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Prime Minister Chickenshit

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The sum of what can actually be known, as distinct from “vaguely guessed at,” about Israeli politics since the 17th September elections is quite short:

  • Netanyahu has 55 backers in the Knesset, Gantz 54.
  • Hence, Netanyahu has received the first chance to form a government. So far, he failed. Once he fails, Gantz will get his chance.
  • Gantz is also likely to fail.
  • The Joint List has made an historic decision to recommend a Zionist candidate (Gantz) as Prime Minister, and then was promptly ignored by the Zionist parties.
  • Netanyahu has, once again, justified the Obama’s administration description of him as “chickenshit.”


Gideon Sa’ar votes in the Sept. 17 election. From his Facebook page.

The problem Netanyahu faces is simple: there is a gridlock in the Knesset, neither party can form a government, and once both candidates fail to form a government, the Knesset has 21 days to recommend a new candidate, or another elections will be called. Netanyahu desperately wants to be that candidate, because he knows public opinion is sick and tired of going to the polls time and again; the government cannot pass a new budget, as there is no functioning Knesset, so it has to rely on last year’s budget; and he knows there is rising Netanyahu fatigue.

His main fear – paranoia, really – is that someone within his party will try to become that new candidate, ending the Netanyahu era.

So, in order to make certain nobody will dare, Netanyahu announced early Thursday that he will call for a snap primary of the Likud Party. That plan hit a rock within the hour. Gideon Sa’ar, a former cabinet minister, tweeted two words: “I’m ready.”


A few words about Sa’ar. He is the current Netanyahu nemesis. An extreme right-winger, he’d been Netanyahu’s Education Minister and Interior Affairs Minister. As Education Minister, Sa’ar oversaw the emasculation of the civics studies – the Israeli right-wing correctly saw them as a menace, because they taught equality and democracy. Naturally, reality being stronger than flimsy fantasy, most students promptly forgot all about such studies as soon as they were drafted into the army; but the ideas were dangerous, and Sa’ar saw to it that they were trampled down.

He forbade publishing a UN booklet about the Human Rights Declaration, because it included the right to emigrate (a big no-no to the Israeli right) and the right to convert to another religion, anathema to the majority Jewish Orthodox population. He also walked hand in hand with the nationalist group Im Tirzu that makes a business of going after human rights organizations: they would highlight targets in the academic world, and Sa’ar would try to take the targets down (not very successfully).

As Interior Minister, Sa’ar’s main claim to fame was hunting down asylum seekers, and creating a special unit for doing so, a unit (unsurprisingly) known for its unusual brutality.

Then, several years ago, he abruptly resigned. He claimed he did so because he wanted to see his new-born son “learn to walk.” Many thought he was tired of Netanyahu and was leaving so as to make his triumphant return; others hinted at a dark sexual scandal, which never came to light.

Last year, Sa’ar returned to Likud, and Netanyahu went into full panic mode, accusing Sa’ar of conspiring against him, which was probably true. Earlier this year Netanyahu tried to sabotage Sa’ar’s chances in the Likud primary, and failed miserably. Sa’ar came in fifth in what was considered a rebuke of the prime minister.

And now Netanyahu suggests another primary and Sa’ar says, “I’m ready.”

Why did Sa’ar issue the challenge? Either because he thought he had a genuine chance to win, which is unlikely; or he thought he could lose honorably (getting 40% or more of the votes); or he just wanted to beard the lion, to watch Netanyahu go full paranoid mode. If the latter, then he succeeded.

When Sa’ar said he was ready, every paranoid nerve in Netanyahu went into overdrive. His shills screamed that Sa’ar was committing treason. And, twenty-four hours after Sa’ar wrote those two words, Netanyahu announced the primaries were off: he would, he said, merely ask the party to confirm him as its leader for the duration of this Knesset.

Netanyahu was too afraid to face a rival in a primary: This means that he knows, or fears his position in Likud has sunk so low he may not survive a challenge. Netanyahu’s paranoid ravings are not new. Over the years he has been known to vastly overestimate rivals or dangers. There are several famous incidents. When he faced David Levi in the early 1990s, he arrived, panicked, at a TV studio and – as the anchors watched flabbergasted – confessed to have cheated on his wife; he said there was a conspiracy against him, that there was a sex tape, and he was being blackmailed. A police investigation found no reason to believe a tape existed. About a year ago, he claimed Sa’ar and President Reuven Rivlin were conspiring against him, attempting to make Sa’ar prime minister. Perhaps the most devastating moment of panic came during the elections of 1999: When Netanyahu claimed he was stable and steady, his former defense minister, Itzik Mordechai, literally burst laughing. “Bibi,” he said among guffaws, “I know you. We’ve both sat in some highly tense classified discussions, and we all know how you reacted then.” Netanyahu didn’t manage a coherent answer, and that moment was widely considered to have decided that election.

As the Obama administration so aptly put it: Prime Minister Chickenshit.

Yossi Gurvitz

Yossi Gurvitz is a journalist and a blogger, and has covered the occupation extensively.

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2 Responses

  1. Misterioso on October 7, 2019, 8:34 am

    Video of Al Jazeera’s damning interview with Danny Danon, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, regarding Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation of the Gaza Strip.

    Danon fumbles the ball repeatedly.

  2. Misterioso on October 7, 2019, 8:45 am

    Good news:

    Kudos to Duke University!!!!

    The Chronicle:

    “Letter [to the Editor]: 62 Duke faculty respond to Department of Education directive”
    By Concerned Faculty, October 2, 2019

    “We appreciate the recent statement on academic freedom from President Price and Provost Kornbluth following the US Department of Education’s investigation of the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East studies. We also welcome the letter to the DOE from 18 American academic associations—including the Middle East Studies Association, the Modern Language Association, and the American Anthropological Association—who characterized the investigation as ‘an unprecedented and counterproductive intervention into academic curricula and programming that threatens the integrity and autonomy of our country’s institutions of higher education.’

    “The Federal investigation is the culmination of a decades-long campaign by anti-Palestinian organizations against academic programing and curricular offerings that are deemed insufficiently ‘pro-Israel.’ This investigation targeted a Middle East center, but should concern all of us. Today, all teachers and scholars are at risk when not aligned with national policy and national security priorities. At stake, in the current moment, is the ability of Universities to operate freely and openly without the fear of censure, and the ability of faculty to determine what they ‘teach, how they teach it, what they choose to research or write about, or who can speak on our campus.’ Duke’s continued commitment to open debate is vital. The integrity of our University demands an educational climate where free and open inquiry is encouraged and fostered, in and out of the classroom, even on the most controversial subjects.”

    Elizabeth Albright, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Nicholas School of the Environment
    Anne Alison, Professor, Cultural Anthropology
    Abdullah T. Antepli, Associate Professor of the Practice, Sanford School of Public Policy
    Nancy Armstrong, Professor, English
    Fadi Bardawil, Assistant Professor, Asian & Middle East Studies

    Nicole Barnes, Assistant Professor, History
    Amal Boumaaza, Lecturing Fellow, Asian & Middle East Studies
    Guy-Uriel E. Charles, Professor, Law School
    Joan Clifford, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Romance Studies
    Miriam Cooke, Professor Emerita, Asian & Middle East Studies
    Sheila Dillon, Professor, Art, Art History, and Visual Studies (Chair)
    Prasenjit Duara, Professor, History
    Katharine Dubois, Lecture Fellow, History
    Jan Ewald, Professor Emerita, History
    Luciana Fellin, Associate Professor of the Practice, Romance Studies
    Sara Galletti, Associate Professor, Art, Art History & Visual Studies
    Shai Ginsburg, Associate Professor, Asian & Middle East Studies

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