Gideon Sa’ar’s departure from the Likud party shook up the political establishment, but with respect to ordinary Likud voters’ faith in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, it wasn’t earthshaking. In contrast, when Zeev Elkin slammed the door behind him, that was a gut punch to Likud. And it may prove to be critical for the future of both the party and its leader.
Sa’ar, who according to the polls will cause Likud to lose several Knesset seats, undermined his former party’s political strength but hasn’t touched its hard core. In contrast, Elkin’s extremely surprising step was a deep shock to the foundations of Netanyahu’s kingdom.
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Elkin, whose quickness of tongue and thought and skill at political maneuvers made him a magician, by his own choice became rather like Netanyahu’s consigliere. As a reward for his loyal, wily service, he was brought into the most intimate inner circle of those who carry out the whims of Netanyahu and his family.
Unlike the idiots, the loudmouths, the inarticulate and the flatterers, Elkin, analytical and quick of tongue, was the best personal mouthpiece Netanyahu ever had (and it’s presumably for that very reason – his boundless loyalty – that the leader treated him like a doormat).
In any case, as we know from the professional literature, Elkin’s “betrayal” is like a mafia member privy to the organization’s deepest secrets going to court to testify against the head of the family. His testimony, which began Wednesday evening, is likely to continue to produce new revelations that, especially for Likud voters, will provide a great deal of information and insight. And this will presumably be reflected at the polling booth.
The big unknown is what these two men – who, according to polls published over the last day, are biting very significantly into Likud’s strength – will do if they are tasked with forming the next government. Israel’s political tradition doesn’t excel at telling the truth and keeping promises, or even vows. Without recruiting partners that suit their worldview, like Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, they won’t be able to topple Netanyahu.
Elkin accuses Bennett – rightly – of suffering from battered wife syndrome and warns that he’s liable to return to the bosom of the man who has beaten him more than once or twice. But the same could be said of both Elkin and his partner.
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To overcome this syndrome, Sa’ar’s New Hope party and Yamina must form a bloc whose goal is to keep Netanyahu from becoming prime minister. Such a bloc, which the polls predict would win more than 35 seats, might well persuade a significant number of Likud Knesset members to join a government headed by Sa’ar (with the prime minister’s position later rotating to Bennett, without him getting an armored Audi and being named “alternate” prime minister as Benny Gantz did).
With Netanyahu out of the picture, this grouping, which would number around 50 MKs (New Hope, Yamina and Likud deserters) would also be able to bring in Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party and one of the center-left parties. Such a government would be able to save the country from the downward spiral that Netanyahu and his gang sent it into and return it to a normal path, one that unites rather than dividing, with a sane, cooperative administration devoid of personality cults.
This government-to-be also has another duty whose importance can’t be overstated: getting the ultra-Orthodox out of the governing coalition for a rehabilitation leave. They, and we, need this like air to breathe. The price they have been paid for being the coalition kingmakers is excessive; it corrupts them and it corrupts those who pay it. And this process of corruption didn’t start with Netanyahu.
Without these two things – ousting Netanyahu as prime minister and getting the ultra-Orthodox out of the governing coalition (and this isn’t in any way a boycott; only the ultra-Orthodox engage in boycotts and ostracism) – there will be no government in Israel with the power to restore us to the path of a functional country.