Opinion

No Quick and Dirty Way to Dump Bibi

A woman holds a poster that reads, 'Israel is strong with Netanyahu' at the anti-coup protest in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

Benjamin Netanyahu is finished politically. He is like a cartoon character still running through the air with viewers waiting to see him plunge into an abyss.

Many on the right know this. Some of his supporters do as well. The public figures still willing to defend him include delusional extremists, close associates who are deeply entrenched in their positions, and a few intellectuals who have not managed to flourish in their own circles, which are ruled by the left, and who have along the way managed to become addicted to the oozing sweetness of the right wing’s embrace. Let’s put it this way: When Rabbi Thau and singer Ariel Zilber are with you, you’re probably on your way out.

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In contrast to the divided strategy of the left, the strategy on the right consists of total loyalty to the leader, while demonstrating a chronic contrariness towards anything identified as an elite. Netanyahu has applied this strategy to perfection. He played the role of a strong father figure, playing like a concert pianist on feelings of inferiority, a very elastic raw material. For now, a not insignificant portion of Likud still prefers going with Netanyahu into the wilderness of parliamentary opposition, rather than betraying the religion of loyalty or yielding to the loathed elites. This will change, but it will take time.

Any parting involves a slow, prolonged process. Especially when it involves parting from such a powerful figure as Netanyahu, towards whom an emotional response has been the overarching determinant of voting patterns in Israel in all recent elections. His supporters love him like they do a father,attributing supernatural powers to him. (“A magician,” “the wisest of humans.”) His haters think he’s the devil, attributing demonic intentions to him. (“He’ll bomb Iran to avoid going to jail.”) Netanyahu will leave the Likud life cycle slowly, at a pace determined by his supporters. Any request from Yair Lapid to Likud members that they depose Netanyahu gives him another month of enthusiastic support. Any demand that the attorney general depose him fills exhausted activists with renewed emotional energy.

Instead of understanding that the Likud community has had a consistent strategy that worked for many years, which is why parting from it is so complicated, Netanyahu’s opponents are constantly trying to educate Likud members while feeling superior to them. In the face of the balance of power over the last decade, it’s not clear what leads to these feelings of superiority. Likud members have shown very clearly that they know how to attain power and hold onto it.

This line of thought is not only ineffective, it makes a mockery of democratic values that Netanyahu haters take pride in embracing. There is nothing wrong with claiming that Netanyahu is a bad prime minister for Israel, even a dangerous one. What is problematic – one reason for this being that it bolsters the inflated narrative of persecution Netanyahu supporters believe in – is the demand that Avichai Mendelblit depose him “for judicial reasons.” This demand has accompanied the entire lifetime of the investigations against Netanyahu, which is why it is suspected for being one that commentators latch on to when times are hard, rather than the other way around.

The law (Basic Law: Government, clause 18) determines that the requirements for “terminating the tenure of a Prime Minister due to lawbreaking” are a Knesset majority after conviction by a court for a transgression that carries moral turpitude, or a final, post-appeal ruling. All other interpretations, based usually on a precedent called the Dery-Pinchasi ruling, which set the conditions for the resignation of cabinet ministers and their deputies but not a prime minister, are only interpretations.

In such sensitive days, any legal commentary is suspected of being politicized. One should therefore relate to the law as written, even if this is not to some people’s liking. Just as there was an outcry when tailor-made legislation for individual cases was touted, there should also be opposition to personalized legal commentary.

One may wish that Netanyahu could see the future and resign. If this doesn’t happen, his term can come to an end in one of two ways: a clear decision in a third election, or a court ruling that finds him guilty.