By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Is it an extraordinarily thick skin, an incurable addiction to power or the conviction of being the one and only leader of the State of Israel in our time – or perhaps all this and much else – that keeps Binyamin Netanyahu in power as the longest consecutively serving prime minister in the history of the State of Israel? Despite media attacks on himself and his family about their overspending of public funds, their connections with influential individuals with agendas of their own and much else, he seems to be sitting tight. Until now nobody has been able to think of an alternative.
Netanyahu blames the attacks on him and his family on the media. He isn’t the only prime minister in the world to regard the Press and TV as the enemy. That’s probably why one of several cabinet portfolios he’s keeping for himself is that of minister of communication. That’s probably also why his friend Sheldon Adelson, the American casino magnate, is publishing a very popular daily freebee that invariably makes Netanyahu’s case before the Israeli public.
But arguably the most potent reason for Netanyahu’s grip on the government of Israel so far has been the absence of an alternative. The received wisdom seems to be that there’s no politician to challenge Binyamin Netanyahu.
To say it again, the natural opposition by the Labour Party/the Zionist Union under Isaac Herzog has ceased to be relevant. As a result, the centrist Yesh Atid, led by the media person Yair Lapid, has emerged as a rival to Netanyahu’s Likud; the latest poll gives each 25 seats in the 120 seat Knesset. Yet it’s still more likely that even if that were the result of the next election, Netanyahu would be in a better position to form a coalition than Lapid.
The real danger, however, may come not from the opposition but from one of Netanyahu’s coalition partners: Naftali Bennett, who leads the Orthodox-nationalist settler-based Habayit Hayehudi party and is an important member of the present cabinet. He’s giving Netanyahu a very hard time and is emerging as the most likely successor. If that happens, many of us will look back on the Netanyahu years with nostalgia and affection.
Thus, for example, the Bennet-driven new legislation now before the Knesset that will permit settlement building on private Palestinian land, something that hitherto the government hasn’t officially tolerated, even when it turned a blind eye when some settlers contravened the law.
This additional pull to the right in Israel seems to be a reflection of what’s happening elsewhere in the world, primarily but by no means only in the United States.
The ascendance next month of Donald Trump to the presidency may herald the beginning of the end of the Netanyahu era because Bennett has already made noises suggesting that the Jewish West Bank settlers for whom he purports to speak will be given a free hand by the new president. Of course, this will also be the end of every expectation of the so-called two-state solution and Israel will be officially declared an apartheid pariah state in many places.
Should that happen, there’ll be ample reason to be alarmed. I’ve already started worrying. Of course, the optimistic view is that I’m wrong. I pray for this my error of judgement.