Israel's Confederacy of Dunces

Five subjects worthy of our scorn after this week’s shambolic events in the Knesset.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Ofir Akunis, May 13, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Ofir Akunis, May 13, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Ofir Akunis – When the new minister without portfolio was the media adviser of then-opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, he was forced to hear repeatedly how his boss was shamelessly interviewing candidates to replace him. Later, a rumor got out about a mysterious recording of Akunis talking trash about the first lady. Akunis was humiliated and resigned/forced to resign, but remained unbroken. Unconditionally loyal, always obedient. On Thursday, he came to realize all his servitude was insufficient to clear him of suspicion. It’s too risky, apparently, to entrust him with the Communications Ministry. The prime minister’s residence fears he might yet grow a spine. What did Akunis say to the boss when he heard he was to be “a minister in the Communications Ministry” and not “communications minister”? Did he dare to grumble? To try to convince Netanyahu of his loyalty, as if 20 years of devotion were not enough?

Yuli Edelstein – Over decades, a humble tradition has been built up in which the Knesset speaker demonstrates a kind of propriety, daring even to exercise independence with regard to the prime minister from his own party. And then Edelstein came along. Immediately upon taking the post, it was obvious he ushered in a change. The Knesset speaker did not schedule a vote on the zero-VAT bill, when that would have proved uncomfortable for Netanyahu. He lent his hand to the cruddy move in which a transition government amended the Basic Law on the Government in two and a half days. The speaker of the legislature oversaw the creation of an entire set of new rules, tailor-made to the never-ending suspiciousness of the PM, who is positive that every one of his MKs is a political whore, and they must vote for the expansion of the cabinet before knowing what they’ll receive in return. It’s disgusting.

Silvan Shalom – “Foreign minister or bust,” Shalom and his people drummed into our heads. “This time he’s serious,” they reiterated, emphasizing to the skeptical reporters who remembered that in 2009 such threats ended when Shalom was given the seat next to Netanyahu – meaning he would be in the frame for televised cabinet meetings. The man for whom no empty honor is too low received the most scorned title of all: “vice prime minister,” an invention created for one respect-chasing man (Shimon Peres) and that never made it into the law books. It’s interesting to imagine how the new vice prime minister informed the prime minister that once again he was making threats with an unloaded gun and was willing to take on the highly reduced Interior Ministry. It’s equally interesting to wonder who his spokesman will be this time, who will have to argue with television producers in order to guarantee that “vice prime minister” is never omitted from the captions.

Benjamin Netanyahu – How does our contemporary Ben-Gurion explain to himself the disrespect and contempt shown him by nearly all his colleagues? That brilliant satirist Ayoub Kara admitted himself to hospital and ends up being “deputy minister with the standing of a minister” (!). Tzachi Hanegbi contradicted Netanyahu during his swearing-in speech. Gilad Erdan told him no. Avigdor Lieberman curses him. After nine years as prime minister, he was elected a fourth time, beating out all his rivals, including imaginary ones, and he still has to run around the Knesset on the evening of his swearing-in, requesting that the ceremony be postponed, embarrassing himself and others, just like that nightmare evening in 1996 when he became prime minister for the first time. How does Netanyahu explain to himself that it’s always like that for him?

The Israeli public – We are the most pathetic of all. Once again we write and criticize. But in the end Akunis, Shalom, Edelstein and Netanyahu will continue to manage us and we will continue to contend with that sense of nausea, with the shame and embarrassment, and the feeling that this government, this whatever-it-is, is not ours at all.

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