Netanyahu's Gamble Might End Very Badly, and Even Right-wingers Know It

Ravit Hecht
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Anti-government protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ravit Hecht

The criticism is now being heard even from diehard rightists. It’s being heard from people who admire Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and see him as an outstanding leader for whom there is no substitute. It’s being uttered very cautiously, off the record, half secretly. Therefore, it’s not possible to suspect this criticism of not being relevant or of stemming from the urges that are currently fomenting a dangerous civil war here.

Netanyahu’s behavior has forced an isolated style of leadership on him, and its results may well prove tragic during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. He has no staff. He has nobody to talk to. He has nobody to consult with.

Israel's Locked-down, Let-down Youth Rattles Netanyahu's Cage. LISTEN

There’s no need to pity him; he’s the one who made his bed that way. It’s his nature. He’s a lone warrior eternally at war with the entire world. It’s him and his family, his source of life and poisoned well.

On one hand, there are his insane arrogance and his belief that he knows better than anyone else. And on the other side of the moon, there are his persecution complex and his life mission of weakening all the strong people around him and defeating all threats, whether real or imaginary.

The Prime Minister’s Office lacks a director general with stature, since the most successful of its previous directors general have either fled or been driven off. There’s no National Economic Council, merely a one-man show (Prof. Avi Simhon). There’s a disagreement, to say the least, about the independence of the National Security Council, and especially with regard to its controversial chairman, Meir Ben-Shabbat. And Netanyahu has declared war on the few remaining islands of powerful civil servants, like the Finance Ministry’s budgets department.

In the political arena, the faces speak for themselves. Ministers from Likud were chosen based on how vocally they defended the prime minister. Netanyahu admires the intelligence of Yuval Steinitz and Amir Ohana, but it’s doubtful that he mines anything of value from them, or from any of his other foot soldiers.

His partner in the government, Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz, is the one who brought him to power and could have shared responsibility for managing this storm of uncertainty. Instead, Netanyahu opted to humiliate him even before the ink on their coalition agreement had dried, and ever since Gantz entered the government, Netanyahu has degraded him at every opportunity. But perhaps Gantz or his partner in Kahol Lavan’s leadership, Gabi Ashkenazi, could have contributed something?

Even when it comes to his personal affairs – that is, the conduct of his criminal trial – he doesn’t have lawyers of the stature of Jacob Weinroth or Yehuda Weinstein on his side. Netanyahu is going into the battle of his life on every front with the back benches of the B League’s youth team.

When this one-man management succeeds, as it seemed to have done at the end of the first wave of the virus, there’s a perfectly narcissistic celebration at the prime minister’s residence. But over time, especially when running an exhausting marathon like the current unique crisis, the problems emerge.

The major breakdown in his radar during Israel’s exit from the first wave, which led him to busy himself with plans to annex parts of the West Bank and arranging tax breaks for himself instead of dealing with the wounds left by the first wave and preparing for the second wave, shocked Israelis, including his supporters. His abandonment of entire industries and population groups, like the self-employed and small businessmen, created enormous financial tensions and national depression.

Even now, in dealing with the demonstrations against him and the shocking violence against the protesters, the prime minister could and should have acted differently. And perhaps all this could have been prevented had he surrounded himself with people who would simply show him some mirror of reality.

Netanyahu is indeed a fearful person who is often driven by panic and thoughts of catastrophe. But he is also an unprecedented gambler. He is betting the whole pot when he runs the country by himself. He is gambling not just with his own fate, but also with our lives. It could end very badly. And even right-wingers see it.