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Throwback to the 1970s: Netanyahu Is Facing His Own Yom Kippur War

Uzi Baram
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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks during a weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry, in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks during a weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry, in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020. Credit: POOL/ REUTERS
Uzi Baram

There’s a clear similarity between the present situation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the collapse of the Alignment (Labor Party) in 1977. In the preceding years, the Alignment was subject to criticism and accusations of corruption and immorality, a result of too many years in power. And at the same time, the majority of his supporters remained loyal to him, claiming that it was impossible to place Israel’s security in the hands of Menachem Begin.

LISTEN: Protests, pandemics and Netanyahu's day of reckoning

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However, the Yom Kippur War diminished the aura of national security surrounding the Alignment. That opened the door to many other complaints, which had been sidelined due to the security halo.

Although Netanyahu has conducted three consecutive election campaigns while burdened with serious indictments, and asked for the citizens’ trust in a government that was tainted with clear signs of corruption, his supporters claimed that he shouldn’t be replaced due to his successes in economic matters.

“Something wrong?” they said. “We’re buying, traveling abroad, the restaurants are full, people are enjoying themselves here.” Today, when the economy is in tatters and the coronavirus pandemic is not being managed, Netanyahu looks like a leader who has lost his way. His unique advantage has become a total disadvantage. He is no longer immune.

To understand the extent to which his situation has worsened, we have to ask whether he would dare today to stand in the courtroom and revile the legal system, as he did on May 24. Of course not. At the time he was seen as a “magician” who had eliminated the coronavirus, and that’s what he was relying on.

He has run out of credit. Netanyahu is failing at management – constantly changing decisions, engaging in petty politics, such as excluding the defense establishment from managing the virus due to political and party-related motives. He has cooked his own goose.

Demonstrators outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, July 16, 2020.
Demonstrators outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, July 16, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The demonstrations against him are authentic. Some are effective – but some are actually helping him, unwittingly. For example, I read, even in Haaretz, many words of praise for the exceptional energy of the young people in front of the the prime minister’s Balfour Street residence, who are storming the place like they want to conquer the Bastille. Those who support every protest are demonstrating great disdain for those who are meticulous about petty issues and aren’t rising to the magnitude of the moment.

I dare to oppose the storming of the prime minister’s residence by some of the demonstrators, and their willingness to clash with policemen. How will the opposition to the continuation of Netanyahu’s rule benefit from physical confrontation with policemen on the way to conquering the fortress? Any step that helps him by reinforcing his image as a “victim” is ineffective from the point of view of those who want to remove him from power.

Netanyahu is not falling due to the corruption, or the danger to democracy, the sickening import of Trumpism; he is falling due to failures that are harming every citizen. Those involved in this protest, which is socioeconomic in nature, are likely to bring down his government. At the same time, the collapse of the main foundation on which his rule was based – the citizens’ sense of economic security – has provided the opening for intensified criticism on the social networks and in the media over the corruption and hedonism of Netanyahu and his family.

Clearly Netanyahu is not to blame for the coronavirus outbreak. But his handling of the crisis attests to an inability, in terms of mentality and leadership qualities, to deal with genuine crisis situations, as opposed to imaginary crisis situations, some of which he created.

It looks like 2020 is more dangerous for the nation and the country than 1977. But it is just this danger that may bring out the best people from among us, on the way to a change in the face of Israel.

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