Israel’s four inconclusive elections these past two years reflected the electorate’s deep uncertainty over the pros and cons of Benjamin Netanyahu’s continued leadership. Throughout his record number of years in power, he had been regarded as both particularly divisive domestically, stirring up sectors of the Israeli demographic mosaic against each other, and particularly effective in keeping Israelis safe from physical harm in our toxic, threatening region.
His behavior of late, during what may prove to be his last days as prime minister, has seen him fostering domestic division, and indeed hatred, with unprecedented vigor and bringing Israelis to the very brink of physical harm at our own hands.
In the most statesmanlike address he has managed to date, the hitherto underwhelming and flip-flopping Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett pleaded with Netanyahu on Sunday night to “let Israel go” and not to leave “scorched earth” in his wake. But even as the Yamina leader was speaking to the nation, Netanyahu was insisting, in an interview with the right-wing Channel 20, that the March 23 election was “stolen” and claiming that the Bennett-led putative coalition was in league with the so-called “deep state.”
Elsewhere, Netanyahu has described the eight-party coalition that has assembled to succeed him in office as a product of “the greatest election fraud in Israeli history and in the history of democracies.” He has warned that, if it is confirmed, this new government will constitute a danger to the State of Israel, its people, its territory and its security. And he has told his fellow Likud MKs to “lay into” potentially wavering members of Yamina and fellow right-wing party New Hope in order to pressure them to withhold their support when the new coalition comes up for its Knesset approval vote, now scheduled for Sunday. “‘Laying into them,’” Bennett noted, “includes following [Yamina MK] Idit Silman with a car for a whole day with loudspeakers blaring, to scare her children on the way to school… to issue curses and threats every which way.”
Netanyahu’s repeated claim that the so-called “change government” is “left-wing,” the term he has long routinely used to try to demonize all political opponents, is manifestly untrue. And his Trump-like accusation of election fraud and theft is similarly unfounded.
In terms of political orientation, of the eight parties aiming to muster 61-strong support in the 120-member Knesset on Sunday, three (New Hope, Yamina and Yisrael Beytenu) hold ideological positions to the right of Netanyahu and are led by people who were ministers in past Netanyahu governments; two (Yesh Atid and Blue and White) are centrist and are also led by people who were ministers in past Netanyahu governments; two (Labor and Meretz) are left-wing (and account for just 13 of those 61 seats), and one (the four-MK Ra’am) is a conservative Islamist party that Likud had also been wooing.
Meanwhile, the decision by New Hope, Yamina and Yisrael Beytenu to take right-wingers’ votes and ally with the left and center against him is certainly no more and arguably much less of a political betrayal than Benny Gantz’s decision to take the votes won by his Blue and White party, on an endlessly repeated promise not to sit in government with Netanyahu, and abandon that promise by joining forces with the Likud leader in their short-lived coalition a little over a year ago.
In contrast to Gantz, who swore blind in three election campaigns that he would not partner with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister was facing corruption charges, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu voters knew definitively in March that they were supporting a party utterly opposed to Netanyahu. Sa’ar directly urged potential voters not to back his New Hope if they wanted Netanyahu to remain in power. And Bennett, though he indicated readiness to sit in government alongside Netanyahu, campaigned full-tilt to replace him as prime minister and told voters “it’s time for him to go.”
So fraught has the national climate become in these potential final days of Netanyahu’s rule that the head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, on Saturday resorted to issuing an unprecedented warning to all public figures — politicians, rabbis, educators and all — to tone down the discourse for fear that, a quarter of a century after prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, major political violence is again just around the corner.
Undeterred, Netanyahu, who as opposition leader in 1995 bitterly and personally contested Rabin’s policies in the fevered weeks prior to the assassination, has continued to hammer away with his conspiratorial allegations, his denunciations of those who have the temerity to oppose him, and his scaremongering declarations that their ascent to power will imperil the country.
His latest insistence that the police reconsider their commonsense decision not to allow a rescheduled Flag Day march to parade through the Old City — a mere month after the original march was seized upon as a pretext by Hamas to launch what became an 11-day mini-war in which over 4,000 rockets and other projectiles were fired deep into Israel — seems almost transparently designed to somehow head off the Knesset vote to swear in the Bennett-Lapid government. The march he seeks to reinstate would go ahead on Thursday, June 10; his Likud Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin has made sure to delay the confirmation vote until three days after that, on Sunday, June 13.
It is a measure of how pyromaniacal Netanyahu now appears that a leader most profoundly appreciated by our divided electorate for his ability to avoid military misadventure is now credibly suspected of being prepared to risk a fresh flare-up with the terror-state army of Hamas if that might somehow prevent his political fall.
“Don’t leave scorched earth in your wake. We want to remember the good, the great deal of good, you did during your service [as prime minister],” pleaded Bennett on Sunday.
But Netanyahu wasn’t listening. He was busy claiming election fraud, peddling incendiary conspiracy theories, stirring division and internal hatred.
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