Netanyahu's Numb Party Will End Up Crowning Naftali Bennett

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Naftali Bennett campaingning for the March 23 election.

It’s not loathing, hatred or the exclusion of voters. And yes, he is innocent until proven otherwise. It’s anxiety. At first, it was concern for the character of the state: Is it seemly that it be headed by a criminal defendant? A basic question of values, which was dealt with quickly and appropriately during the first and only previous occasion. But at some point this worry was replaced by fear for the future of the state and its institutions. The erosion of public trust in the courts; the personality cult; the willingness to bend rules and create paths for evading trial (including the horrific idea of making Benjamin Netanyahu president), and of course the polarization and division and failure to agree on the rules of the game – they all provoke deep anxiety.

The political system has been paralyzed for two years, and this won’t be resolved as long as Netanyahu is prime minister and on trial. In fact, the situation is only deteriorating as more details of his conduct emerge. It wasn’t enough for him to control Israel Hayom, he also controlled Walla and tried to arrange for investor-friends to control Yedioth Ahronoth as well, so as to have the media at his service – not to advance an ideology, but mainly for shows of admiration, to settle scores with political rivals and to preserve his political power.

A struggle is being waged over Israel’s character, its ability to return to full function and the ability of the political system to untie a knot that the High Court of Justice, the president and the attorney general did not undo. In fact, the most democratic thing possible happened: The players left it to the elected representatives to solve on their own. It’s their responsibility now. No one will pull their chestnuts out of the fire. It demands courage and risk-taking in both blocs.

Likud is entrenched in a pattern by which a leader is never ousted, come what may. This may underlie the power of this party in contrast, for example, to the Labor Party, which specialized in defanging and replacing its leaders. But in Likud it’s reached absurd levels. Everyone there trembles before the leader and his minions. We saw the thuggish behavior and racism of one of Netanyahu’s supporters who accosted the wife of Ze’ev Elkin, who dared leave Likud (after defending Netanyahu’s actions). One sees every day the venom flowing from them toward anyone who dares to suggest that Netanyahu might step down. This highlights the priorities adopted by senior Likud officials and by those wishing to replace him: The welfare of the king precedes that of the kingdom. Fear of the party’s base precedes concerns about the harm done to the functioning of the state, and, obviously, a clear preference for someone else finding a solution to this crisis – the High Court, the president, the attorney general, anyone but they themselves.

This cowardice proves that these Likud officials are unworthy of being leaders. According to the results of the election, ejecting Netanyahu will make way for a successor as the leader of Likud. Yisrael Katz, Nir Barkat, Yuli Edelstein and everyone else who sees themselves as a possible successors, know this. A senior Likud figure said this week, in a private conversation, “in Likud, it’s impossible to make a leader leave.” One might appreciate this were it not for the fact that we’ve had four elections in two years without the ability to form a government, with government services in limbo, with no state budget, with hundreds of issues on hold, with ideas for changing the form of government bandied about as possible emergency exits.

Senior Likud officials, in their passivity, will be the ones to crown Naftali Bennett prime minister on behalf of the bloc looking for a change in government. Out of concern for Netanyahu’s dignity they are giving Bennett, with his party’s seven Knesset seats, the position of prime minister on a silver platter. Fears of score-settling are paralyzing them, and calculations concerning their personal careers overcome any other consideration. But crowning Bennett is also a career consideration that they should take into account.

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