There's Been Debate but It's Settled. Israel's PM Cares Only for His Political Survival

Netanyahu doesn’t really care if work takes place on Shabbat or not, or whether migrant children study or are abandoned, or whether anyone studies English, math or science.

Uzi Baram
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Netanyahu at Likud Headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2015.
Netanyahu at Likud Headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Uzi Baram

This should mark the end of any debate about Benjamin Netanyahu. This time it should end with the condemnation of the prime minister as someone who cares for nothing but the preservation of his image as a flawless leader. Any fault will be deflected onto others. The impudence with which one of Netanyahu’s aides hurls accusations against a cabinet member is a disgrace. And someone who shows disrespect towards a cabinet minister will one day find out the truth about the prime minister and the ways he operates.

Had I not worked earlier with other prime ministers, I might have downplayed the importance of Netanyahu’s efforts to squash the image of the minister of transportation. I’m not a fan of Yisrael Katz’s political path and I’m particularly revolted by the way he yields to Netanyahu’s attacks. Any self-respecting minister would have broken loose from this government, showing that at least one cabinet member cares about something.

As minister of tourism in Yitzhak Rabin’s government I rejected demands by settlers to give incentives to an entrepreneur who wanted to build a hotel near Jericho. The prime minister objected to my position and talked to me about it. When talks were held with settler representatives, Rabin told them: “I would do things differently but a minister has a lot of discretion over his ministry’s affairs and I support his decision.” This wasn’t an exception. Both Rabin and Peres believed in a system in which the prime minister was the first among equals, but the cabinet ministers had stature.

The difference between those two premiers and Netanyahu is that they saw great importance in the success of their governments, encouraging ministers to make decisions and take action. Netanyahu cares about nothing other than his own survival. Maybe he believes this will guarantee the survival of the state.

One may assume that the prime minister had no choice but to surrender to the ultra-Orthodox on the issue of studying core subjects in their schools. He could have turned to the public, stressing how important learning these subjects was for the integration of the Haredim into the Israeli economy, and that he yielded to them because of an earlier coalition agreement.

Netanyahu could object to the integration of the children of migrant workers in Tel Aviv’s Shevah Mofet school yet still say that we have an obligation to care for these children who live among us. The prime minister could have told the ultra-Orthodox that the transportation minister respects them and feels close to them and that all his steps regarding work on Shabbat were taken to prevent unnecessary distress to the wider public.

But since Netanyahu doesn’t really care if work takes place on Shabbat or not, or whether migrant children study or are abandoned, or whether anyone studies core subjects, he chooses a path in which he is never the guilty one, and if there is a fault, it can be passed onto a minister who went astray.

He doesn’t really care if construction in the settlements is stopped or accelerated and he didn’t mind promising Isaac Herzog anything he wanted since he thought that would ensure his, Netanyahu’s, survival, and that’s the foremost concern. For the sake of survival he’s fortified his position: He has a private newspaper, a prolific website and the media publish any tweet from him or his functionaries.

Most prime ministers had some defining ideas. Some of them changed their positions due to circumstances, but they always put things on the table, in public view. That’s what Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert did. But Netanyahu is a different breed. He has never made a decision based on values, he’s never demanded anything of Israeli society. Why is that? Because he gets up every morning to a new opinion poll that indicates the level of his popularity, and that poll dictates his conduct.

The necessary conclusion is that the public shouldn’t care about someone who doesn’t care about them. Unfortunately, this is not the way things are.

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