Welcome to the North Korean Branch of Likud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a government meeting in Eilat, August 4, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The demand that Likud’s Knesset candidates sign a declaration of personal loyalty to party chairman Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, promising not to try to replace him, is a new low in the antidemocratic breakdown the Likud is undergoing. The blind faith that Likud members are expected to place in Netanyahu, as if he were the supreme leader of some dictatorship, is eroding what used to be the liberal nationalist movement into something unrecognizable.

This North Korean-like initiative was spurred by an interview Avigdor Lieberman gave over the weekend to “Meet the Press.” The Yisrael Beiteinu chairman said he planned to approach Likud after the election and ask the party to put forward an alternative candidate for prime minister if Netanyahu refused to form a unity government with Kahol Lavan. If that happened, he said, “I will go to the president and refuse to recommend anyone. But the next day I will go to Likud members and say, ‘Bring someone else. You have enough candidates.’”

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In contrast to the newer parties that have been formed in recent years, based on a “star” who reserves the leadership for himself in an undemocratic fashion, Likud members were justifiably proud that their party was one of the few that preserved an internal democratic mechanism. And now members of this democratic party are being forced into loyalty displays that smack of totalitarianism.

MK David Bitan, Netanyahu’s loyal servant, who signed Likud members onto the declaration, threatened to publicize the names of anyone who refused to sign, and the earliest signatories even rushed to their social media accounts to boast about their having signed. Even though the signatures are not binding, the whole process testifies to the damage Netanyahu has done to the party.

In “Netanyahu’s circles,” they hastened to describe Lieberman’s remarks as a putsch attempt against the prime minister. But both the fit of paranoia and the demand to sign the Likud members to a loyalty declaration are nothing but a demonstration of the Likud chairman’s weakness, and of his fear that his continued rule is not assured.

Netanyahu can only blame himself. His failure to form a government after an election that he himself initiated in an effort to avoid prosecution; forcing his party and natural partners to dissolve the Knesset simply to prevent another candidate from exercising his legal right to get president’s nod to try to form a government; and dragging an entire country into two expensive, superfluous election campaigns within half a year – all this has turned him, with the three corruption cases he faces (subject to a hearing), from an asset to a burden, not just to the nation but also to his party.

The damage Netanyahu is doing to Likud is a microcosm of the damage he is doing to Israeli democracy. Ten-plus consecutive years in office is more than enough.

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