Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu is Not a King

May 23, 2012 12:14 pm 1 comment

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey during a visit to Israel. Photo: wiki commons.

I would love to pretend that when I started my last column with “If there are to be no more surprises“, I really had some advance notion of the deal about to be forged between the Israeli Prime Minister and his wannabe arch-rival, “Kadima” leader Shaul Mofaz.  No such luck. Contrary to Israeli political custom, Netanyahu and Mofaz had managed to keep their negotiations on the down-low,  so much so that at the first joint press-conference given by Netanyahu and his freshly-minted deputy, the main issue wasn’t the deal itself but the acute embarrassment of the press corps, which found expression in snide remarks and “provocative” questions.

Since then, it became apparent that the bafflement of the Israeli media reaction to the deal has spread over to America. Otherwise it is utterly impossible to understand what brought about the now-famous TIME magazine cover story entitled, “King Bibi”. After all, the logic of the agreement and the motivation of its main beneficiary, Shaul Mofaz, shouldn’t be so hard to understand and it has nothing to do with the irresistible animal magnetism of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trying to make sense of Netanyahu’s plan to hold early elections, your humble correspondent was forced to reject all explanations put forth by the Prime Minister’s men and Israeli commentators. Neither the  internal political situation nor the coming presidential elections in the US, or the economy or the perennial problems with the ultra-Orthodox justified such a risky move. The only credible explanation had to do with Netanyahu’s desire to win a renewed mandate for preemptive military action against Iranian nuclear facilities. Should we be surprised, then, that when the opportunity presented itself to secure such an expanded mandate without elections and to bring into the tent the last credible critic of a possible strike – a former IDF Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense to boot – Netanyahu took it?

In the run-up to the internal “Kadima” elections, while trying to appeal to the supporters of Tzipi Livni, Mofaz said many things. Among them, he criticized the idea of an Israeli attack on Iran. To rely on those words now, like some Israel watchers do, would be extremely naïve to say the least. Educated in the military tradition of being judged by the end result, Mofaz gave decisive proof that he treats his promises and public statements like yesterday’s newspapers, good only to wrap up fish the next day.

On the other hand, what did the arbiters of morality expect? Despite all entreaties from Mofaz, his increasingly leftist positions, the commitments he publicly took to stay away from Netanyahu’s government and even to lead the new wave of socioeconomic protests this summer, the so-called “white tribe” that worshiped Livni abandoned him and “Kadima”. Even before he won, without listening to a word he had to say, more than a half of “Kadima” supporters defected  to the banners of Yair Lapid and Shelly Yachimovich, both Ashkenazim. Don’t believe those who claim that ethnic politics in Israel are dead – the flames may be gone, but the embers are simmering. Faced with such a crude rejection, the Persian-born Mofaz had a choice – either to lead Kadima to certain electoral defeat, or to enter a pact with Netanyahu and hope for the best, saving meanwhile the jobs and political careers of Kadima MK’s. He chose not to commit political suicide and landed himself a place at the table in the process.

Cue the rage.

While Mofaz at least had to swallow all those intemperate words he uttered against Netanyahu, for the Prime Minister, the decision to hook up with Kadima was a no-brainer and does not in itself indicate any dramatic policy shift or even intent to consider it. Unlike, say, TIME Magazine’s Richard Stengel, who spent hours with Netanyahu and apparently learned nothing, the Israeli leader recognizes one simple truth – he is not a king.

Netanyahu is not a king because the Israeli political system does not allow for a fully independent chief executive. He still has to manage his government and his coalition, and, however counter-intuitive that might be, the bigger this coalition grows, the more unruly it becomes. When the MK’s from Kadima look at the polls, which promise that, in the best-case scenario, only 8 out of 29 of them will survive the new elections, they are sorely tempted to distinguish themselves to garner attention and to secure places on the more propitious lists  and this can only be achieved by rebelling against the majority.

The same syndrome is affecting the traditional coalition partners of Likud. Israeli elections haven’t been cancelled (although one can be forgiven for thinking that they have been after reading Thomas Friedman’s musings about there being “no checks” of Netanyahu’s power) – they’re still scheduled for autumn next year, and when December comes along, the coalition partners will become restless, since nobody likes to compete for votes from under Netanyahu’s shadow. In 2003, Nathan Sharansky’s “Yisrael b’Aliya” party was virtually wiped out because of its too cozy relationship with “Likud” under Ariel Sharon. Voters perceived both parties as ideological twins and went for the original.

In addition to the constraints of Israeli democracy and the inescapable dynamics of the political calendar, Netanyahu is not a king, because in Israeli minds he’s far from being anointed. Netanyahu is not the Israeli Obama and he isn’t a new Ariel Sharon or Yitzhak Rabin. He does not enjoy absolute trust and he doesn’t inspire blind loyalty. He’s just the best of a bad lot, and nobody recognizes this essential fact better than Netanyahu himself – that’s why his policies, at home and abroad, have been so cautious. If he could, he would steal from the White House the “No-drama Obama” slogan. Netanyahu recognizes the challenges for Israeli security and its economy. To meet them, he needs to preserve the fragile consensus that has congealed around him.

In this light, nothing looks more ridiculous than Hillary Clinton’s siren call (echoed by the liberal press in the U.S. and Israel) for Netanyahu to use his new coalition “in the service of peace”. Those who promote this nonsense are acting as if “peace” was a unique rare commodity kept in the Israeli leader’s vault, and if only Netanyahu would wish so, peace will break out all over the Middle East. Somehow, the idea that peace, like a tango, demands two partners, and that the Arab side has a significant, if not the overwhelming part to play, escapes those who implicitly blame Israel for the conflict between Arabs and Jews.

The newly-established Israeli “Grand Coalition” can weather the economic storm coming from Europe. It can take Israel into an existential struggle against Iran. But it cannot create peace out of nothing, because the Israeli majority cannot satisfy the Palestinian demands, and the Palestinians cannot abandon “the right of return” and accept the permanence of the Jewish state. If, contrary to his own history and common sense, Netanyahu will go down this road in pursuit of “his place in history”, his constituency will rebel, his support will collapse, and he will end up in a ditch – this time permanently.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Actor Zachary Levi said casting directors have denied him roles for being “too Jewish,” despite the fact that he is not a Jew, the New York Daily News‘ Confidenti@l reported on Wednesday. “I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look,” he said. “My family is from f****** Indiana! Come on, I’m like dying here!” The Thor star clarified that he is Welsh, and that Levi is actually his middle name, while his real last name is Pugh. He said he […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    The secret of Chabad’s worldwide success is revealed by veteran Chabad shliach (emissary) Rabbi David Eliezrie in his new book, The Secret of Chabad. The Chabad movement was founded by Rabbi Schnur Zalman of Liadi, Belarus, in 1775. Years later it came to the US with the arrival of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in 1940, after his escape from Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Upon his arrival in New York, a number of his co-religionists advised him that there was no place for traditional […]

    Read more →