by Uri Dromi*
The recent election campaign in Israel — the fifth in just three years or so — has produced one bit of good news and two bits of bad news.
The good news is that, finally, after a long period of instability, Israel will have a functioning government, based on a solid majority, with Benjamin Netanyahu, our most experienced politician, as prime minister again.
The first bit of bad news, however, is that Benjamin Netanyahu is in court facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Only thanks to some obscure legal loophole he can run for the highest office in our country. A school headmaster, policeman or postman would be suspended immediately until found not guilty.
Which invokes the old joke about the woman who tells her rabbi that, being confused by the darkness, she had mistakenly prepared the stew in the night pot. The rabbi sighs. “It is Kosher,” he tells her, “but it stinks.”
Having a prime minister charged with corruption is not a superficial issue only. Throughout his trial, Netanyahu has been systematically inciting his base against the police and other law-enforcement agencies, including the courts, charging they conspired — along with the liberal press, of course — to pull him down against the will of the people who had voted for him.
This might sound like Trump-esque rhetoric, but Netanyahu is smarter than Donald Trump: You’ll never catch him on record asking someone to do something sinister for him. Netanyahu is a master, however, when it comes to putting his servile people in the right places, where they can carry out his schemes without ever implicating him.
With elections over, the triumphant heads of Netanyahu’s Likkud Party and his future coalition partners, whom he will appoint as ministers in his government, make no secret of their plans, which they nicely call “long due judicial reforms” — aimed, actually, at dismissing the charges against Netanyahu. There is talk of firing the attorney general and appointing one more to Netanyahu’s liking; retroactive legislation to curb the option of charging a prime minister while in office; and more. Not only has Netanyahu already undermined the trust of Israelis in their legal system, now those “reforms” promise more devastating blows to that already fragile pillar of democracy.
The second bit of bad news is that Netanyahu’s partners in his future government are troublesome. Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism Party — which turned out to be the dark horse of the elections, winning 14 seats in the 120-seat Knesset — is a proponent of moving Israel from the democratic pole all the way to a Jewish one, turning our country into a theocracy. Proudly calling himself a homophobe, he told the Knesset last year that a wave of COVID-19 infections was caused by LGTBQ partying at the Tel Aviv gay pride parade.
Worse, still, is his partner, Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Jewish Power Party, a disciple of the racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who used to hang in his living room a picture of his idol, another Kahane follower, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who, in 1994, had killed 29 Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarch, and wounded 125 others. Ben-Gvir was one of the most vociferous inciters against Yitzhak Rabin in the fatal second half of 1995, waving an emblem that he had snatched off of Rabin’s vehicle, bragging, “We came that close to Rabin’s car; we can get to Rabin himself.”
These days, Ben-Gvir shows up in every inflammatory scene where Arabs and Jews collide, provoking and adding fuel to the fire. These are the people without whom Netanyahu can’t form a government. They have already expressed their aspirations — or, rather, demands — for their future jobs in his government: Smotrich, who hardly had any serious military service, fancies the position of no other but that of the minister of defense. Ben-Gvir, who has been arrested several times, declared his wish to be the minister of home security, in charge of the police. And both are in a perfect position to blackmail Netanyahu. Good luck to us with all that.
As a sworn optimist, I won’t succumb to lamenting the course my country has just taken. There are enough Israelis here who believe in the rule of law, in Israel being a liberal democracy, in the enlightened faces of Judaism. They were defeated at the ballot box, but their voices will be heard.
*the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments from 1992-1996
**first published on The Miami Herald