100 Most Influential People: Politics

No other prime minister since Ben-Gurion was as unrivalled as Netanyahu currently is. No other tool had the potential to revolutionize politics like Facebook does

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No. 1: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

At the start of his third term as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is at the peak of his political power. There are no competitors in sight – no one in the coalition, the opposition or outside politics is regarded by the public as being suited to be prime minister. No prime minister since David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s has had such a standing. He also isn't dependent on his coalition partners in order to stay in power, since plenty of opposition parties are itching to take their place.

But this supremacy comes at a price: The responsibility of determining Israel's defense and diplomatic policy falls only on Netanyahu’s shoulders. During the last term, he had his former Sayeret Matkal commanding officer Ehud Barak, whose strategic insight Netanyahu valued, sitting beside him as defense minister. They also had former ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin at their side. Now, Netanyahu is surrounded by ministers whose advice he does not value, and he's unlikely to be willing to rely on them during a crisis. Similarly, his office has no notably influential advisers. Should something go wrong in diplomacy or security, Netanyahu will bare the blame alone.

Netanyahu's main problem is in his relationship with the public. While he is presenting the Iranian bomb as the country's primary national problem, most of the public is worried about the economy, the growing strength of the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox and maintaining good diplomatic relations with the West. This dissonance played out in the massive protests of 2011, when the protesters demanded to revive the welfare state and Netanyahu, a hard-line capitalist, refused to give in. As a result, his party lost ground to Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi, but Netanyahu managed to outflank Lapid and Bennett by pushing them into economic ministries, run by powerful bureaucrats, while keeping control over diplomacy and security.

Netanyahu continually portrayed the few policies he has initiated as decisions he was forced to make for the good of the nation. This included diplomatic moves that came only in the wake of American pressure, the Trajtenberg committee appointed in response to the social protests, the removal of the Haredim from his new coalition following pressure from Lapid and Bennett, and a return to peace talks following boycott threats by the European Union. Whether this is a calculated move or merely a matter of his personality, Netanyahu benefits from his prolonged stay on the fence. So long as there are no catastrophes, this demeanor enables Netanyahu to bulk up his political strength and prevents his opponents from presenting an alternative political strategy in the face of his lack of action. (Aluf Benn)

No. 2: Facebook

In light of the Facebook-powered election success of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, many MKs and ministers have substituted their Facebook pages for press conferences and other ways of staying in touch with their constituents. Lapid, who won 19 seats in the last election, has 219,000 followers and posts nearly every day. Now Economy Minister Naftali Bennett shares policy decisions and proposals on Facebook; Transportation Minister Israel Katz presents government reports that way; opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich mocks statuses Lapid posted only minutes earlier. With a little imagination, it's not hard to imagine a world where the Knesset building is no longer needed and parliament would operate entirely on MKs’ Facebook walls.

But more than anything, the biggest change in Israeli politics over the past decade has been the social protests and the awakening of the public. People are no longer willing to let politicians, businessmen and the Histadrut labor federation make fateful decisions behind closed doors. Now, the public wants to hear the arguments and express an opinion. They demand transparency and participation.

Technology, including smartphones, has increased and accelerated social involvement, but what's ultimately made this change possible is knowledge. Until recently, most people knew nothing about political or economic processes. Five years ago, most Israelis didn't know that the local cellular market was a price-gouging cartel, or that big businesses were taking advantage of the public's pension savings, or that big corporations pay nearly no taxes here. Facebook and smartphones are only the means by which this new social awakening is taking place. Armed with knowledge, the public will never let things go back to what they were. The only question that remains is whether the trend of politicians on Facebook is a passing one – whether elected officials realize that those who speak less might be the ones preserving their good reputations. (Eytan Avriel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at IDF event, August 7, 2013. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Yair Lapid talks to voters on Facebook.Credit: Eran Wolkowski