Netanyahu Should Stay on the Job – for Now

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a news conference in Jerusalem, Israel August 13, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a news conference in Jerusalem, Israel August 13, 2020.Credit: ABIR SULTAN /POOL,AP
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t worthy to keep serving as prime minister, yet he still should stay on the job. The inventory of his misdeeds is vast: indicted on criminal charges, incitement, tearing society to shreds, seeking to subvert law enforcement and polluting the civil service by appointing cronies and yes-men.

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He’s not functioning properly, he’s devoid of management skills, as we see daily with the handling of the coronavirus. He’s running the country with his political considerations foremost in his mind, and motivated by personal and family interests. And this is just a partial list of his misadventures over the past 11 years.

Those who bewail the end of democracy and warn of civil war, including the writer of these lines, are correct in their diagnosis, but mistaken in their proposals for healing. They put obsessive effort into getting rid of Netanyahu through political maneuvers, no-confidence votes in the Knesset, various protests and demonstrations. And the more these efforts come up short, the more their despair grows.

Netanyahu and his allies, who assembled a utilitarian coalition – Likud, the two ultra-Orthodox parties and the settler right – continue to enjoy widespread support, from 40-50 percent of the general public. This support, which held steady over three elections in the past two years, shows that half the nation thinks the country is not in bad shape at all.

Some argue that supporters of the utilitarian coalition are acting against their own self-interest and don’t really understand what is best for them. This attitude is reminiscent of Yitzhak Ben-Aharon’s infamous comment after the major upset of 1977 that brought Menachem Begin and Likud to power – that “it’s the people who need to be replaced.” Not only is it condescending and paternalistic, it’s incorrect.

Most people exercise their best judgment when they go to the polls and vote for the candidate who they feel most closely reflects their values and worldview, and who will best serve their interests. This is the only way to explain why it is so hard to get rid of Netanyahu.

Even if a miracle occurs and all the other parties – the Joint List, Meretz, the last bits that remain of Labor, Kahol Lavan, Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beitenu and Yamina – form a wall-to-wall opposition whose sole purpose is to topple Netanyahu, it would be more like a game of musical chairs. Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz recently put it this way: “It will be whomever it will be, even Bennett, as long as Netanyahu leaves Balfour.” This is a childish stance.

Naftali Bennett is farther to the right and more hostile to the justice system than Netanyahu, and also a more ardent adherent of a free-market economy and ruthless capitalism. Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Ya’alon, Yisrael Katz and Gideon Sa’ar are all at least as right-wing as Netanyahu and less flexible than he is. Their chances of forming a government are about nil. The same goes for Yair Lapid, with all his virtues and shortcomings, particularly the fact that he’s just not prime ministerial material. There is no question that in terms of skills, experience, capability and talent, Netanyahu surpasses each of them by any measure. He doesn’t, though, in terms of character and personality. And that is the crux of the problem bedeviling Israel.

File photo: The hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 8, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

One needn’t be a Bolshevik to recognize that there is a kernel of truth in the saying, “the worse, the better,” commonly attributed to Vladimir Lenin although actually coined by 19th-century Russian writer and philosopher Nikolay Chernyshevsky, whose writings inspired the Russian Narodnik socialist movement.

In regard to Israel, the saying would imply that only if Likud supporters in the party’s traditional strongholds in the cities of the periphery conclude that Netanyahu is bad for them, that he is hurting their economic situation, their children’s education, their health and welfare, will they make the change that would remove him from office.

Many are comparing the great failures of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when Golda Meir was prime minister, to the coronavirus crisis. While the comparison is apt in some ways – the number of dead from the virus is approaching the number of fallen in the war, about 2,700 – bear in mind that despite the trauma of the war, Golda Meir and her party, the Labor Alignment, won a new vote of confidence in the December 1973 election.

It was only four months later, after the publication of the Agranat Commission’s findings, that Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan stepped down under public pressure and facing a wave of protest. Even so, as in a game of musical chairs, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were elected to replace them, and the Alignment remained in power. Three more years had to pass until all the feelings that had been sinking in rose to the surface and triggered the great election upset that brought Likud to power in 1977.

Only if a majority of the public, especially a significant portion of Likud voters, concludes that things could not be worse, will they decide to replace Netanyahu with another leader, either from Likud or another party. For this to happen a profound conceptual change must take place. This conclusion must be registered and internalized on a deep level. And until that happens, better for Netanyahu to go on stewing in his own juices, to be a weak lame duck, until he finally implodes and says (not to compare the two) like Menachem Begin: I cannot go on. .

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