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'Anyone but Bibi' Must Have Its Limits

Carolina Landsmann
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Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett and New Hope Chairman Gideon Sa'ar in 2013.
Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett and New Hope Chairman Gideon Sa'ar in 2013. Credit: Michal Fattal
Carolina Landsmann

“A number of the prominent youth activists in the Tehiya movement went on to become judges, senior lawyers, academic, journalists and successful businesspeople. Among today’s well-known politicians are Naftali Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar and Zvi Hauser.” The quote is from the Hebrew-language Wikipedia entry for the defunct political party Tehiya. In short, Israel’s great New Hope (the name of Sa’ar’s new party) is – they are – alumni of Tehiya’s youth movement. Sa’ar, Hauser and Bennett – two parties, one strategy: to outflank Benjamin Netanyahu from the right.

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman proposed to Bennett, Sa’ar and Yair Lapid that they form an electoral alliance for the next general election. I don’t know about Lapid. A scalded cat should fear even cold water, no? But an alliance including Bennett (and Ayelet Shaked), Sa’ar (and Hauser, Yoaz Hendel and Yifat Shasha-Biton) and Lieberman – all of them victims of the prime minister’s hostile acts – is entirely natural. In fact, were it not for Netanyahu, they all would have met in the Likud leadership primary. It’ll be interesting to observe Israeli voters deciding between two political blocs, one led by Netanyahu and the other by Sa’ar. Which is left and which is right? Which are the Democrats, which the Republicans?

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The center-leftist, who is on the spectrum between Lech Walesa and “Lech” (“go” in Hebrew, a slogan of the anti-Netanyahu protests) and who derives hope from the prospect of Sa’ar’s replacing the prime minister, must stop for a moment. I liken him to a student taking an exam who is trying to solve an equation with two unknowns – he breaks it down into its parts, moves a variable from one side to the other, adds and subtracts, multiplies and divides – and after half an hour, when he does the last operation, he’s pleased with himself and he clicks on Equal, he gets 0.07356890001. He has to go back and figure out where he went wrong.

By the same token, it’s not possible that “Gideon Sa’ar” is the correct result of the center-left’s political equation. It means something screwed up along the way, and they have to retrace their steps to understand what it was. If Tehiya Youth is the new hope of Israel’s silent majority, then maybe it would be better if it remained silent.

The banal answer to the question is – Netanyahu, that’s what went wrong. Netanyahu warped the political arena and distorted the definitions of the old categories of left and right. Everything is so bent here that even someone without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is likely to reach the contradictory conclusion that the “Anyone But Bibi” camp is headed by none other than Bibi himself. Try to explain that what looks like the extreme right, walks like the extreme right and acts like the extreme right is actually the sensible political choice of the sane center; and that what today looks like a foreign-policy dove, acts like Frederik Willem de Klerk and sings like John Lennon is in fact none other than the gravedigger of the two-state solution, the father of apartheid, the champion of division and incitement and the destroyer of the Israeli nation.

In the current constellation, with all of its known problems (and without minimizing them), Netanyahu is fettered by the opposition inside and outside the government. The far-right is outside, and Netanyahu does not have a majority to pursue a right-wing agenda. He cannot move without the agreement of the center-left. He is leading the normalization effort, and there are people who argue that Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians have decided to change their approach and not to oppose Arab states’ establishing relations with Israel. Add U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to the mix, and you get Netanyahu on tranquilizers. So now we are heading for an early election to replace Netanyahu with the extreme right “in the best case,” and in the worst to replace Benny Gantz with Sa’ar and Bennett? Where is the logic? Okay, time’s up, put down your pencils and pass in your test booklets.

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