the Knesset. In the coalition talks with Likud, MKs from the extreme electoral alliance demanded the immediate passage of the so-called Norwegian law, to enable designated cabinet ministers Smotrich and Rafi Peretz to quit the Knesset in favor of the next in line, Orit Strock and Ben Gvir. It’s our promise, they explain.
Likud members don’t object. Ben Gvir will be the 65th MK in the coalition, but the next coalition whip — Miki Zohar is interested in the job — can’t count on him. Ben Gvir is a wild card. His colleagues know he’s not a team player. Coalition discipline won’t even be a recommendation to him. So Likud will want to agree in advance on red lines he won’t cross in any circumstances in plenum or committee votes. They are demanding he doesn’t support any no-confidence votes, doesn’t vote against the state budget, doesn’t tip the balance against the government in critical votes. And he’ll agree to be replaced in some committee, if necessary.
And what if the gentleman with the long criminal record, who was in the crosshairs of the Shin Bet security service’s Jewish department for many years, promises but doesn’t keep his word? The negotiators are thinking of a solution. A Likud member asked this week if there’s a way to produce some kind of twist to the law, so that a minister who resigns from the Knesset in keeping with the Norwegian law could return to it without giving up his minister’s position, as the existing law requires.
The answer is no. There’s no such animal, not even in the distorted constitutional reality taking over our lives. The moment Ben Gvir says “I swear” the only way to get rid of him is if one of the ministers, Peretz or Smotrich, resigns from the cabinet. Those two won’t give up the seat of power so soon, once they’ve had a taste of it. Let them lie in the beds they made.