Likud's Busy Week: Gideon Sa’ar vs. Amir Ohana

Ravit Hecht
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Gideon Sa'ar (L), on December 16, 2019. Amir Ohana (R), on December 24, 2018.Credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP - Olivier Fitoussi
Ravit Hecht

It’s no coincidence that the two major stories this week evolved around prominent Likud figures. One is Justice Minister Amir Ohana, who since entering office has stirred up a constant hornet’s nest. This time it was because of his defiant choice of Orly Ben-Ari Ginsberg as acting state prosecutor. The other is Gideon Sa’ar, the only one in Likud who dares to challenge Netanyahu.

In the twilight of King Bibi’s era two heirs are emerging, representing two different paths, one of which will be taken by post-Netanyahu Likud.

Yes, Sa’ar and Ohana. Not the oh-so-dominant foreign minister Yisrael Katz, whose diplomatic heritage will surely be studied in the best research institutes; not Gilad Erdan, who’s afraid to say who he supports for Likud leader (after a period of being the no-less-frightened minister in charge of the police); and not Yuli Edelstein, who’s clinging tooth and nail to the Knesset speaker’s podium to avoid having to take any stand.

Even now, when their hated leader is tied up in three indictments and three consecutive political failures, they haven’t dared to come out against him. On the other hand, the reserved nature of their support for him is reminiscent of the body language of prisoners of war.

Ohana is different from them not only in the intensity of his obsequiousness – after all, Miri Regev, David Amsalem and Miki Machluf Zohar have been there before him. Ohana has leveraged Bibi’ism for his personal benefit. He has gone from being a Netanyahu follower to a lone assassin of the legal system. It stands to reason that his radical acts are conducted in accordance with and authorized by his master and his master’s family, but it cannot have escaped even Netanyahu’s eye that Ohana is working for himself as much as for the Balfour Street residents.

Both Ohana and Sa’ar are radicals. A left-winger will find no solace in either one. But the truth is that this is meaningless. Thanks to Netanyahu, we live in a crude era in which Yoaz Hendel is in the same party as Yael German only because the division between the camps is different. Paradoxically, the ruling camp stands for upending and tearing down the state’s foundations, while the opposition camp is concerned about and protective of the symbols of the state and principles of non-partisan governance.

The approach to the legal system, largely a result of the Netanyahu cases, is the most up-to-date litmus test of our time. Ohana represents the Bibi’ist right, backed by outlaw settlers. This camp lives in deep paranoia, believing the State Prosecutor’s Office is a Satanic cult that frames people by staging institutionalized corruption in broad daylight. It also believes the legal system is an instrument for implementing an extreme progressive ideology that strives to strip Israel of its Jewish character and turn it into a state of all its citizens (I’m sure Avichai Mendelblit passionately agrees with his new branding). This camp, although it is the ruling power, is characterized by rampant anarchism, by an addiction to deep-state tales based on half and quarter truths, and by a chronic passion for destroying elites.

Sa’ar, in contrast, represents the statesmanlike right, which is repulsed by the blatant lawlessness. Aware of the anti-establishment populist wave in Israel, as in the whole world, Sa’ar has also listed principles for a fundamental reform in the legal system, which is certainly not to the jurist elite’s liking (including legislation bypassing the High Court of Justice). The difference is that while Sa’ar’s approach consists of ideas – harsh and obscene as they may be – that are legitimate to debate, Ohana’s approach is a delegitimization of the whole system (“state prosecution within state prosecution”).

Sa’ar is also made of the old Likud stuff, which many leftists suddenly yearn for in the wake of the reckless civil chaos at the close of the Netanyahu era. It’s an extremely rightist Likud politically, but it’s also civilized, tie-wearing and more Ahkenazi, a Likud that saw most Mizrahi people as worthy voters but preferred a scholarly European leadership in the form of the princes’ generation, or at least Ashkenazi-speaking Mizrahi folk like Meir Sheetrit. Today’s Likud is different.

It’s not clear what direction Likud will choose. What is clear is that the real inheritance battle was declared this week.