The Israeli election is three weeks away, and the conventional wisdom is solidifying: Benjamin Netanyahu is likely facing his political sell-by date in Israel. One American liberal Zionist group is pushing Netanyahu’s chief rival, the politically clueless Benny Gantz, to bring the hammer down now to crush Netanyahu’s campaign. While another despairs that in his “panic” to hold office and stay out of jail, Netanyahu is damaging the crown jewels, Israel’s relationship to American Jews.
In “Where’s Benny Gantz?” on the Israel Policy Forum site, Guy Frenkel writes that Gantz of the Blue and White, or Kahol Lavan party, is missing out on opportunity after opportunity to drive down Netanyahu’s support and assure his demise:
Over the past week, the news cycle in Israel has been dominated by an event that would seem to indicate in his panic to win reelection, the prime minister is losing his touch: Netanyahu’s decision to bar Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country. That crisis has compounded other controversies, including Bibi’s gaffe-filled visit to Kiev, accusations that Yamina head Ayelet Shaked made a promise to leverage her influence over the attorney general to protect Netanyahu, and a pre-indictment hearing for Shaul Elovitch, a key suspect in one of the prime minister’s many corruption cases. They have offered a bonanza of options for those trying to unseat Netanyahu, exposing his apparent main strengths as glaring vulnerabilities and driving home the degree to which he will severely damage Israeli democracy to escape his legal troubles. And yet, the reaction from the leader of the largest opposition party, Benny Gantz’s Kachol Lavan, has been, if not deafening silence, then a tepid finger-wagging that sounded more like a message delivered by a cautious diplomat than a party determined to change a government it is so convinced is destroying the very foundations of the country….
[T]he decision to forego a major attack on Netanyahu at the height of his weakness and when his lack of scruples is nakedly evident reflects poorly on Gantz’s leadership abilities. By the time the campaign starts up in earnest, the news cycle will have moved on, and it will be too late to make hay of it. Benny Gantz’s commitment to civility is admirable, but in remaining quiet while the prime minister tramples over democratic norms and institutions, the Kachol Lavan leader’s reticence is deeply counterproductive.
The New York Times has an article echoing the view of Gantz’s political weaknesses. It cites a February poll showing that 47 percent of Israelis don’t want Netanyahu as PM and 35 percent do, and 18 percent don’t know.
Those weary of Netanyahu are taking hope from a vote-sharing deal reached between Gantz’s Blue and White party and the possible kingmaker of the next coalition, Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beteinu list.
But if Netanyahu goes down, the Israeli future is no different from the recent past. Gantz is a military man who is running to Netanyahu’s right on security issues. Lieberman is a rightwing settler.
And look at who might head a Lieberman-sponsored “unity” government of the two biggest parties: a rightwinger who opposes Palestinian statehood. Yossi Alpher at Peace Now says:
Liberman proposes that the coalition embracing Likud, Yisrael Beitunu and Blue-White be led by (“for example”) Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a potential consensus candidate, a relatively independent Likudnik and like Liberman a Russian-speaker of Soviet-era origins.
Edelstein has voiced support for annexation of the West Bank and says a Palestinian state is not the solution, but a problem.
Alpher adds that the only way a moderate Palestinian party can even provide political support to such a rightwing coalition is by parroting racist Zionist beliefs.
[Ayman] Odeh, Blue-White stated, has to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. This was not surprising: Blue-White is trying to poach right-wing voters away from Likud and Liberman’s Yisrael Beteinu, two nationalistic parties not friendly to Arabs.
A selective leak or release of parts of the plan before September 17could help Netanyahu secure an election victory, especially if the parts that will be published will be those more favorable to Israel.
Alpher says that the Tlaib/Omar ban is helping Netanyahu to shore up his rightwing base. Alpher echoes the view reported by Jewish Insider, that Netanyahu was the one to reject Tlaib,Omar, and Donald Trump did not initiate the move.
But as the [congresswomen’s] visit neared, Netanyahu was increasingly spooked by indications that he was losing support among the Israeli political right. Alone of all the parties, Avigdor Liberman’s polling numbers were climbing (lately, as high as 12 mandates, up from 5)…
Then Netanyahu’s panic moved to the question how his critics from within his own right-wing bloc and potentially within his own party would react to the provocations to be expected during the Tlaib-Omar visit. After all, both could be expected to condemn Israel in every imaginable way; neither is above making political remarks with anti-Semitic overtones. And they were planning to visit the Temple Mount, potentially provoking open confrontation with the Israel Police. Netanyahu would be pilloried by his own right-wing for allowing this to happen. The Palestinian issue appears urgent to only 15 percent of the Israeli Jewish electorate according to a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute; why let Tlaib and Omar inject it into the campaign?
Notice, Peace Now is publishing the smear that Tlaib and Omar espouse anti-Semitic views. Surely because they support Boycott and care about Palestinian human rights… And how about the suggestion that in seeking to visit the occupied Haram-al-Sharif, a Muslim holy site, these two Muslim women would be inviting a confrontation with police? Maybe they have a religious motivation?
Lastly, Alpher expresses the liberal Zionist concern that by going so hard right, Netanyahu is alienating American Jews. That’s an existential issue.
[I]s he, willfully and consciously, inflicting heavy long-term damage to Israel’s only real strategic alliance: with the American Jewish community and the US system and values it represents?