The Morning After Netanyahu, Normalcy Will Reappear

Without doing anything exceptional, the next prime minister should enjoy a wave of support just because he isn’t Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem February 25.
Gali Tibbon/ Reuters

It’s not around the corner; it will take many months, perhaps longer. But one thing can be reasonably assumed: After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes, a lot of the warped norms of governing will go with him. He was not the only one to bring them into our lives, but during his term they took flight.

The attorney general has another four long years to his term. When Avichai Mendelblit leaves the job, Netanyahu may well be a vague memory. Nevertheless, I’m prepared to bet that candidates for that post who a second ago were working closely with the prime minister will no longer make the short list.

A few years ago I interviewed former Supreme Court President Prof. Aharon Barak about his period as attorney general. I’m quoting from memory here, but he told me that he had enjoyed his term as attorney general more than his (rather long) tenure at the Supreme Court as a justice and as its president. At one point, he said, he was prepared to return to the attorney general’s office. Let me guess, I responded: The politicians weren’t too thrilled by that idea.

There’s something good about all the commotion surrounding Mendelblit. Next time, they’ll look for an Aharon Barak. He’s not so easy to find. Maybe Menachem Mazuz will come back from the Supreme Court; he’s not enjoying it there, his associates say. The important thing is that the person who steps forward be someone about whom there isn’t even an iota of suspicion that his decisions are motivated by anything other than relevant considerations.

In about a year the search will begin for a new state comptroller, as Joseph Shapira’s term ends in July 2019. It's a reasonable bet that next time they won’t dare appoint a weak candidate, who is chosen by the prime minister’s people and agrees to “audition” for the prime minister and his wife.

The day after Netanyahu, there will be no more tolerance for the “the prime minister’s special envoy,” who serves as an acting half-time foreign minister and an active and successful attorney the rest of the time. It almost doesn’t matter who will replace Netanyahu, whether it’s Gideon Sa’ar from the right, or Yair Lapid from the left (oh, sorry, the center). It’s clear that they won’t dare appoint a “family spokesman” who also has a thriving PR and lobbying practice.

With a bit of pressure, perhaps the Knesset will finally agree to adopt the code of ethics that was written for it long ago; and maybe the cabinet will adopt its own code of ethics, the one that’s been buried in some drawer for years. And maybe, maybe, the members of Knesset who have suffered through David Bitan, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Haim Katz, Arye Dery and Netanyahu will agree to publicize their declaration of assets. Yes, I really believe that things will change.

I’m also willing to bet that the next prime minister will appoint a full-time foreign minister and vice premier and that in general, the process of stepping into those posts will go pretty smoothly. Without doing anything exceptional, the next prime minister can be expected to enjoy a wave of support just because he isn’t Netanyahu. It would be enough for Netanyahu’s successor to agree to finance the upkeep of his second home himself in order to win the sort of praise usually reserved for the signing of historic peace treaty. Just imagine photos of Geula Even (Gideon Sa'ar's wife) or Lihi Lapid (Yair Lapid's wife) shopping at the supermarket. It will look as if sanity had returned to our lives for a moment.

The politicians have always been certain that corruption neither attracts nor deters voters. They could tell you in their sleep of how Ariel Sharon trounced Amram Mitzna 38 seats to 19 after the Cyril Kern affair, or about Ehud Olmert, who was elected in 2006 despite a cloud of suspicions and acquittals, or even about Netanyahu, who returned in 2009 although there were two attorney general’s reports that severely criticized him.

But this time it’s deeper. It’s not corruption, but normalcy that’s at stake. During the next election, with or without Netanyahu, anyone who acts normal, doesn’t lash out at the police, and has a family that hasn’t been recorded in all kinds of embarrassing situations in short, someone who’s just an ordinary human being will look like an electoral asset.