Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s gangs, who for months have been attacking peaceful demonstrators on bridges and at intersections, on Saturday night came to Moshav Azaria, where Gideon Sa’ar was attending a parlor meeting. The cars, flags, signs, and loudspeakers all came from Likud’s party headquarters. Stones, cherry bombs, bottles and eggs were thrown. New Hope activists were hit. Sa’ar and his wife needed police protection to leave the house. Another regular evening for the Bibi-ists.
Netanyahu remains silent. Just as he stayed silent when his supporters humiliated a bereaved family in Caesarea; just as he stayed silent and is still silent about the hundreds of violent incidents perpetrated by right-wing activists, some of them in Likud’s service, on fellow citizens. The prime minister of Israel has become a leader of militias.
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If a “fully right-wing government” is actually established, these lawbreakers could become its legitimate arm. They will get encouragement from the highest echelons. From Balfour Street, from Amir Ohana, from David Amsalem, who has been banned from making any appearances so that we should forget he exists; from Yariv Levin and Miri Regev, who on Sunday donated another pearl for the hall of fame of political stupidity. “Whoever doesn’t vote for Likud is a misanthrope,” Regev said with pride mixed with affront in advance. Later she corrected herself. That’s half a comfort; she may not have read Chekov, but she read Moliere.
Netanyahu went a step further on Sunday with an effort to whitewash the most extreme and dangerous faction of the Israeli public. In an appearance at the Jerusalem Conference, sponsored by the religious weekly B’Sheva, he suggested that whoever has a hard time putting a slip for Likud in the ballot box next week should vote for the party that calls itself Religious Zionism. What generosity of spirit. There’s no doubt that the romance there is heating up; it started with reserving a spot for a National Union representative on Likud’s ticket to make its union with Otzma Yehudit easier; it continued with a surplus vote agreement between the two parties and now – a recommendation.
There has never been a party that champions such indecent values as persecuting refugees, loathing Arabs, homophobia and messianism that was so close to representation in the Knesset, and in the cabinet. With their lobbyist’s help, and with God’s help, of course, Religious Zionism will cross the electoral threshold. Bezalel Smotrich will be a minister and a member of the security cabinet. Itamar Ben-Gvir will be made minister ahead of many others for one simple reason: He will be the 61st MK.
Not only that, but he and Netanyahu will become good friends. They already are, sort of. Like has met like, and one hand (or fist, in this case) washes the other. Over the weekend Ben-Gvir announced that he will get the so-called French Law passed, which would block prosecution of a sitting prime minister, and on Sunday the beneficiary of the law (which isn’t expected to pass if Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked keep their word) is asking the undecided to vote for the benefactor. In criminal terms, there’s circumstantial evidence here.
In his address Sunday to a right-wing audience in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that he was coming directly from the weekly cabinet meeting. He shared the hardships of a rotation agreement for the premiership, and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. He is like a man who marries a woman, then the day after the wedding he betrays her, abuses her physically and emotionally, steals her money, and humiliates her. After a few months he gets up and says, that’s it. I’m done with being married.
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And even as he has chosen the strategy – correct from his perspective – of favoring the bloc over his party, the contender from the other side is doing the opposite. As we reported here on Friday, Yair Lapid has decided to unleash his doomsday weapon. His headquarters sent text messages to Kahol Lavan voters, asking them to vote for Yesh Atid instead: “Parties with 5 seats don’t replace the government and parties with 6 [referring to Labor] don’t save democracy.” The subtext is that a party with 23 or 24 seats can.
From a certain perspective, Lapid is playing with fire. In his situation it’s possible that there is no other relevant game; Labor is stabilizing in the polls at six seats, he can pinch a seat from them with confidence. But Kahol Lavan remains a wild card, and therein lies the risk: If it really is worth four to five seats and one of them goes to Yesh Atid, forcing Benny Gantz under the threshold, taking 100,000 votes with him, the bloc seeking change will be fatally damaged, and the Netanyahu bloc will profit.