Gideon Sa’ar is a brave man. This has to be said. Because courage isn’t at all common – especially not in our current political world, which is inhabited by people who generally crawl before power and tell themselves some story to justify it.
Sa’ar’s views scare me. He’s the man who wanted to close grocery stores on Shabbat. He’s the man who sees Hebron, where an unruly, extremist Jewish minority imposes a reign of terror on the Palestinian majority, as an Israeli city no less legitimate than Tel Aviv. He’s the man who, as interior minister, presided over the establishment of the Holot open detention facility for asylum seekers, then enthusiastically defended it and even wanted to expand it.
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I’ll admit without qualms that if it weren’t for the criminal cases, family problems and a few other issues, I’d prefer Benjamin Netanyahu, because he’s not as right-wing as Sa’ar. It’s hard to see this in our current extremely anomalous situation, but this should logically be the leftist position.
In addition, the pro-change bloc ought to be led by Yair Lapid rather than Sa’ar (and certainly not by Naftali Bennett). This is partly because Lapid heads the party that received the most Knesset seats among this bloc, and partly because he’s the logical center point of the impossible spectrum ranging from the Arab Balad party to Bennett’s Yamina or Ze’ev Elkin of Sa’ar’s New Hope.
But neither of these two essential points make it any less true that Sa’ar is the bravest politician in our political world, and together with Lapid he is standing upright amid the general repulsiveness.
A female politician who suffered repeated hazing of the type that would paralyze any normal person once told me that a politician’s power isn’t measured by the buzz generated or the political posts obtained, and certainly not by issues that are secondary in our warped system, like passing legislation and steering policy. Rather, a politician’s strength is measured by their ability to take pain. By how many hits they’re capable of taking while remaining on their feet.
Sa’ar has suffered from character assassination by his former Likud party, terrible smears, a humiliating defeat within the party when he dared to do what none of its other senior members did – run against Netanyahu for its leadership – and another painful defeat after he left it and set up a new party, which won a humiliating six seats.
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But Sa’ar, unlike Bennett, doesn’t blink or flip-flop. He broadcasts neither tension nor hysteria. His response to Netanyahu’s speech Wednesday night urging him and Bennett “to put the disagreements behind us” and join a rightist government was so clear that it’s worth quoting in full.
“On the same day that he and his people are once again spreading false, delusional conspiracy theories about me and about the president of the state, Netanyahu is asking me to join him,” Sa’ar said. “My answer is that I’ll keep my promise to the voters. I will not join a government headed by Netanyahu and I won’t support him. Netanyahu’s continuance in power harms Israel, because he prefers his personal welfare to the country’s welfare.”
In this response, Sa’ar not only demonstrated loyalty to his voters but also distinguished himself from Netanyahu. In contrast to Netanyahu’s doublespeak, misleading messages, lies, psychological terror and gaslighting, Sa’ar speaks simply, directly and consistently. This is what I promised. This is what I think. This is what I will do.
But Sa’ar now faces a more difficult test than that of not joining Netanyahu. After having effectively waived the option of participating in a rotation of the prime minister’s job – instead, he’s trying to work out a rotation between Bennett and Lapid – he must now agree to form a government together with the Arab parties. When Netanyahu is willing to add the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement to his escape-from-justice coalition, the old rejectionist policy has been shown to be not only racist but, above all, stupid.
If Netanyahu is truly harming Israel, as Sa’ar said, and if Sa’ar himself is truly as brave as he seems, this is the difficult choice he must make. Good luck.