Analysis

Likud Loyalty Oath Shows Level of Hysteria at Netanyahu’s Residence

Vows by Knesset candidates from the premier's party will be meaningless if after Israel's September election they stand to lose power by sticking with him

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Benjamin Netanyahu at the at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, July 20, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Even before the work on collecting the signatures was finished – or more precisely the confirmation through emojis and WhatsApp messages – the initiative seeking to force Likud Knesset candidates to declare their support for Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister following next month’s election ranks just in the middle of the 10 most ridiculous moments in Israeli political history.

The move, which followed Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman’s announced intention to ask Netanyahu’s party for an alternative candidate if the prime minister rejects a unity government with the opposition Kahol Lavan party, will also earn a secure spot in the Pathetic Moment Hall of Fame. It will be ensconced alongside the bank guarantee that the late Yitzhak Modai sought from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir as backing for Shamir’s promise to appoint him finance minister; and Ya’akov Meridor’s light that would illuminate all of Ramat Gan; and the news media’s mistake on election night in 1981 declaring Shimon Peres Israel’s “next prime minister,” among other blunders.

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When it comes to Netanyahu, every time we think we’ve seen everything, unfortunately, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. A perusal of the text of the commitment that Likud Knesset member David Bitan’s aide sent to the candidates on the Likud Knesset slate leads to the conclusion that by the same measure, they could have been asked to confirm that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The declaration states that Netanyahu “is Likud’s only candidate for prime minister – and there will be no other candidate.”

The Likud constitution in fact makes Netanyahu the party’s only candidate, so long as no replacement for him is selected. But the moment that it becomes clear, if it becomes clear, that Netanyahu cannot form a government, Likudniks who have forgotten what it feels like to be in the Knesset opposition will demand that the party engage in soul-searching over going into the wilderness of the opposition with Bibi, or pick another candidate who would keep the party in the sweet, addictive position of power.

The commitment that the Likud candidates are being required to make, which was born at the Prime Minister’s Residence shortly after Lieberman’s comments on Channel 12’s “Meet the Press” program Saturday evening regarding an alternative Likud candidate for prime minister, are not worth the price of a free phone app. It is not binding politically, legally or in the eyes of the public. More than anything, it reflects the extent of the hysteria and frayed nerves at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Another indication of the system’s collapse there is a tweet by the prime minister’s son Yair, who accused Likud Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of cooking up plans with Lieberman for a coup against Netanyahu Sr. The tweet was deleted shortly after being posted. Even the person who wrote it, as well as his father, apparently understood the extent of the damage that such a statement projects throughout the political system.

Beyond the lack of self-confidence and signs of a loss of composure that such a step reflects, the commitment required of the Likud candidates again laid bare that our “strong” prime minister, whose air force planes bomb targets all over the Middle East at night, is a specter of weakness, fear and emotional Achilles’ heels. There’s only one person who knows exactly where the weaknesses are, which ones to take advantage of and when to blow the roof off the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Lieberman wasn’t lying when he said on Saturday night that there's been  ongoing talk in the Likud leadership about the day after the election. There is – because that time is approaching and opinion polls are showing that there is no way forward. The cruelest campaigner around has been enjoying harassing the prime minister and playing on his nerves. It’s clear to Lieberman that the pressure he is applying on the specific areas that hurt will be effective because things are already inflamed and sensitive.

Just last Friday, this writer wrote that Netanyahu’s biggest fear is of a revolt against him, if it transpires that he is unable to form a coalition government. And lo and behold, the next day, Lieberman appears on television sadistically declaring that he would approach “his friends” in Likud to ask them to find a replacement.

Not only that, but he even threw out the name of a preferred replacement, Speaker Edelstein, sending Edelstein scurrying to the media to deny it. Just about two weeks ago, Edelstein had been elected as one of two flatterers to glorify the prime minister at the celebration marking Netanyahu’s becoming the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, breaking David Ben-Gurion’s record. Yet even before the echoes of Edelstein’s remarks had subsided, he’s already being charged with conspiracy to carry out a coup. Another alleged plot has been foiled, following October’s alleged plot of the century by President Reuven Rivlin and Gideon Sa’ar to have Sa’ar become prime minister.

The cherry on top was the survivor’s declaration of thanks to the men and women of Likud for their “unequivocal support for me.” After extracting pledges of loyalty from them, the prime minister “thanked” them. It’s as if Stalin were to thank Bolsheviks on trial in the 1930s in Moscow for their confessions.

In the case of the Soviet Union, some of them ended up being executed. In Israel’s case, on the other hand, it will come back to haunt the country’s leader.