Opinion

'I Have Something Stronger Than Yours': Netanyahu and Bennett Battle to Be the Right's Mouthpiece

The struggle between the PM and the education minister has hijacked the entire political system and public agenda

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett during a session of the plenum of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, March 12, 2018
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s real intentions in the current political crisis will only transpire in the party leaders’ meeting on Sunday. If the prime minister has decided to go for elections, he will push as hard as he can for Minister Yariv Levin’s foolhardy proposal, dubbed “the British model.”

This proposal is based on a bill submitted in 2007, consisting mainly of banning the High Court of Justice from striking down laws.

This is a solid basis for dispossessing the High Court and giving the politicians an open check. Only obsessive enemies of the court, who are borderline delusional, could support it. Astonishingly, it outflanks on the right Bezalel Smotrich’s proposal to curb the High Court’s power. The latter gives the Knesset the authority to re-legislate a law that the High Court has thrown out, but limits the law’s duration to four years, and preserves some kind of dialog between the legislative and judicial branches. (Hag sameach, Jews, the day has arrived when Smotrich is the cabinet’s voice of moderation.)

>> Netanyahu's Puppet Master Naftali Bennett Is No Fanatic, but Rather a Cynic in Paradise | Opinion >>

Levin’s radical proposal won’t pass, as neither Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit nor the coalition partners will allow it. Not only Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon – whom Netanyahu is always happy to harass as “protector of the court” – shudders at it. It causes dread even in Habayit Hayehudi. If Netanyahu shows he wants it at any cost, this is his way to elections, which nobody but he wants, especially not his arch enemy Naftali Bennett.

And here we get to the most plausible possibility. In view of recent history, which has provided a dramatic coalition crisis once every few weeks – the minimarkets and military service, the recommendations law and the French law, all upheavals that began as big storms and ended suddenly – perhaps this is nothing but another round between Netanyahu and Bennett, a struggle that has hijacked the entire political system and public agenda.

Netanyahu wants to devour Habayit Hayehudi, Bennett wants to take Netanyahu’s place. In this relationship there are no new twists or developments, only the background changes.

At the coalition leaders’ meeting on Wednesday, Bennett wanted to push Smotrich’s bill as a solution to the dilemma with the asylum seekers. It came after more than a week of victory laps over Netanyahu’s bizarre slip-up with his right-wing base over what to do about the refugees. After handing out a few Israel Prizes to leftists, Bennett regained his glory as the true-blue right’s mouthpiece, who cannot agree to the presence of blacks in Israel, and as one of the instigators of Netanyahu’s shameful U-turn. A source who attended the meeting said that in response, Netanyahu turned to Bennett, smiled and said: “I have something stronger than yours.” This is how things are done, in case the asylum seekers, south Tel Aviv residents or anyone else wants to know.

It’s almost pathetic to rebuke politicians when they wallow in the political gutter and let everything around them collapse. Yet it’s impossible to ignore the dangerous revolution that’s taken place in Likud’s view of the court during the Netanyahu era. From the stance that individual liberties and their protection by the Supreme Court are a right-wing interest, partly because the right was a minority for decades, we’ve reached the point where the court is seen by Likud as an enemy of the people, alongside Hamas and the media.

The distorted image that the right wing under Netanyahu is hanging on the court system will remain in place after he and Bennett have their next squabble, too.

“After all, one day we won’t be in power any more, and then what will we do with all those laws we’re trying to advance?” a senior public official close to Netanyahu asked in some Likud forum. Her question is hanging in the air.