“The cat is out of the bag. Likud’s patronizing and arrogant statement from this morning … ought to be posted on the refrigerator of every religious Zionist home. There’s no better way to explain why Yamina has no reason to partner anymore with Netanyahu,” Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich said angrily on Tuesday.
Smotrich, one of the tough guys in the Knesset, has a history of laying into the prime minister. Even as a junior and insignificant lawmaker, he said in an interview with Haaretz in December 2016: “Unfortunately Rabbi Netanyahu isn’t a right-winger. Until Netanyahu came along, it was clear in Israel and the rest of the world that there’s a right and a left… along comes Netanyahu and creates a false narrative, according to which there’s a left-right consensus on the two-state solution. That’s not true, it erodes your awareness and does great damage to Israel’s policies and interests.”
In that same interview, Smotrich also threatened to leave the coalition if the Amona settlement were to be evacuated and said that “it seems that were Netanyahu in David Ben-Gurion’s shoes no state would ever have been established.”
Netanyahu was enraged that weekend and kicked Smotrich out of a discussion being held his office about the evacuation of Amona, which only enhanced the young lawmaker’s credentials and earned him a courageous reputation. After that, Smotrich adopted a custom of telling the confidants and other lawmakers who consulted with him that the prime minister appreciates force and that’s the only way to handle to him. But that theory only stayed in the headlines.
Smotrich, of course, remained a part of the government even after Amona’s evacuation and has remained in limbo since the three consecutive elections began in April 2019. It was Smotrich who introduced an amendment to grant immunity to defendant Netanyahu; he was the one who stood behind each declaration of loyalty to Netanyahu, whether asked to issue one or not.
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“I’m always surprised by the maliciousness of those two,” a cabinet minister from Likud said to me once about Bennett and Shaked. Ostensibly, even he joins the rest of the world in wondering at how the nationalist Zionist Yamina party finds itself thrown by the wayside begging for something more meaty than the education and Jerusalem affairs portfolios.
Netanyahu’s abuse is not a sectorial matter at all, despite the way Yamina’s leaders are trying to characterize it in order to conceal their own failure.
Netanyahu has, for example, stayed loyal to the ultra-Orthodox, and will remain so – not only because, as Smotrich says, they’re more preoccupied with their own issues without any pretension of influencing the national agenda. Good examples of this would be the crisis over construction of the trains on Shabbat, their destruction of the Western Wall compromise and the various other wars waged over the status quo.
You can see how not too long ago, despite the wall-to-wall popular outcry against him, Netanyahu intended to leave a failing Yaakov Litzman in his post as health minister as a matter of principle in the negotiations with Kahol Lavan and he would have actually done so if the Haredi cabinet minister had not demonstrated some willingness to head another important ministry.
Netanyahu has his reasons to take vengeance against Bennett and Shaked, for example the alliance they forged with Yair Lapid in the coalition of 2013 – apparently the coalition that Netanyahu hated most of all those he built – or forcing him to appoint Ayelet Shaked as justice minister in 2015, which was a humiliating experience for some of those living at the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street.
So in another vengeful step – the neighborhood bully is attacking the dwarfs and confining them to the opposition benches alongside Heba Yazbek.
Netanyahu, how surprising, is behaving poorly, but the religious Zionist leaders have every reason to feel personally responsible for their failure. Firstly, they could have won three quarters of the kingdom had they responded to Kahol Lavan’s warm courtship. Yoaz Hendel’s dream in sending Benny Gantz to serve in a government of pure Jewish blood, a nationalist Zioinist government that tried to rope in lawmakers from Nitzan Horowitz to Smotrich and Peretz, who were preferable to Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi – failed only because of Yamina’s silly stubbornness. The strategy of giving Netanyahu a bear hug failed them politically and at the polls. Those who wanted Netanyahu simply voted for him.
Secondly, Bennett and Shaked wore out the religious Zionist sector, and transformed themselves from promising prospects into costume changing bearers of fluctuating messages. It is doubtful whether Yamina’s few members are as familiar with the names of the movements that make up their party and the reasons why they differ. Then there’s the issue of strategy: Which constituency does this party want to represent, secular right-wingers or the more devout LGBTQ-hating ultra-religious, the hilltop youth and the Kahanists (who would all feel more at home in Likud)?
The young leaders, Smotrich among them, haven’t yet and don’t seem close to resolving, their Oedipus complex toward Netanyahu. Gideon Sa’ar, for example, really dared to challenge Netanyahu. He was defeated and became the butt of a counter-campaign from hell, but to his credit you could say that he tried to do something more serious than writing a post about dad not agreeing to lend him the car on Shabbat (or Saturday night, if you will).