With Rivals Snapping at His Heels, Netanyahu Should Be Sweating

From Ehud Barak to Moshe Ya'alon, political movements will beef up their ranks with people with impressive military backgrounds in order to oust Netanyahu.

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset in January, 2016.
Defense Minister Ya'alon, left, with Prime Minister Netanyahu at a Likud faction meeting earlier this year.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

The surly reception that Ehud Barak received from his colleagues in the center and left of the Israeli political map is the height of political ineptitude; it demonstrates an inability to identify the one, true, irreplaceable enemy, which is not Barak.

Barak did not announce his candidacy to lead any political party. He presented a chilling, balanced and insightful assessment of Benjamin Netanyahu. Nobody has been stopping the leaders of the opposition from delivering similar speeches. Yet the leaders of the Labor Party have done no such thing, and Yair Lapid doesn’t want to be identified with generalized criticism of the government.

Barak attacked Likud as it is today, saying that the movement had voluntarily surrendered to the extreme messianic right. He talked about the buds of fascism, and was attacked with a response that positively frothed by Netanyahu’s professional defenders, who call themselves journalists, in his private newspaper.

Why the people on the right of the political map were incensed is clear. Why was the opposition up in arms? God only knows. Supporting what Barak said doesn’t mean one is voting for him to lead the nation.

The repudiation of Moshe Ya’alon is different in substance. It arose within Likud and was less about political criticism and more about the Likud leaders shaking off any signs of liberalism they might have harbored in the past. Ya’alon could prove to be serious competition to Netanyahu, if he has the good sense to muster a suitable group from the right side of the map around him to challenge the premier.

Two news items brought to my attention illustrate the deep contempt within Likud for accepted values. One was the initiative of coalition whip David Bitan to enable candidates in party primaries to raise money from businesses, not only individuals. Bitan claimed that it is the “norm in democratic America.” But if he’s going to cling to America’s apron, why not embrace the idea of the American constitution, which has plenty of checks against damage to democracy?

The second item relates to the government’s initiative from December 2015 to allocate 12 billion shekels to improving the situation of the Arab community in Israel. At the last cabinet meeting, Senior Citizen Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel suggested transferring a billion shekels immediately. But Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin hastened to condition any such transfer on vigorous enforcement against illegal construction in Arab towns. Was the transfer of 82 million shekels to the settlements made conditional on similar contingencies?

I have served as internal affairs minister and like the ones before and after me, we transferred allocations to Arab towns, to help bridge the chasm between the Jewish and Arab local councils. But anything goes in the Netanyahu government, because the prime minister is wholly preoccupied with his own survival, not in providing real answers to social needs. The notion of taking donations from businesses and making it difficult for the Arab towns to get the money they deserve under law are driven by the desire to control at any price, to remove the few barriers that remained against the arbitrariness of the majority.

Should Netanyahu be worrying about his status? I think so, because rival political movements will beef up their ranks with people with impressive military backgrounds in order to contend with the culture of fear that Ehud Barak described so well.

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