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The Politics Seems More Toxic Than the Pandemic

In addition to the corona crisis, Israel also has a political crisis. After three general elections within a year, it still only has a transition government. Most members of it seem to run the prime minister’s often very personal errands. Perhaps that’s why when, last Saturday night, he announced the easing of restrictions to enable more people to return to work, we hear that he didn’t even bother to inform his cabinet colleagues ahead of time.

It made me think of the famous sketch in the days of the Thatcher government in Britain. It showed the late Margaret Thatcher and her government in a restaurant. The waiter approached her first to find out what she had chosen on the menu. “I’ll have the steak,” she said. “And the vegetables?” asked the waiter. “They’ll have steak, too,” she answered.

Last night there was a demonstration in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Some 2000 people are reported to have turned out, each observing the required 6 feet distance. What I glean from the reports suggests that its main purpose was to persuade Benny Gantz, the leader of what’s left of the Blue and White party, not to join Netanyahu in a so-called unity – or emergency – government. His critics argued that you can’t fight corruption from within.

Yair Lapid and Boogie Yaalon, two of Gantz’s former senior colleagues in the party who have now established an opposition block of their own, urged him to return to the fold and not allow himself to be used by Netanyahu. As I wrote before, the two should know: they both served under Netanyahu.

I still believe that Gantz’s reasons for trying to join Netanyahu are noble and patriotic. As he has repeatedly stated, in the present situation it behooves leaders to set aside personal ambitions for the good of the country. As a former IDF Chief of Staff he knows what he’s talking about. But his army training doesn’t seem to have equipped him to deal with a seasoned politician like Netanyahu, who, so it seems, has as his primary aim to protect himself in the face of the judiciary. By all accounts, the control of the courts appears to be on top of Netanyahu’s wish list. The fear is that Gantz is caving in.

Another issue on Netanyahu’s agenda is to proceed with the annexation of certain parts of the occupied territories. No doubt this accords with the prime minister’s ideology, but it’s also a way of making sure that the parties on the right of his Likud remain in his coalition. The matter may seem urgent because at this stage, in view of his way of responding to the corona crisis in the United States, it’s not sure that Donald Trump will still be its president after the elections there later this year. Joe Biden, if he wins, will scrap his predecessor’s so-called peace plan.

With all this in mind, Israel will either have a government of vegetables or be forced to go to new elections in the – some say, vain – hope of creating stability. As this isn’t likely to happen until well after the pandemic, Israel may have to live with the present ostensibly temporary government for a long time, perhaps a year or even more. The instability thus created, with an onslaught on democracy in its wake, may turn out to be even more lethal than the pandemic.

I’ve delayed writing this for some time in the hope of being able to reflect on better news from Israel’s political front. Unfortunately, I cannot see any signs of it – but I never stop hoping that my pessimism is unwarranted.

Jerusalem 20.4.20                                                                                                                         Dow Marmur

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