Looking for Gideon’s men: 7 things to know for May 17
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Looking for Gideon’s men: 7 things to know for May 17

After Gideon Sa’ar bashes Netanyahu’s immunity push, many ask where are all the others who back him, and whether they will have the courage (or temerity) to come out as well

Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar in the Knesset, December 23, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)
Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar in the Knesset, December 23, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

1. The lonely man of Likud: Former Likud minister and Benjamin Netanyahu frenemy Gideon Sa’ar has ignited a storm by coming out against the prime minister’s reported plan to pursue legislative immunity.

  • Sa’ar tells Channel 12 news that “this legislation offers zero benefit and will cause maximum damage.”
  • He doesn’t come out totally against Netanyahu, though, saying the prime minister should be able to stay on even after indicted (he is still a Likudnik and a former Netanyahu ally, after all).
  • Perhaps most explosively, he says he is not alone within the party in opposing the bid for legislative immunity.

2. Sa’ar wars: The reaction to his comments is almost immediate, and falls predictably along party lines.

  • Channel 12 quotes an anonymous source in Likud saying that “Sa’ar is being sanctimonious, and again working to undermine Netanyahu.”
  • On Twitter, Likud MK David Amsalem says simply “Gideon Sa’ar, shame on you.”
  • Likud MK Michal Shir, Sa’ar’s former secretary, tries to straddle the line, claiming that the party doesn’t force members to toe the line and accuses Blue and White of “sending out messages before Sa’ar’s microphone was even cold.”
  • Indeed Blue and White does lead the way in welcoming Sa’ar with several lawmakers from the party praising him and urging more Likud members to come out of the woodwork and back him.
  • MK Izhar Shay writes on Twitter that “based on our conversations with other senior people” Sa’ar won’t be the last to come out against the law.

3. Leader of the pack: ToI’s David Horovitz calls Sa’ar’s comments a “political assassination,” but an “eminently reasonable” one, and surmises that his decision to come out may make it easier for others to follow in his path.

  • Sa’ar “planted the first seeds of doubt regarding whether Netanyahu will actually be able to muster the parliamentary votes to bend laws to his will,” he writes.
  • Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon writes that “it’s time senior Likud members end their silence” over legislation that is “taking us to the edge of the abyss.”
  • Haaretz’s Gidi Weitz asks where all the people are who said they would oppose such a move during the campaign and before, like Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon. But he surmises the new crop of younger politicians may lead the revolution.
  • “Will they feel no shame in supporting such corrupting legislation that would stain their public record forever? Or will they have the basic courage to oppose this plot and tell Netanyahu: ‘If there was nothing and there is nothing, as you keep saying, face the court and prove your innocence like any other citizen,’” he writes.

4. They walk the line: But some express doubts over whether this is the start of anything bigger, especially given that Sa’ar was still largely obsequious toward Netanyahu and didn’t say whether he would even vote against the law.

  • Shalom Yerushalmi in Zman Yisrael compares Sa’ar to the first person who jumped into the Red Sea before it split, but paints a picture closer to that of Wile E. Coyote.
  • “He’s still in the air, looking down and to the sides, and perhaps looking for some tree to hang on to before he submerges ahead,” he writes.
  • Walla’s Amir Oren writes that Netanyahu has a tool to keep Likud ministers and others in line, no matter what they think: fear of the public.
  • “It seems he believes that they believed that their constituents will buy the myth he is spreading, that anything short of support for his government would be the downfall of a right-wing government,” he writes.

5. The banality of immunity: Limor Livnat, a former Likud minister safely removed from politics, torpedoes the idea that a vote for Likud was a vote for immunity for Netanyahu or overruling the Supreme Court.

  • “There are some Likud lawmakers… who think that the fact that they serve on the Likud list gives them the right to do with their mandate whatever they want,” she writes.
  • But Labor MK Stav Shaffir thinks some can be saved, even if Netanyahu is a lost cause: “It’s his collaborators, who give him power, that we need to deal with — in the Knesset and outside it. The time has come for strategic change.”
  • Shaffir joins others in comparing Netanyahu to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but cartoonist Amos Biderman, who illustrates Shaffir’s column, takes it a step further, comparing the prime minister to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.

6. Dead end: Somewhat lost in all the hubbub is the fact that Netanyahu will need a coalition to have any government or regime, or whatever anyone wants to call it.

  • Israel Hayom reports that there’s a real chance Netanyahu will fail.
  • “Negotiations are not advancing, nobody is even close to signing on,” the paper quotes a Likud source saying.
  • The paper, which is known to do Likud’s bidding, may be using the story in an attempt to scare potential partners into dropping their demands, falling in line (see item 4) or risking their best shot at another right-wing government.
  • “These coalition demands, some of them frivolous, can be solved quickly, if politicians see the importance of the hour. Israel does not have time to waste,” Israel Hayom’s Haim Shine writes, citing threats from Iran and the loss of business opportunities from a lack of stability.

7. All about the Benjamins: Tensions with Iran are indeed rising, but nobody is quite sure whether the sides are actually preparing for a confrontation or the US buildup is one big bluff to bring Tehran to the negotiating table.

  • Eli Leon writes in Israel Hayom that financial hardship, not warmongering, will bring Tehran to the table.
  • Khamenei “might ultimately buckle if the sanctions continue. It all boils down to the economy,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev writes that if the sides do indeed end up going to war, Netanyahu and Israel will be blamed, thanks to his cheering on of Trump and against the nuclear deal.
  • “A military flare-up between Iran and the US… may or may not cripple Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure but is certain to inflict human suffering, financial upheaval, escalating internal strife in Washington and the certainty that Netanyahu will be held responsible for them all,” he writes. “Worse, Trump may eventually reach the same conclusion.”
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