Analysis

Bennett Will Stick With Netanyahu and Rightist Bloc, Even if It Costs Another Election or Two

Religious Zionist politics have never looked as miserable as it has this past week

Amos Biderman

The moment that brought an end to the heartening, true partnership between the benighted, stupid ultra-Orthodox politician and the racist, Kahanist admirer of a mass murderer, came when the door to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s room closed behind Education Minister Rafi Peretz’s back. Out of his free will, the “Ravrafi” walked into a trap from which there was no exit, apart from total surrender.

Mercilessly, Netanyahu simply trampled him, stomping him into a trembling pulp of prejudices. Reinforced by two rabbis whom Netanyahu had summoned in advance – Haim Druckman, as always a mercenary for hire and a self-righteous politician in rabbi’s clothing, and Eitan Eisman, one of the old-timey National Religious Party rabbis – along with Nir Orbach, director general of Habayit Hayehudi. Netanyahu simply went wild. “Like a drowning man clutching at a rabbi,” someone said of him.

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He brandished surveys indicating that the alliance between Peretz and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir would send about 110,000 right-wing votes down the drain. Three potential votes in the Knesset in favor of granting Netanyahu immunity from trial would be thrown in the trash. You have zero chance of winning the number of votes necessary for your party to enter the Knesset, he shouted. It will be curtains for the government of the right, it will be the end of the historical National Religious Party! (Yes, yes he really gives a fig about the NRP.) He also pointed out figures showing that if Ben-Gvir runs alone, he is expected to waste between 25,000 and 35,000 votes. One Knesset seat. Not so pleasant but less terrible.

Netanyahu got what he wanted, even if not all of it. Let’s say 80 percent. Peretz exited the prime minister’s bureau into a new world. He became the most repulsive and ludicrous figure in Israeli politics, ever. In a single week – not even a whole week – he managed to disgrace himself in a number of areas: as an education minister who once again insulted tens of thousands of LGBTQ public school students, both in and out of the closet; as the leader of a party that anointed him and that he subsequently pulverized; as a politician with the backbone of an amoeba; and as a human being (forget about “rabbi’), who broke a signed agreement just moments after he had tweeted about himself: “A commitment is a commitment.”

His main, fabulous achievement – if we can call it an achievement – was to arouse a certain amount of empathy, even if ephemeral, and even in leftist circles, for Itamar Ben-Gvir. After Peretz’s secretary slammed the door to the office in Ben-Gvir’s face, the man who was betrayed faced reporters and lamented that “the man who is called a minister of education” stuck a knife in his back, and that after he had agreed to remove (probably not literally) from his living room wall the picture of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who perpetrated the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

If we wanted to be petty about it, we would note that a knife in the back is less deadly than bullets in the back. In any case there is no doubt: The reality of our life doesn’t provide the Israeli left many moments of satisfaction like this one.

Religious Zionist politics have never looked as miserable as it has this past week. At the Habayit Hayehudi central committee, a fist fight broke out between supporters of Moti Yogev and Peretz’s people. The self-righteous kippa-wearers, the professional eye-rollers, looked like a bunch of drunks in a pub moments before they vomit their guts out all over one another.

The greatest thing about them is that even when they are wallowing in the most stinking sewers that a rough political life sometimes provides, they will never stop invoking the name of God.

Every plot is “for the sake of Heaven.” Every rotten maneuver is “for the sake of the honor of the Torah and the world of the Torah.” Every dubious deal cooked up in closed rooms is “for the sake of the Land of Israel,” and the political action is “for the public welfare.” In the name of all these exalted values they will vote with religious fervor for immunity from prosecution for someone facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Don Bibi

Netanyahu’s strategy for victory – or preservation of the tie and the lack of a decision – needs three legs to stand on, at least: 1. A soft-right party that will draw rightist voters from the mainstream – people disappointed with and haters of the prime minister, familiarly known as Bibi, a role that the Kulanu party of blessed memory filled with great success in 2015; 2. Separation of the Meretz and Labor slates on the left. 3. A single, consolidated slate to the right of Likud, with no loose ends.

Conditions 1 and 2 aren’t going to happen. But he did manage to obtain condition 3. In the last election in September, Otzma Yehudit pulled in two potential Knesset seats – two short of the number needed for a party to enter the Knesset, one of which went down the drain and the second of which landed in Likud (by virtue of the Bader-Ofer law for divvying up surplus votes for candidates who don’t make it into the Knesset). There is no way of knowing what the followers of Kahane will do this time: Will they stick with Ben-Gvir, as a protest vote against the injustice that has been done to them, or will they evince pragmatism and vote for the Yamina slate, in which it is possible to find some species of Ben-Gvir – Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, for example, is no less of a racist, homophobe and Arab-hater. Peretz is everything that has been noted above.

On Tuesday, one day before the finalization of the slates, Netanyahu held a conference call with about 10 Likud MKs. He sounded to them more hysterical and alarmed than ever before. “We are losing the election,” he lamented. This is a well-known line of his, only this time it sounded to them more authentic than in the past.

“Attack Bennett, come down on him hard,” he ordered them. The aim was to take the chairman of Hayamin Hehadash down from the heights of the total invalidation of Ben-Gvir – which didn’t succeed. Netanyahu will always look for other people to blame. Never himself.

Instead of trying to restore to himself two Likud seats that migrated to Kahol Lavan, instead of finding new voters – young people just added to the rolls or undecided voters – he is dispatching his Knesset members to fob off his responsibility onto others who will pluck a few votes for him, from one direction or the other.

The man who faces three indictments acted like a mafioso who has the FBI sitting on his tail. He threatened Bennett that if he did not bring Ben-Gvir onto his slate, he would be booted from the position of defense minister. We didn’t fall off our chair when once again we found that for “Mr. Security,” the Defense Ministry is nothing more than a square on the chessboard.

At the same time, his people launched a barrage of threats at Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein lest he dare convene the Knesset plenum to approve the establishment of the committee that will deliberate on Netanyahu’s request for immunity. Bennett resisted, Edelstein too. Threats and scare tactics, personally or by means of envoys, have become routine in the Netanyahu era. Everyone is living with this. Fortunately for them, they haven’t found any dead horses’ heads in their beds.

The Bennett chronicles

The sigh of relief heard at the Prime Minister’s Residence Wednesday night at 11:30 upon the submission of the Yamina slate to the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Neal Hendel, was mixed with the sounds of gnashing teeth.

One one hand, there aren’t two lists to the right of Likud. The big fear is over. On the other hand, at the head of Yamina, which unites the entire right from the liberal fringe to the extreme of Smotrich and the Zionist ultra-Orthodox, stands the hated, great demon, the man who last April they hoped they would never see again. Not only has he not disappeared – he is still at the Defense Ministry and at the head of the slate on which four out of the first seven candidates are Hayamin Hehadash (and five out of nine, if they get lucky).

Moreover: The days are long gone when Netanyahu was able to have his way with the innards of Habayit Hayehudi by means of several rabbis and a number of party hacks who “for the sake of Heaven” and “for the sake of the Land of Israel” overruled Bennett. That’s over. Habayit Hayehudi is defunct in every respect. It is in Hayamin Hehadash and it is no longer subordinate to any rabbi. There is no leverage that can be used against it.

The Netanyahus are not at all buying this attack of values and morals that supposedly led Bennett to reject Otzma Yehudit. It’s a fact that in August he agreed to have Ben-Gvir in the eighth slot on the Yamina slate and even put his signature to it. So what happened, out of the blue? They are convinced that Bennett is plotting to cross the lines to Benny Gantz after the election. His move towards the center, relatively, is paving his route into a Kahol Lavan government and towards key ministerial positions for himself and Shaked.

Bennett was asked this week whether he has anything to say about that. I am completely, completely right all the way, he told his interlocutor. We will recommend only Netanyahu to the president as the person who will form the next government, we are loyal to the right-wing bloc. There is no dilemma at all.

And, he was asked, what will you do if once again the outcome isn’t decisive and the choice will be between a Gantz government or a fourth election?

Bennett hesitated for a moment before he replied. Then, too, he answered, we are with the right, even for fourth and fifth elections.

Belated wedding

We learned about the depth and breadth of the abyss “gaping between Meretz and Labor-Gesher on security and social issues” (in the words of Orli Levi-Abekasis) from the swift, efficient negotiations between MK Amir Peretz of Labor and MK Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz. Matters of policy and ideology were not discussed at all there, because there isn’t and wasn’t anything to discuss. They talked about places on the slate and after that about managing the money and divvying up the roles in the joint campaign headquarters.

The ease with which the heads of the two parties slid into their new format demonstrated the depth of the stupidity and size of the stubbornness that dictated the behavior of Peretz and Levi-Abekasis in recent weeks. The excuses about abysses and gaps, and ideas and mountains, sounded pitiful from the outset and were proven to be so.

In contrast to those two, Horowitz strove for unification from the get-go. Not only are the surveys worrisome, but also the mood in his electorate was indicative of what looks to be the dynamic: voters flocking towards the large parties to bring about a decisive result. When you begin the journey with a forecast of four seats for Meretz and five for Labor-Gesher, when the degree of voter “brittleness” in both parties is not marginal, the danger out there for both of them (and for their candidate for prime minister) is tremendous.

Peretz was pushed, some might say dragged, some might say coerced, to go under a wedding canopy with Horowitz. In the end, he did the right thing. “I have authorized Amir Peretz to embark on negotiations with Meretz,” wrote Levi-Abekasis on her Facebook page, at the start of his meetings with Horowitz. Someone here has got her terms very confused. Who authorizes whom? An educator authorizes his students, a chairman authorizes his CEO, a rabbi authorizes his pupils. She is so full of herself, it’s a wonder she hasn’t ousted him.