We have all watched over the last few weeks as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) has tried to put together a coalition government that would be able to shield him from indictment on corruption charges. This exercise, in and of itself, was a disgusting display of political vanity, the likes of which Israel has never seen before. That the personal legal protection of a leader should hold such weight it becomes part of coalition agreements is something that should outrage us all. But just when I didn’t think the Prime Minister couldn’t sink any lower, he said “here, hold my $100 dollar pint of ice cream.”
As negotiations were clearly falling apart, Bibi offered enticements high and low to try to secure a coalition before the Wednesday night deadline. He offered ministries, ambassadorships, even apparently the Presidency to members of the opposition, not even to join the coalition and leave the parties they were elected as part of, but just to stay away from the vote and allow a 60 seat coalition to be approved by the Knesset. The idea that Bibi feels the qualification needed for becoming the President of Israel should be staying in the bathroom during a vote is demeaning to all Israelis and our institutions.
But that stuff is all political games. We have become immune to the wheeling and dealing of personal and political enrichment that has become a natural part of the coalition building process in Israel. What I wasn’t ready for was to read that the Likud had offered MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, a Blue and White MK of Ethiopian descent, the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, to speed up recognition of the Falashmura community in Ethiopia, and expedite their aliyah to Israel. I was shocked. I almost wept for Israel in that moment. Now we have gone past personal and political graft to holding a community seeking recognition as Jews hostage for Bibi’s own legal protection. There is so much wrong here, I don’t even know where to begin unpacking it all.
The first thing that jumps out to me is that apparently Bibi is admitting that recognition of the Falash Mura community is not really about whether they are Jewish or not, but instead is a clearly political decision. Is this the idea that Israel was founded on? The ingathering of the Jews, as long as it can be used to keep the Prime Minister safe from prosecution? Is this the idea behind the Law of Return, that anyone who could be considered a Jew should be given safety and security in the Jewish country of Israel but only if the Prime Minister is insulated from indictment first?
The second shanda made apparent in Bibi’s offer is that while the Israeli government has been saying it is doing all it can to deal with the situation of the Falash Mura community, this offer makes clear that the government, in fact, can be doing more to resolve the situation of the Falash Mura. If the government can be doing more to resolve this situation quickly, why isn’t it? Why is this offered only as an incentive to get someone to join the government to give Bibi legal immunity? Why has the Ethiopian community in Israel been regularly protesting the lack of action by the government to bring their family members here? Why are they protesting the lack of funds for Ethiopian Aliyah every year? Why must the Ethiopian community beg for table scraps, and why is a real solution only offered as part of political wheeling and dealing? How is it that it could be so easily resolved if MK Tamano-Shata would have just left her party to secure a coalition for the Prime Minister?
I feel so terrible for MK Tamano Shata. She was given the modern day equivalent of Sophie’s Choice. Help to save members of her community and give them a better life and future, by betraying her party, her ideals, and her country, or leave her community in camps in Ethiopia, languishing, and do what is best for her country’s future. Shame on Bibi for forcing that choice on her.
Other than that, the question comes up, what the hell is wrong with Bibi. How has he sunk so low as to use the suffering of Ethiopian people as a bargaining chip? How is this the person who has been Prime Minister of Israel for the last decade? Where is our moral compass if this is the man we keep electing to lead us?
If the upcoming indictments, the inability to form a coalition, his weakness in confronting Hamas, and his attacks on Israeli institutions haven’t convinced you that Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer fit to serve as Prime Minister, this act of naked, abhorrent, callous, and inhumane political ambition should show you one thing clearly. In Bibi’s world, he sees himself as more important than every other Israeli, than every other Jew, than every other person. Bibi is a narcissist, who will continue to put his own security and power before the security and safety of every Israeli, of every Jew, or every person around the world. The worst part about it? He will probably become Prime Minister in the next election as well.