Analysis

Don't Eulogize Benjamin Netanyahu Quite Yet

Not only does Benjamin Netanyahu have political shrewdness and his family's almost inhuman survival skills on his side, but also his political base, which Israeli experts and pundits fail time and again to understand

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, August 3, 2017.
Emil Salman

Those of you pulling out their dance shoes and tambourines following the news of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's former chief of staff turning state's witness, in the hope that Israel is close to ridding itself of the burden of Netanyahu - it is recommended you curb your enthusiasm a bit.

Despite the serious allegations against the prime minister and even if he is indicted, the politician Benjamin Netanyahu - who was already written off following his stinging defeat in 1999 and after his meager showing in the 2006 elections - still has some valuable assets that will slow his departure from the stage of Israeli history. Not only does Netanyahu have political shrewdness and his family's almost inhuman survival skills on his side, but also the Likud electorate, which politicians, experts and pundits fail time and again to understand.

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This electorate is particularly relevant since it is not absurd to suppose that Netanyahu won't relinquish his control of the premiership on his own accord- especially since members of his governing coalition are hestitant to rock the boat. Further, a legal constellation that would force Netanyahu to resign is not expected to appear anytime soon, as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said herself.

Those who think – logically and rightly so – that it is enough that the growing allegations, investigations and questions concerning Netanyahu's moral dealings would be enough to delegitimize the prime minister in the eyes of his supporters clearly have not been exposed to the Likud WhatsApp groups, the activists, members of Likud branches and simply devoted voters. The Likud base unnaturally worships Netanyahu in a manner that surpasses the typical right-wing tradition to fall in line behind the leader. As most Likud activists see it, Netanyahu is above democracy, above the rule of law and thus above the state itself.

Even if law enforcement officials will present evidence concerning illegal and/or immoral dealings in the prime minister's residence, the Likud base will find a way to dismiss it. A taste of the tarring facing those who go up against their leader can be seen now with Ari Harow, once a close confidant and today a traitor. If Jabotinsky himself would find himself in Harow's place, he would be called a Judas too.

The expectation that Likud activists will see the light after being shown the evidence by law enforcement officials or the press (god forbid) and subsequently eject Netanyahu from within their midst is hopeless, just as campaigns to get Likud voters to cross over to other parties by presenting a more socialist platform - or indeed any platform - had failed in the past.

Netanyahu loyalists don't see themselves as battered wives in the grip of an abusive husband, as the pundits try to convince them that they are. Netanyahu exudes a magical spell on the Likudniks, fills them with pride and serves as a revolutionary front guard serving to dismantle the elites they despise. No comparison could be made to the people surrounding former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the eve of his resignation following the growing investigations into his affairs.

Netanyahu's super-status in the governing party can be evaluated from coalition chair David Bitan's threat, delivered on Channel 2's Friday night news broadcast. When asked why Likud ministers were not defending their boss in the television studios, Bitan, Netanyahu's current fixer, promised that "they will pay come primaries." The act of rebellion taken by Gilad Erdan, Miri Regev, Israel Katz, Gideon Sa'ar, Tzahi Hanegbi and other Likud leaders is silence. No high-ranking Likud politician dares coming out against Netanyahu in the open after years in which they went from TV studio to TV studio defending Netanyahu and his family like circus clowns. In this atmosphere, despite the stress he's in, it is still early to eulogize Netanyahu.