Opinion

Yair Netanyahu’s Grip on Likud

Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz
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Benjamin Netanyahu at Likud headquarters on Election Night, March 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu at Likud headquarters on Election Night, March 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz

It’s considered a democratic party because it still holds primaries and its list of candidates for the Knesset is not determined by one person, but in recent years, something quite disturbing and undemocratic has happened to Likud.

The party that once spawned the “hishukaim” (“constrainers”) and the “Likud rebels” – MKs and ministers who were able to present different positions and to stand up to the party chairman – has become a tamed herd of politicians that blithely goes along with all the personal whims and craziness of the party leader. People with pretensions of one day leading the country remain mute while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drags the country to a fourth election in a year and a half. Netanyahu has managed to plant the formula in their minds that what’s good for him is good for the country.

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Take Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, for instance, the man most closely identified with the two-year budget. When he served as finance minister, he touted the importance of such a budget and was its biggest proponent. He ought to have been the first to insist that Netanyahu go for a two-year budget. But Steinitz trembles in fear.

The same with Finance Minister Yisrael Katz. He took on the trickiest portfolio at this time, with his chances of fostering an economic recovery dependent on the formulation of a solid economic plan for the coming years and a budget for next year. He knows that he won’t succeed in his post without a budget and economic plans for 2021. Besides his career being in danger, Israel’s economy is under serious threat. But Katz just stammers as he twists this way and that, and obeys the leader. To hell with the economy. He is terrified.

Even Gideon Sa’ar, the man who dared to run against Netanyahu for the Likud leadership, is only offering vague statements and avoiding direct criticism of the illustrious leader. And what’s become of all the righteous voices that spoke out so vehemently against a prime minister who was charged with criminal offenses? Gilad Erdan was the one who said at the time about Ehud Olmert: “No workplace, certainly not the Prime Minister’s Office, can afford to have the person who is supposed to be running it devoting much of his time to consultations with lawyers and other advisers in an attempt to avoid the arm of the law.” This ethical stance evaporated as Erdan prepared to relocate with his family to Washington to serve as ambassador.

The conduct of top Likud officials and their silence in the face of all of Netanyahu’s whims, as the prime minister drags the country to another election at the height of a severe economic and health crisis, attests to a moral and democratic crisis in Likud. People with pretensions of leading the country surrender to the guerilla warriors on social media and meekly obey. They cower before the dichotomy created by the Netanyahu family: If you’re not with him – you’re against him; if you hesitate – you’re a leftist; if you think differently – you’re a traitor.

A lot of people like to mock the prime minister’s unemployed son, Yair Netanyahu, who devotes most of his time to launching Twitter attacks against his father’s opponents – be it the state prosecutor, the attorney general, the left, the media and even right-wing analysts and public figures whom he believes are failing to do their part in attacking the justice system. And let’s admit it: The kid is effective. In concert with Netanyahu’s legions of social media followers, he is able to deter top Likud figures. To shut them up. Some of these people, like Yuli Edelstein, have been stung by Netanyahu, Junior. Edelstein, who built a statesmanlike image for years, changed his ways and adopted an aggressive stance toward the High Court. The deterrence is working.

Yair is not alone. Journalist Hanoch Daum wrote in his newly released book that Sara Netanyahu demanded that he say on television that Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked were having an affair, because “they are the real threat.” In Case 4000, the telecom-giant case, we see how half the family only directs its attention at politicians from the right. Politicians from the left ought to be offended at the minuscule amount of attention that Netanyahu dedicated to them in this affair. But right-wing politicians ought to be offended by what they’ve been turned into – scared, spineless and obedient poodles.

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