Analysis

Netanyahu Already Caving in to Far-right Rival Is a Sign the Worst Is Yet to Come

Minister Smotrich's latest tantrum over the justice system doesn't warrant a mere apology. It calls for his immediate sacking

Bezalel Smotrich at the Yamina party campaign launch in Ramat Gan, August 12, 2019.
\ Moti Milrod

The question of whether the prime minister is obligated to fire his censorious minister, Bezalel Smotrich, shouldn’t be judged by standards of morality, public interest, sovereignty or “governability,” the term so beloved by Benjamin Netanyahu. By all those standards, the answer is yes, yes, yes and yes.

But a month before the election, his chief concern is completely different – political cost versus political benefit. Netanyahu contemplated it and decided that the harm his party would suffer by turning Smotrich into a tortured martyr outweighs leftist nonsense like values and norms. With Netanyahu, we’ve already gotten used to that.

If he doesn’t want to fire him, then he won’t. But what’s the point of all that prattle about how “the prime minister is considering,” “deliberating,” “holding consultations” and, the height of absurdity, “may just dismiss him from the security cabinet?”

>> Read more: Netanyahu is running out of natural partners | Analysis ■ Smotrich's 'laws of the Torah' are as delusional as the Christian right's 'Judeo-Christian values' | Opinion 

Instead of saturating the media with empty bromides about a crisis that may erupt but never actually existed, he could have sent a discreet envoy to the transportation minister’s office and asked him to issue some kind of lame apology, without clearing an hour from his busy schedule to meet with the man he was reprimanding.

The immediate takeaway from this incident is that if Netanyahu doesn’t dare give the boot to a man (who wasn’t worthy of setting foot in the Prime Minister’s Office to begin with) during a transitional government which can’t be toppled, how will he respond to similar incidents when he has a governing coalition (if he does) of 61 MKs, in which every bastard will be a king? Smotrich will be able to unload on Netanyahu with the best invective from the hilltop youth’s repertoire, and the prime minister won't say a word.

This umpteenth Smotrich affair once again underscores how stupid, unnecessary and unsuccessful the appointments Netanyahu made in his transitional government have been. Rafi Peretz, Amir Ohana and Smotrich have showered him with embarrassment after embarrassment.

Each has spat out his bit of sewage and been forced to apologize, explain himself or claim that his words were taken out of context. They misbehave and run riot, insult entire segments of society, pollute the conversation, and all of it is the responsibility of the man who appointed them, thanks to whom they are there.

Smotrich is an exceptional example. This is a man who was detained for three weeks during the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip on suspicion of plotting to block off the Ayalon Highway by spilling oil and laying down spikes. A man who shortened his army service on dubious grounds. He is the ministerial version of the teenage girl who spat in the face of then-Defense Minister Ezer Weizman on the eve of the evacuation of the settlement of Neot Sinai in 1979.

Forty years later, the male incarnation of “Mazal the Spitter” is sitting in the cabinet and, like any run-of-the-mill criminal, abusing and cursing a Nazareth District Court judge who forbade gender discrimination in a public venue with public funding. And not just the judge, but the entire legal system, and along the way, the prime minister, too (who this time really was abused through no fault of his own), since this legal scandal happened “on his watch.”

A statement issued Monday by a Likud spokesman said the prime minister had warned Smotrich that if he didn’t publicly apologize for “the verbal assault against him,” he would be fired immediately. Against him, not against the court. Netanyahu is sensitive about his own honor, but as far as he’s concerned, his ministers can insult the judicial system that he pretends to respect and admire, until their throats grow hoarse and they’re blue in the face.

And it’s not just him; the same goes for the woman who was justice minister until very recently, and who sometimes even wrapped herself in a cloak of pseudo-statesmanship. All Ayelet Shaked, who intends to return to the ministerial post, had to say was, “Bezalel is sometimes a bit like Trump.” Forgiveness is an admirable trait, but a bit of leadership also wouldn’t hurt.