The Coronavirus Vaccine Lets Netanyahu Talk a Good Game

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Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to a vaccination center in Tira, December 31, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to a vaccination center in Tira, December 31, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Aluf Benn’s cogent political analysis Thursday on how Benjamin Netanyahu is “the only player in the game” outlined the prime minister’s advantages in the upcoming election despite the emergence of parties that define themselves by bashing him.

To this we must add the really big gun Netanyahu is using these days. The coronavirus vaccine operation is one of the most impressive campaigns ever in Israel, and the country is now first in the world in vaccinating its people against the pandemic.

Over the years Netanyahu has proved he doesn’t excel in leading in-depth processes – just ask the far-right fanatical opponents of the judiciary who accused him of criminal neglect until the issue landed on his doorstep. Or ask the settlers, whom Netanyahu led on when it came to construction in the settlements and the planned but never consummated annexations in the West Bank.

And in recent history we can also add the failed attempt to establish routine life here in the coronavirus’ shadow, including the politicizing of decisions, the looking the other way when various segments of society violated the regulations, and the ignoring of the distress of small business owners whose lives have been wrecked.

The only in-depth processes Netanyahu has persevered in over the years have been pulverizing the old elites and silencing the peace talks with the Palestinians, while crushing their national aspirations. The first is the fuel kindling his voters’ love for him, while the second has almost no opposition. Indeed, the opposition finds itself in a strange position of protesting the peace agreements with Gulf states.

These processes aren’t to be dismissed, but more than being a man of depth, Netanyahu is mission-oriented. That’s how he works in election campaigns. At their end, sometimes with his back to the wall, he surprises everyone – as he did in the 2015 election. The polls and national sentiment predicted he would lose, and in the breakfast he served up the next morning, Likud feasted on 30 Knesset seats. That’s how he’s working in the vaccination operation, too.

Are Netanyahu’s motives in the crazy rigor of this operation – which wouldn’t have succeeded without the mobilization of the health maintenance organizations and their capabilities – political? Of course.

After all, the third lockdown has been forced on us to reduce the disease’s spread in time for the election D-Day. But those considerations aren’t really important to the average voter, certainly not to the relevant voter – the one who voted for Netanyahu in the previous three elections and who needs an extraordinary reason to look for another political home. Netanyahu’s deepest interests (to dodge his corruption trial while remaining prime minister), and the public’s (to get vaccinated and return to normal life ), are inextricably bound.

Netanyahu was wrong to bury Benny Gantz, because he’s never had and never will have an easier partner. He was wrong even earlier when he banished Gideon Sa’ar, one of the most loved figures in Likud, and he was wrong to let personal and family motives drag him to maliciously abuse Naftali Bennett on the right, who even today isn’t ruling out joining him in a government.

By the way, it’s hard to understand the complaints against Bennett. So many party leaders – including those who all but had plastic surgery to express their opposition – promised not to join Netanyahu in a government and in the end did exactly that. At least Bennett isn’t lying. Since when is that something bad?

For all those insults and mistreatment – including the fight way back with another rightist, Avigdor Lieberman – Netanyahu has already paid in the form of a flurry of elections, which time and again have let him form a government that carries out his will – trying to revoke the legal proceedings against him.

Ultimately he’s expected to pay one big final price in the battle with the forces uniting against him. But now he’s doing his talking on the pitch, as the British like to say about good soccer players, and it’s not just any playing field, it’s Wembley and the vaccination program.

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