In late March of 2012, Shaul Mofaz defeated Tzipi Livni by a margin of 24 percentage points to become the chairman of the Kadima party. One month later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led an effort to move up the Knesset election, catching Mofaz unprepared. All of the options at Mofaz’s disposal were bad. Public opinion polls showed a mediocre outcome, of around 13 Knesset seats, and in an ugly move, Livni, who lost, refused to recognize her loss and quit the party.
Going it alone to elections would have obliterated Mofaz, but in any event, he chose the worst of all options. In the dead of night and contrary to all of his promises, he joined a government headed by Netanyahu, wiping out not only Kadima but his own political career. Last week, the opposition Zionist Union party faced a similar situation.
Opting for early elections could have eliminated the party. It’s not certain that such an outcome would have been bad for the country, but it’s also unreasonable to assume that a party would commit suicide.
Senior figures in the party were deliberately vague about their final position with regard to moving up elections from November 2019 to June of this year. MK Shelly Yacimovich wrote that she and her Zionist Union Knesset colleagues don’t work for Netanyahu. That was the public stance, but at the real time I also heard party lawmakers, including Yacimovich, saying that if it came to a vote, they clearly would vote for June elections but it would be better if Netanyahu were to fear that they would stand him up.
That’s clearly not ideal conduct on the part of the opposition, but when they’re up against a politician who has long since given up even the pretense of consistency, isn’t it reasonable to refuse to be the lambs led to the slaughter?
Before the 2015 election, Netanyahu did not hesitate to say that there would never be an independent Palestinian state or that there was no prospect of a national unity government. Nor did he hesitate to incite against Israeli Arabs on Election Day. After the election, he sent out feelers about a national unity government, apologized to the country’s Arabs and “amended” his statement on a Palestinian state. In the meantime, he had won the election.
Netanyahu once advocated term limits for the prime minister. When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was facing criminal allegations, Netanyahu called on him to resign, on the grounds that it was impossible to run the country under such circumstances. Now it doesn’t even occur to him to explain why he has changed position. In the face of a political rival with standards like those, it would be naïve or even self-righteous to demand complete political consistency from Netanyahu’s opponents.
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One political camp is at peace with having cabinet ministers and Knesset members with criminal records or who are under a cloud of suspicion; with a prime minister facing three criminal investigations; with a defense minister about which disturbing facts have been uncovered in criminal investigations. All of this is secondary, in the view of the political camp, to the only thing that is important: the need to be in power.
Not all means to win an election are proper, but the political cunning of the senior members of the Labor Party, the main component of the Zionist Union, didn’t constitute a major moral offense. Just imagine if Netanyahu were in their position. We would not have hesitated.
In their political maneuverings, Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Arye Dery, Habayit Hayehudi Chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett and their associates threatened Netanyahu, saying that if he submitted a bill to move up elections to June, they would work to push elections to October. Netanyahu therefore dropped the idea. He didn’t even burden himself with moral qualms over how, if the coalition was faltering to such an extent that it justified a June election, why didn’t it also justify an October election? Everything with him is personal and anything goes. Unless the means are improper, his political opponents are allowed to evade Mofaz’s fate.
Oh, yes. Even all of this cunning is worth nothing if Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay and his party don’t take advantage of the additional months that they have now received to do something dramatic. In any scenario, elections are not far off and their situation is very bad.