Opinion

Detoxing From Netanyahu

Netanyahu speaks at the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Embassy's move to Jerusalem, August 3, 2019.
Emil Salman

To borrow from Charles Dickens, in the future we’ll be able to say about these times: It was the most critical election, it was the most unnecessary election.

Unnecessary because the official reason for holding the September vote – like the one in April – isn’t the real reason. In both rounds it’s Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman who provided the official excuse: his objection to the new bill on drafting yeshiva students into the army. But in both cases an entire country has been dragged to the ballot box because of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal situation.

The first election Netanyahu initiated because he was drunk on power, and he was dragged to the second one by his “natural partner” Lieberman, who sensed his weakness and tripped him up. We mustn’t forget that the ultra-Orthodox, the Haredim, gave in to Lieberman’s demands in the coalition talks. “The demands were harsh, but still we agreed,” admitted Arye Dery of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism also claimed that “Lieberman’s entire goal was for Netanyahu not to be prime minister.”

These elections are not about Haredi-secular relations; the enthusiasm for Lieberman is because of his stand against Netanyahu. These elections also aren’t about Gaza (whether to “pound them,” as Benny Gantz suggested, or not); the support for Kahol Lavan is because of the alternative Gantz’s party has become to Netanyahu. The public debate has lost its connection to the real reasons for the repeat round.

The September election is unnecessary because it’s not about annexation or the “deal of the century,” it’s not about right or left, it’s not about “social,” “security” or “strategic” issues. Not even “corruption” is the burning issue. And most importantly, this election – unlike the one four months ago – isn’t even a “referendum on Netanyahu.” All that is history.

Whether we admit it or not, politically Netanyahu is already a dead horse. He’s deep in his legal woes, and the wheels of justice are in motion. More importantly, his supporters on the right have seen what he’s willing to do to remain in power. It’s one thing to arrange immunity for yourself, but to link up with the “internal enemy” on the left? To give Labor’s Avi Gabbay the Finance Ministry, Tal Rousso the Defense Ministry and Shelly Yacimovich the Justice Ministry, as Netanyahu proposed in May? That’s one bridge too far.

The Israeli political body is behaving like someone who is trying to escape her kidnappers after a long abduction, and the right-wing camp in particular is like a drug addict going through detox. Radio host Avri Gilad tweeted after the election: “This addiction is killing us … we need withdrawal from Netanyahu.” Right-wing journalist Shimon Riklin joined him, depressed by Netanyahu’s offers to Labor, saying that the only thing that halted the deal was that it was made public. “So what do we do in this situation? Is the man bigger than the idea? Than the need for change?”

The right-wing camp, which has been described for years by the left as suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, can smell the freedom. Lieberman waited for a momentary lack of attention by Netanyahu to try to flee and also free his friends in Likud. Except for the pathetic shows such as the loyalty pledge that Likud members were asked to sign – which isn’t worth the paper it’s written on – no one is going out of his way for Netanyahu.

Gilad and Riklin aren’t the only ones going through detox. We’re now witnessing the withdrawal process of all Israel from Netanyahu, on the right and even on the left, which often seems to be finding it no less difficult to part from him.

That’s why this unnecessary election is so critical. After many years of Netanyahu flowing in our veins, the entire system – consciously or not, coordinated or by chance – is cooperating in an attempt to free itself from him in any way possible. And if not tomorrow, then the day after.