You had to be blind or ignorant about Likud voters to deny what that took shape in Israel over the last two weeks. Benjamin Netanyahu soared on the wings of a particularly nasty campaign, achieving the unbelievable: moving voters from the center-left bloc to his camp just before his impending trial.
Bibi went gunning for his only real rival
What didn’t work with Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” or with bringing home Naama Issachar from a Russian prison – not to mention amusements such as a pledge to appoint former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat finance minister – worked in a venomous campaign conducted along familiar Netanyahu lines. He linked the Arab community’s Joint List with Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, with Gantz’s party playing into Netanyahu’s hands by rushing to dissociate itself from the Arab demon.
To this dish were added the usual spices: slander, mudslinging and attacks delving into personal lives, as well as disdain for Gantz’s less eloquent oratory skills compared to Netanyahu. The message was well received by the exhausted and the despairing: Only a vote for Netanyahu will end Israel’s political chaos.
How can a person facing a trial in two weeks convince a significant part of the public that he’s the solution to provide some stability? We can endlessly extol Netanyahu’s political skills, with which, despite corruption charges in three criminal cases, he manages to do as he pleases in the political arena. We can tout doomsday prophecies about the rule of law in Israel and the gloomy fate of Israeli democracy if Netanyahu, perish the thought, wins 61 Knesset seats and forms a far-right coalition that will work to keep him off the dock.
Still, it’s worth mulling for a moment the choice that was made, considering the admiration of Netanyahu’s cruelty, the worshipping of his dictatorial aggressiveness and the enthusiastic support for his campaign that included unbridled racism, lies, mudslinging and a descent into a moral abyss.
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The people who worship him for these qualities have been joined by people who had enough of all the elections and the uncertainty, preferring to submit to his power. They’re the ones who tipped the scales – not just politically, but morally. Israel has said a resounding yes to Netanyahu’s revolutionary message: Everything in dissolute Israel is allowed.
As noted by his confidant Nathan Eshel, the burning hatred toward anything identified as the elites provides carte blanche for any kind of behavior. It’s doubtful that any candidate in Israeli history has ever been the target of as much filth as Gantz. His only crime was that he dared compete against Netanyahu. Just for withstanding these awful attacks he deserves our respect.
Against the backdrop of the shattering of the left and the significant weakening of the alternative to Netanyahu, the only reasonable choice this camp has is a unity government whose damage will be less than that wrought by a fundamentalist right-wing government.
There are grounds to believe that Netanyahu will want such a government, which could only happen after a rift in Kahol Lavan. Gantz, and possibly Gabi Ashkenazi, who was inclined to accept such a government in the last round of negotiations, will probably join. Yair Lapid will remain outside with his Yesh Atid project.
Kahol Lavan will be the latest entity, a functioning and independent one, that the magician from Balfour Street manages to break up with ease.