by Uri Dromi*
On Monday, my granddaughter Maya, serving in the Israel Defense Force, and having already voted for the third time in less than a year, shared her thoughts from Election Day on the family WhatsApp.
During breakfast, the sergeant-major urged everyone to vote in the special ballot in the base. A fellow soldier confided that she wasn’t going to vote. “Twice I tried to have Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] elected, and I failed. Enough.” Maya was caught in the dilemma: Should she shut up, thus encouraging a Bibi supporter not to vote, or tell her companion she must carry out her civic duty?
Much to our pride, she chose the latter.
Unlike Maya’s breakfast friend, many Likud voters, did not lose hope, and on Monday voted en masse for Bibi. They knew perfectly well that in two weeks he would have to stand up in Jerusalem District Court and answer charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. But this didn’t deter them. They probably remembered as well that in 2008, when then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced the same charges, Bibi himself said that, “A prime minister who is neck-deep in investigations has no public or moral mandate to make crucial decisions.” So he said.
What were these elections about anyway? Not about President Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” which was hardly mentioned in the campaign; not about the serious strategic threats from Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza; or the crumbling public health system. The recent elections — which were actually some kind of referendum — boiled down to one question only, which, in the Trump era, might sound familiar to American ears: Are you for Bibi, or against? On Monday, the Israeli people spoke and gave Bibi a mandate to carry on.
Can someone who has been charged with corruption run for the highest elected office? In America it’s simple: As long as the Constitution doesn’t specifically prohibit it, it’s kosher. Israel, however, like Great Britain, doesn’t have a constitution, so the matter falls in the gray area between law and politics. But the Brits do have something called “It’s Not Done.” How do you know that a person who is indicted for corruption and who is suspected of changing the rules so he can evade the rule of law, shouldn’t be your prime minister? You just know.
However, with the lack of such a restraining principle, let’s give Netanyahu the benefit of doubt and accept that he doesn’t have to go because of legal considerations. Let’s even ignore the fact that he himself demanded that Olmert quit in 2008 because he had lost the moral ground.
Netanyahu has to go simply because he had ruled us for too long.
He himself knows this perfectly well. In 1997, he was asked by a journalist how long he would like to serve in the post: four years, eight years, 12 or forever. Netanyahu shot back: “I have an answer for you that is inscribed in stone. When I was one of initiators and backers of the Direct Election Law, I asked to add a clause that a prime minister cannot serve more than two terms.” He explained: “If you don’t get it done in your first term, you might do what you need in the second term, but you don’t need more than that.
“Get things done, and then go home — in a political sense.”
That was in 1997. Today, Netanyahu obviously sees things differently. He likes to compare himself to Winston Churchill, who single-handedly saved Great Britain in its darkest hour (forgetting to mention that Churchill was kicked out of power by the British voters, once World War II was over). To many Israelis, however, he sounds like Louis XIV, the autocratic “Sun King,” whose love of luxury become a symbol of royal opulence and who probably said L’etat, c’est moi, I am the nation.
If Netanyahu cares about his legacy — and he surely has some things to be proud of — let him step down and fight for his innocence in court. In the meantime, Likud and Blue and White can form a national unity government, which will heal the wounds the recent, nasty election campaign opened.
I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I do know that this is what Israelis really need right now.
*spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments, 1992-96.
**First published in: «The Miami Herald»