How much irony there is in the world. The meteoric promotion of the 43-year-old Amir Ohana, a gay man, to justice minister is to a large extent the doing of far-rightist Bezalel Smotrich, who fights against LGBT people and their families.
Ohana is indeed appreciated and liked in the prime minister’s residence. One of his close associates once told me that few people in Likud speak English as well as he does. This means Ohana isn’t another “inarticulate clown,” to borrow a term once used by Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair.
It played to Ohana’s credit, of course, that he supported the bill that would give Netanyahu immunity in the corruption cases against him, a requirement of any public servant endorsed by the Netanyahu family these days. But Ohana’s appointment is intended to distance Netanyahu from Smotrich and the talk about a state based on the Torah. The goal is to differentiate Netanyahu from the coalition he set up to rescue him from justice, which consists mainly of the ultra-Orthodox and the community that mixes ultra-Orthodoxy with religious Zionism, the so-called hardalim.
After announcing the Ohana appointment, Likud spokesman Jonatan Urich, the leading servant at the moment, wrote: “A state based on Jewish law, you said?” And Netanyahu junior congratulated Ohana in English on Twitter: “The first openly gay minister in Israel!” This isn’t pinkwashing, it’s committing an obscene act on the color pink.
Netanyahu is veering sharply to the center, because what he has in hand – a bunch of religious zealots in various forms – simply isn’t enough, as reality has proved. Also, Avigdor Lieberman with his secular campaign is breathing down Netanyahu's neck, threatening to siphon off rightists who want to go to the beach or do some shopping on Shabbat.
In this context, by the way, Netanyahu’s firing of ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked this week was a mistake stemming from crude caprice. Once these two make it back into the Knesset, maybe weaned off their chronic immaturity a little, they may find inspiration in Lieberman.
But the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Union of Right-Wing Parties will remain loyal because they have no choice. The ultra-Orthodox community ardently supports Netanyahu, so much so that the ultra-Orthodox parties serve as Likud branches. And Smotrich, who’s now going through a typical phase in Netanyahu’s relationships with his partners – the betrayal and humiliation phase – has no other option. Who will he recommend to form a government, Benny Gantz?
A preview of Netanyahu’s swerve to the center could be seen in his attempts to lure the pathetic Labor Party into his coalition. Netanyahu tried, for an exorbitant fee, to dilute the right wing that’s rising on him and add a piece of sanity to the government.
It’s very possible that on September 18, the day after the election, the right wing in the Knesset will be bigger than it is today. It’s possible that Netanyahu’s Likud will outdo itself and gain 40 of the legislature’s 120 seats. Unfortunately, as seen in Labor’s awful conduct during the crisis – its talks with Netanyahu – and Kahol Lavan's complaceny regarding its candidate for state comptroller, the opposition doesn't appear remotely capable of turning the tables.
Indeed, the irony knows no bounds. Actually the ones resuscitating the center-left bloc are the members of the right-wing camp – the right rotting from a surfeit of arrogance and complacency, a common trait after long years in power. Their knives are visible in their hands as they jostle with one another trying to improve their positions in the battle for succession.
Despite Netanyahu’s lofty status as leader, it’s no longer possible to deny that he’s near his sell-by date. It’s not exactly clear when that date is, but it’s a firm one. And that’s a pretty good reason for hope.
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