Bibi Fires Up the Opposition

Quite a number of decent right-wingers will find hard to swallow the approval of Meir Kahane’s successors and special legislation to save the prime minister’s skin from indictments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to journalists as he arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.
Abi Sultan,AP

The decisive point in the plot development of the past week was the merger of the Otzma Yehudit party with Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union, through the lobbying of the prime minister.

We could dwell on the ideological nature of this party of followers of far-right Kahanists, and we could make do with stating that this is a political abyss that will drain into the legislature and whose entire purpose is to save Benjamin Netanyahu’s skin.

It wasn’t the electoral threshold nor the lost seats for the right-wing bloc, but the “French law” (which would grant him immunity from police investigations) and the override clause (which would prevent the High Court of Justice from annulling the law) that impelled Netanyahu to fight over the dirty fingers of the Kahanists Itamar Ben Gvir, Michael Ben Ari, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein of Otzma Yehudit.

It’s a one plus one deal, which center-left voters won’t tolerate and quite a number of decent right-wingers will find hard to swallow: both approval of Meir Kahane’s successors and special legislation to save the prime minister’s skin from indictments. Netanyahu understood the fury that such a transparent move would arouse, anticipated the wave of opposition and decided to take a risk.

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In doing so he provided stronger-than-ever motivation for the “Anybody but Bibi” camp, and thanks to him the merger between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, with Gabi Ashkenazi as a bonus, turned into a production with the dimensions of Marvel films, which bring together several superheroes in a shared universe.

Apparently this important detail was not included in the considerations of Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay. His opinion polls showed that the merger with Meretz doesn’t yield enough seats to justify it. The polls also showed him that his party and Meretz would each pass the electoral threshold. It should also be acknowledged that in the past year Gabbay was often attacked by Meretz head Tamar Zandberg.

She portrayed him as almost right-wing, and when talk about a merger between the two parties began she cried, with the arrogance of the mouse sitting on the back of the elephant – okay, in this case a baby elephant – to anyone who accepts the principles of her party to come join her. Only when times got hard did she call on Gabbay to merge.

The final outcome is what will determine whether Gabbay has nerves of steel, or whether he can’t stop banging his head against the wall. If each of the two parties pass the electoral threshold, he made the right decision. If Meretz doesn’t pass, as the polls are now indicating, Gabbay will bear the blame for the disbanding of the Zionist Left, the removal of Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni from the political arena, and the end of Meretz.

If the Labor Party also fails to pass the voter threshold, Gabbay will have ended the chance of replacing the government, by shrinking the left-wing bloc.

Anyone can see that it’s an unreasonable risk for a not very significant achievement. The separate identity of these two parties, which in any case have to rethink their paths, is not as critical as their elected leaders think, certainly not at this time.

That’s why bringing the Kahanists into the Knesset, in addition to the threat of appointing Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich as education minister, with the French law hovering over the plenum, is such a critical moment. Now the sense of urgency in the leftist camp is growing. What is in the balance is too big and too critical.

For Gabbay to understand what I mean, here is a bit of private memory: During Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, I often stood in front of the sweaty faces of Ben Gvir, Ben Ari, Marzel and Gopstein at demonstrations, their mouths opened in anger and the chorus of angels of Gopstein’s Lehava organization enthusiastically singing, “Why is there no school in Gaza, because all the children there are already dead.” Every feature of their faces is still etched in my memory.