Edelstein’s Wrong Turn

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein in Jerusalem on September 2, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

In 10 days’ time, if the Knesset doesn’t propose its own candidate to form a government, it will dissolve itself and a new election will be called. With the clock running down, Likud and Kahol Lavan resumed negotiations Sunday on forming a unity government, amid growing demands that the parties’ leaders prevent a third election at any cost, break their promises to their voters and establish a unity government.

“Israel is at the height of a governmental emergency that’s liable to bring about its economic and social collapse,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said with poignancy. He proposed his own formula for a unity government, under which Benjamin Netanyahu would remain prime minister for a few months and then step down in favor of Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz.

Kahol Lavan was right to reject this proposal. Though Edelstein correctly diagnosed Israel’s illness, the cure he offered ignored the fact that the main cause of this “governmental emergency” is Netanyahu himself. How could Israel be saved by shackling it to the man who brought it into the governmental emergency?

Kahol Lavan’s insistence on not sitting in a government with Netanyahu isn’t just a “technical” matter of keeping its promise to its voters. Politics, as the old cliché goes, is the art of the possible, and it’s clear to everyone that sometimes there is no choice but to be more flexible. Yet the issue at stake here is an utterly vital one: Horrifyingly, Netanyahu’s pending indictments are trivial compared to what he has done, or planned to do, in his efforts to escape justice. Among other things, he has passed laws meant to serve his own needs, joined forces with Kahanists and supported a bill to allow the Knesset to override the Supreme Court, which would eviscerate the judiciary’s ability to overturn unconstitutional laws passed by the Knesset and thereby disrupt Israeli democracy’s system of checks and balances.

Netanyahu’s emotional appeals for political unity are evidence not of his moral rehabilitation, but rather of the nadir to which his political power has fallen. And even in his weakness, he hasn’t abandoned his contemptible habit of inciting, dividing, fracturing and of fanning hatred for anyone he views as an obstacle to his return to power.

“This is the moment of truth for Israeli politics,” Edelstein said. “This is the moment to choose between leadership and cowardice.” Here, too, he is right. This is truly not the time for cowardice like that displayed by him and his colleagues, who continue to support a man who isn’t fit to continue leading Israel. It’s the time to tell Netanyahu: No more. Even at the price of another election. Kahol Lavan’s leaders did well to keep their promise not to join forces with Netanyahu. We must hope they continue to keep it, rather than capitulating to the cheap emotional manipulation of his collaborators.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.