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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.