Opinion

Rival Bennett Senses Netanyahu’s Decline

Five years. That’s the time period for Habayit Hayehudi party leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked to try to take over Likud and run as a team for Israeli prime minister

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett gestures as he delivers a statement to members of the media, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, on Monday, November 19, 2018.
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

At his press conference and in other public statements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been selling the public pompous slogans about his activities, like “the security situation is complex,” “a large-scale campaign that will demand sacrifice” and so forth. But in practice – as revealed by “the affair of Gilat Bennett’s desserts,” first reported by Amit Segal of Israel Television News – when he’s alone with himself (or with his wife), his true desire is to liquidate his political rivals by wallowing unrestrainedly in the mud.

Netanyahu – who got the United States to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran, was given a royal welcome in Moscow’s Red Square and is applauded in New York, as his wife says, whenever he’s spotted – contacted a tycoon who owns a media outlet to tell tales about Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s wife, who once worked in non-kosher restaurants. This is the political embodiment of a well-known form of bourgeois schizophrenia: The more cultivated and dignified the exterior – after all, Netanyahu presents himself as someone who is “sacrificing himself for Israel” – the worse the interior will be.

Naftali Bennett – who has refrained from attacking Netanyahu over his numerous criminal investigations, and who announced, together with his party colleague Ayelet Shaked, that he would remain in the government even if Netanyahu is indicted – responded to the prime minister with an unprecedentedly harsh tweet.

Jonathan Urich, the consigliere du jour at the Prime Minister’s Residence, found support for the information about Gilat Bennett, which was published in Haaretz. And Yair Netanyahu, another success story from the prime minister’s family, accused Bennett of personally giving the devil – aka Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes – and other journalists negative information about his mother, Sara Netanyahu.

What are cabinet ministers busy with these days? With pee-pee, doo-doo and gelatin. They’re like a bunch of seventh graders who have exhausted the options for dissing each other and have therefore moved on to cursing each other’s mothers.

This revelation about Netanyahu comes as no surprise. His hatred for Bennett is long-standing and rock-solid. (Associates of the latter often define the prime minister’s current priorities as follows: 1. Stay out of jail. 2. Remain in power. 3. Destroy Bennett.)

What is surprising, if anything, is Netanyahu’s assumption that disclosing Bennett’s dubious religiosity would have any kind of effect on right-wing voters. After all, he has before him the example of Shaked, who’s completely secular; yet her electorate identifies with her determined anti-liberalism and admires her cruelty, without delving into the status of her pots and pans.

What’s new about all this is Bennett’s forceful response. Just a moment ago, he suffered a political defeat at Netanyahu’s hands: After delivering an ultimatum about getting the defense portfolio, he folded.

Perhaps Bennett was truly furious when he discovered this attempt to attack his wife. (Men who fight for their wives’ honor will be mentioned here only with respect.) But it’s also possible that he’s beginning to catch the faintest whiff of the beginning of Netanyahu’s end.

Because even though Netanyahu’s base is closing ranks as usual, and even though he has a safe bloc of Knesset seats that will stick with him in the upcoming election – when you take a picture of the future, say five years from now, the image of the old uncle Netanyahu doesn’t come back from the developer.

Five years. That’s the relevant time period for Bennett and Shaked, who understood back when they tried and failed to add soccer star Eli Ohana to their Knesset ticket that the market value of the shell company they successfully took over – the Habayit Hayehudi party – has a fairly low ceiling.

Within this time frame – during which their hierarchical relationship may very well flip – it looks like they’ll try to take over Likud and run for prime minister as a team. En route, they’ll bump up against a few people who are no suckers, like Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar and Yisrael Katz, who won’t make way for them easily.

But what can you do? The road to that goal evidently runs through Gilat’s kitchen.