Binyamin Netanyahu was one of Israel’s greatest leaders.
No more. Within the past year he has begun to take decisions based on his personal interests, even when they may conflict with the needs of the nation. The last (unnecessary) election and the one that is coming in March were driven by his desire to protect his position as Prime Minister, the better to weather the storm of his criminal indictments.
That is a very serious accusation, but I am not the one who is making it. That is Ze’ev Elkin, a former Netanyahu confidant, a man that held several ministerial positions in Netanyahu governments, and headed several important Knesset committees. Elkin recently announced his resignation from the present government and intention to join the newly-formed party of longtime Netanyahu rival Gideon Sa’ar. As reported in the Times of Israel,
Elkin accused Netanyahu of “destroying” Likud, claimed many in the party quietly agreed with him, and said he could no longer tell Israelis to “support someone that I’ve stopped believing in” and place their fate in his hands. …
“You know well the simple truth: For personal reasons, you have once again taken the country to its fourth election in two years… in the midst of a pandemic” while “trying to place the blame on others,” Elkin said.
“We’re going to these surreal elections because you want to influence [the appointment of the] state attorney and the attorney general, and because of your hope for a French law [to stop your corruption trial].
Elkin stressed he had great respect for Netanyahu’s achievements in the past, including his contributions to “Israel’s security, world standing and economy.” …
“ [But] as someone who is watching this dangerous process from up close, I see how his personal considerations are getting mixed up with the national considerations, and even triumphing” over the national interest, Elkin said.
“Prime minister, you have destroyed the Likud movement… and turned it into a personality cult” where critics are scared to speak ….
I can’t call for Israeli citizens to vote for you and be certain that you will act on their behalf rather than your own.
In an interview with a reporter for Israel Hayom published on 1 January, Elkin said that Netanyahu was too much influenced by his “environment,” which included his wife Sara and his son Yair. He said that Netanyahu had become overwhelmed by the feeling that he is being persecuted, and will “grasp at any straw” to protect himself. Elkin added that Netanyahu would never willingly give up power, either as PM or as leader of the Likud party. Netanyahu, he said, was holding the Likud “hostage,” and like the Pharaohs of Egypt who were buried with their possessions, would take it with him to his grave.
This coming election was triggered by Netanyahu’s refusal to allow the passage of the national budget, something which has had serious consequences for the economy and even security of the state. Because he wants to maintain leverage over the police in connection with his prosecution, he has refused to allow the appointment of a permanent head of the police agency, which is currently in disarray and facing serious challenges, especially in dealing with an explosion of crime in the Arab towns.
Over the years Netanyahu has pushed out of the Likud numerous outstanding personalities like Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, and Gideon Sa’ar, who has formed the “New Hope” party that is challenging the Likud in upholding the standard of the secular Right. And now the well-respected Elkin has joined Sa’ar.
Ze’ev Elkin made aliyah to Israel from Ukraine at the age of 19 in 1990. He studied mathematics at the University of Kharkov from 1987 until his aliyah, received a BA in Mathematics and Jewish History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1994, and an MA in Jewish History at the same time. He also studied at the Har Etzion Yeshiva until 1995, when he was elected to the Knesset. He is described as a serious “amateur chess enthusiast” who recently played Anastasia Waller, the 10-year old European champion in her age class (he lost). Along with Bennett and Sa’ar he is considered honest and dedicated to the good of the country.
Since the last election, the Likud has fallen in the polls, from its present 36 seats to 28 or 29. Its partner in the unity government, Benny Gantz’ Blue and White party, has imploded; its 15 seats have dwindled to only 4 or 5, and various important figures in it have deserted to other parties or dropped out of the race entirely. Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party is at 13, up from 5.
Ran Huldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv, has formed a new center-left party hubristically called “The Israelis” that has snatched some of Blue and White’s members, as well as reprising Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, probably two of the worst politicians in Israel’s history. Huldai will probably try to make a coalition with Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party, as well as the extreme left-wing Meretz party, and to get support from the Arab parties.
But Netanyahu is not finished.
His die-hard supporters still control the Likud. By far the most accomplished manipulator of Israeli politics ever, he hopes to put together a coalition including the Haredi parties, and possibly Bennett’s Yamina – Bennett has not ruled out ever joining Netanyahu – and some other players. He is even courting Arab voters, who have been recently showing signs of putting aside nationalist considerations for more pragmatic benefits. It looks like it will be a contest between Netanyahu, the anti-Netanyahu Right, and the Left. Netanyahu will then argue (as he has done successfully in the past) that unless voters support him, the Left will prevail.
The possibility of yet another deadlocked election, especially now when leadership is desperately needed, is unthinkable. But we’ve said that at least twice before.
The demonstrations near PM Netanyahu’s residences have become more disorderly, sometimes violent. If the leaders think they can pressure him into quitting, they are probably wrong. They are led by people who, to put it mildly, are not my favorite people. Their concerns are not my concerns. But in the final analysis, they are right. I appreciate what Netanyahu has done for the country, and I see the tragic elements in the situation. What should have happened perhaps a year ago was a deal that would have dropped charges (many of which are, in fact, trumped up) in return for an agreement that this would be his last term as Prime Minister. He deserves at least that.
Instead, he appears to be prepared to fight to the last. As Ze’ev Elkin says, he is going to take the Likud down with him. Let us hope that by dividing the Right and giving the Left an opening, he hasn’t put the country at risk as well.