Groundhog Day in Israel

Israel should not be in the spot it is in, without a government and heading for a third election within 12 months, an election that – if you can believe the polls – will turn out as inconclusive as the previous two.

At the same time that we see the usual stupid political ads with the stupid music in the background and hear the stupid remarks of the various political figures interviewed on the radio and TV, we watch PM Netanyahu fighting for his political life (and possibly his freedom) over the most technical of technicalities.

Bibi asked the Knesset to grant him immunity from prosecution, which, if he got it, would protect him until after the election. But in order to do that, his request has to be ruled on by the Knesset House Committee. If they turn it down, he loses. If they approve it, then the full Knesset votes on it.

But because the Knesset was dissolved in preparation for the election, there is no such committee. This suits Bibi because until there is a decision on immunity his trial on the indictments against him cannot be scheduled. And since the House Committee will be selected in proportion to the seats held by the various parties, it is highly doubtful that there would be a majority in favor of immunity. Bibi would like there to be no committee until after the election, which he believes he would win. Then he could ask for immunity from a friendlier Knesset.

The speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, a Likudnik, would like to help him by delaying as long as possible. But the legal advisor to the Knesset has said that it is possible to create a committee now. And if that happens, the House Committee will be created by the Arrangements Committee, which is chaired by a member of the Opposition. The House Committee will then (almost certainly) deny immunity, the indictments can be sent to the court, and a trial can be scheduled. It could even begin before the election.

Yesterday the news was full of reports of threats of legal action by the fiercely pro-Bibi Justice Minister, Amir Ohana, against the Knesset’s legal advisor. The details aren’t important. This is what we’ve come to.

I’ve said countless times that Bibi is the most qualified individual to be Prime Minister. The leading opposition party, Blue and White, is a collection of mediocrities who hate each other. The whole is far less than the sum of its parts, which are not all that much by themselves. Although it seems that a right-wing government can’t be created without the Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”) parties, a center-left one would require the Arab parties. And while a majority of the Arab citizens of Israel are probably loyal to the state, their representatives in the Knesset are not. The law requires that a member of the Knesset must not oppose the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and if the law had been adhered to, they would not have been permitted to serve.

In any event, a government by the mediocrities of Blue and White supported by the votes of the Arabs in the Knesset would be a disaster, open to Arab blackmail. There were serious efforts made to form a unity government including both Blue and White and Likud, but each side refused: Blue and White would not accept Bibi being PM while under indictment, even for a few months, and probably wasn’t prepared to join a government including the Haredim. And Bibi insisted on the inclusion of his whole 55-seat bloc, because that would be his only chance for immunity. It is hard to imagine such a government being functional anyway; they would have to override laws to create additional positions for cabinet ministers in order to pay off all of the demands of the parties. My mental image is of baby birds screaming with their beaks wide open.

A right-wing government would be most likely to take advantage of the Trump Administration’s pro-Israel positions on issues like the annexation of the Jordan valley, which I believe to be necessary for the defense of Israel, and the extension of Israeli law to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, which is essential to maintain their legitimacy. The medium-term objective must be to establish defensible borders. I don’t believe that the parties to the left of the Likud can be depended on to do these things.

Could there be a right-wing government without Bibi? Possibly there could be, but Bibi ensured that the Likud, at least, would remain pure by trouncing his challenger, Gideon Sa’ar, in the primary election. I think polls indicated that Bibi would do better in the general election than Sa’ar, but that is before Sa’ar had a chance to campaign to the general public. Sa’ar is smart, honest, and ideologically right-wing, although he lacks Bibi’s charisma. He also has a wife who is not an embarrassment.

And now I want to come to the point: I’ve had it with Bibi. Yes, they persecuted him unfairly – especially by way of media leaks – but he and his greedy wife asked for it. Yes, the police acted improperly, especially in the pressure placed on Nir Hefetz to become a state’s witness. Yes, the country does not reward its leaders as it should, but accepting hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of cigars, champagne, and jewelry from foreigners with interests in Israel? The very pettiness of the crime is part of the problem.*

Bibi ought to be honored for all that he did for the country, for being one of its greatest Prime Ministers, but not at the cost of allowing an incompetent and dangerously comprised opposition to take over. There should have been an orderly transfer of leadership in the Likud to someone like Sa’ar; but instead, Bibi will fight until the end, and damn the consequences. He should have been given a deal in which he was exonerated in return for retiring. Even if this couldn’t be – and he certainly didn’t seek it – he should have retired. The state is more important than any one man, as Menachem Begin would have understood. Unfortunately, it’s too late for this.

Our electoral system is seriously flawed. What happened should not be possible. The system must be changed. Some think it would be best for the state to adopt a real constitution. But given the distribution of power and the divisions between the various groups in the country, I can’t imagine such a thing coming about, or, if it did, that it would be a good thing. Changes, if any, will be piecemeal and ad-hoc, because that’s how we roll in the Jewish and democratic state of Israel.

Meanwhile, we will go through another infuriating election campaign with all of its expense and distractions. And we can’t even be sure it will be the last in this series.

Please, may Hashem give us, at last, an unequivocal decision! And somehow, a right-wing government.

* The other charges against him are much more complicated, and include the idea that positive media coverage can be a quid pro quo for bribery, something which is not at all clear, especially if the transaction was only talked about and not consummated.

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2 Responses to Groundhog Day in Israel

  1. sabashimon says:

    Just as infighting between Jews brought about the destruction of our Temple and led to the Galut, so too will the insipid infighting between Jews today bring about the end to the third iteration of Jewish sovereignty if we somehow neglect to come to our senses.

    • Shalom Freedman says:

      I agree with you completely. I do not know who to vote for, for the first time in forty years. I too admire Bibi and believe it vastly more capable than any possible replacement. I too believe he has been unjustly treated by media, police, the law-world. But I too think now he should find an honorable way to resign.

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