Analysis |

Israel's Latest Political Scandal Was a Bluff From the Start

There wasn't a single ounce of credibility in Israeli lawmaker Rinawie Zoabi's charade, but everyone, media and government, fell for it

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, on Sunday.
Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, on Sunday.Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi said a great deal during her 15 minutes of dubious fame, which ended with a big whimper. And every statement she made contradicted the previous one.

“Resigning from the Knesset is a possibility”; “I won’t resign from the Knesset.” “I don’t know how I’ll vote on Wednesday, God is great”; “I won’t support dissolving the Knesset.” “Maybe I’ll support [the governing coalition] from outside, it depends on Benny Gantz”; “I have reached the point of no return, I can’t support the coalition.” And there were others, too.

The conclusion is that it doesn’t matter what the lady says; what matters is how she votes. And that remains to be seen.

“I’ll consider each bill on its own merits,” she said when she felt like she was on top of the world. On Sunday, she promised total loyalty. She’ll be the best soldier in the government over which she poured a bedpan full of excrement in her “resignation” letter.

There wasn’t a single ounce of credibility – much less integrity – in Rinawie Zoabi’s twisting path. Did she only realize on Sunday that dissolving the Knesset and holding elections might well result in a government of Benjamin Netanyahu, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich?

MK Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, on Sunday.

The event that trolled the whole country was a bluff from the start. The miserable reality is that all of us, the media and the government, fell into the trap. The former reported dramatically, pontificated, analyzed and eulogized; the latter ran around like poisoned mice, telephoned and urged and flattered.

The campaign of self-abasement toward the “quitter,” the hasty trips to Nazareth by Meretz ministers Nitzan Horowitz and Esawi Freige, the meeting that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was forced to call in her honor were all scenes in a nauseating drama. It was repulsive politics, and certainly nothing new.

Our politicians need to grow nerves of steel. Faced with a similar situation, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would have ordered his people not to exchange a word with her, saying if that’s what she wants, let her vote against the government.

It’s clear she wouldn’t have dared. She has a community to return to, a city to continue living in (the idea of making her Israel’s consul in Shanghai is dead). She would have returned with her tail between her legs even without the hundreds of millions of shekels in government spending she ostensibly obtained.

These bundles of cash, incidentally, consist of funding that was already approved as part of the five-year plan for the Arab community but had been held up by bureaucracy. Anything to let her save face.

At her meeting with Lapid, which was also attended by eight Arab mayors, Rinawie Zoabi never mentioned the Al-Aqsa Mosque, East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the settlements, the occupation or the Negev – all the burning issues due to which, according to her letter, she made the painful decision to quit the coalition. Not that anyone ever believed her for a moment.

When the meeting ended, she announced, “I’ll give you my answer tomorrow.” “There is no tomorrow,” Lapid answered, “we have to settle this today.” She asked to speak with him privately. They closeted themselves and talked, about what no one knows, and then the tidings came forth – Ghaida has come home.

Horowitz, the Meretz chairman who pulled her from who-knows-where to push Freige out, ought to pray to the gods of the left that his party’s voters forgive him for this colossal snafu, which could doom Meretz. When elections come, there will be people who will remind Horowitz of this. Labor Party chairwoman Merav Michaeli, for instance, would be happy to dance on his blood.

When the wheel turned and the governing coalition stabilized again at 60 MKs, it was the Likud party’s turn to demonstrate a loss of control, after its members had been dancing on the tables over the weekend. The most salient example was of course the leader of the opposition, Netanyahu.

He threw a tantrum on Sunday that resembled the one he threw in the Knesset two weeks ago. In a video posted online, he screamed at the government for “paying money” to maintain power. This is the man who for years mocked Tzipi Livni for refusing to give in to the ultra-Orthodox parties’ financial demands in 2009, thereby depriving herself of the chance to become prime minister and paving Netanyahu’s way to the job.

The political pendulum has swung back and hit Netanyahu and his Likud party on the head. On Monday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz will bring up a bill to grant scholarships to veterans for its final Knesset vote. It’s not clear whether the government has a majority for it; apparently not. Therefore, it will need votes from opposition MKs.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Arye Dery and Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset, in 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

Likud wants to show that a coalition dependent on Arab votes can’t pass “security” legislation. It’s right about that, and it’s not Likud’s job to rescue the government. But this bill is different.

Some 16,000 demobilized soldiers – the vast majority of them combat soldiers, as well as lone soldiers and immigrants – have enrolled in college with the knowledge that two-thirds of their tuition will be covered every year. Until a year ago, the necessary funds of around 100 million shekels ($30 million) came from donations. But the coronavirus cut off the flow of money.

The government therefore decided to cover that two-thirds out of the national budget (the remaining third comes from the demobilization grant every soldier receives). This is a welcome move.

But if the bill fails to pass, the students will have to pay that money out of their own pockets. This would deal them a mortal blow.

Prior to Rinawie Zoabi’s maneuver last Thursday, a historic revolution appeared to be taking place in Likud – roughly half of its MKs announced that they would support the bill. But when it looked like the government was about to fall, a lightning vote was held, and the miserable rebels fell into line and voted against it.

The joint video made by Netanyahu and MK Yoav Gallant (Likud), in which the former major general, who supports the soldiers, was dragged into supporting Likud’s empty spin, was truly heart-warming. A mere 66 percent of tuition is bad, they proclaimed. Either 100 percent or nothing! Poor Gallant. He looked like a Russian soldier taken prisoner by the Ukrainians and forced to recite the talking points dictated to him.

There is no such thing as 100 percent now. It’s a wretched lie from the Likud chairman’s school of wretched lies. The truth behind his refusal to support the bill is the ultimatum the ultra-Orthodox parties gave him.

What do they have to do with demobilized soldiers? Combat soldiers? In their view, only people who die in the tents of Torah deserve money, and lots of it. But when Arye Dery and Moshe Gafni natter at Netanyahu, he obeys.

The problem is that in our politics, there is no reward and punishment. In the polls, the rightist/ultra-Orthodox bloc is nearing 61 seats, the number needed for a Knesset majority. And the government, which is only doing good and fixing the many problems left by its predecessor, is stumbling with difficulty from one drama to the next.

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