Mount Meron Disaster Won't Hurt Israel's Public Security Minister

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Public Security Minister, Amir Ohana, April 2021.
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents hope, and believe, that the chain of malfunctions which led to the Mount Meron disaster will halt the meteoric rise of one of his diligent envoys, whom they hate: Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.

Ohana strolled around Mount Meron before the disaster like a groom at his wedding, and with typical arrogance displayed the close ties he’s forged with the rabbis and the ultra-Orthodox leadership – a result of calculated strategy in his climb, whose summit is Likud leadership the day after Netanyahu leaves. The smugness and lack of awareness – not only to the State Comptroller’s reports but to the event, which traditionally ends every year with a post-miracle sigh of relief – worked against him when the celebration turned this time into a disaster.

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But the hope that the disaster would fatally harm Ohana reflects a lack of understanding of the social and political geography in which it took place. The ultra-Orthodox public operates in a religious discourse that, unlike the secular public, doesn’t look for flesh and blood scapegoats for the failures, as awful as they may be.

So far no face in the Haredi crowd has arisen to sweep the masses after him, and the ultra-Orthodox public won’t take to the streets in demonstrations like the Arab public did after the October 2000 riots, which ended the career of then-police minister Shlomo Ben Ami. In contrast, for example, to the 2018 disaster in Tzafit River, where 10 teenagers in a pre-military academy died in a flash flood, the Meron victims’ communal identity will presumably keep the general public from mounting a sustained protest.

The right-wing camp is different from the leftist camp, which doesn’t hesitate to demand accountability from leaders tainted with by failure – like Ben Ami, Ehud Barak and even Ehud Olmert in the Second Lebanon War. The rightist camp tends to strengthen its leaders when they’re under attack, because it almost always sees the criticism of them as an attack on itself – an attack led by the various elites and its agencies: the legal system and inquiry commissions that usually consist of judges, along with the media and all the scarecrows. The hatred of these enemies always consolidates and mobilizes the right.

The national camp and Likud in particular see the attacks on Ohana as another attempt to hurt Netanyahu. For them, the “leftists” – a code name for all Netanyahu’s opponents – don’t really care about the disaster’s poor victims. Instead, they see the victims as an opportunity to behead one of the most popular Likudniks, one who is close to Netanyahu. If a state inquiry commission is set up by a new unity government, the Likud public will see it as another political instrument.

After years of Netanyahu, we live in a reality in which a large mass of the people doesn’t believe in the legal system and thinks the prosecution is a crime organization. Why should a state inquiry commission have a different fate?

Ohana came a long way in Likud, being promoted by Netanyahu at the speed of light. Netanyahu’s opponents say derisively that he’s merely another lackey of Bibi’s. In fact Netanyahu – and he must have noticed this – is Ohana’s stepping stone. The LGBTQ community, which mostly leans left – overlooks his accomplishments because of his political affiliation. An openly gay man of Moroccan origin, who grew up in the periphery, climbs to the Likud leadership, a party with strong traditional sentiments, and which until a few years ago displayed no sympathy or tolerance for the LGBTQ community.

It’s hard to imagine Likud, or the political world in general, on the day after Netanyahu. But if we try to imagine such a world, Ohana is a serious pretenders to the throne. If Mossad chief Yossi Cohen isn’t parachuted by Netanyahu into Likud, Ohana is even the leading candidate – given the current pool – to take over the party. The disaster on Mount Meron won’t spoil things for him.

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