Bibi Will Blink
A prediction based on Netanyahu’s new autobiography “My Story”
What he writes about, and doesn’t, provides clues to how the judicial reform crisis might end
The Israeli government’s tsunami of proposed judicial reforms is both surging forward and subject to shifting tides. Because of public outcry and proposed amendments, it is unclear what it will ultimately look like – and the havoc it will wreak – when it hits shore (becomes law).
Many are speculating that the fierce protests and economic blowback will force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to compromise (and declare victory). His history suggests this possibility: a pugilistic, pragmatic populist with nine political lives who leads more moderately than he barks.
Netanyahu’s recent autobiography “My Story” also points in the direction of his cutting a deal.
Written on the campaign trail, the book’s November 2022 publication synched with Israel’s latest election. The book attracted surprisingly little attention then, and even less now when it might help unlock the Prime Minister’s judicial reform thinking.
But that’s just the thing: in 650+ pages detailing his political priorities, past and future, there are zero references to “judicial reform,” “Supreme Court appointments,” the “reasonableness standard,” or “Knesset overrides.”
The Supreme Court is mentioned four times…all positive and without detailing what is wrong with it or how it might be improved.
Though entitled “My Story,” Netanyahu clearly wasn’t writing his story’s final chapters. There will be another edition. Unlike other retrospectives written by leaders once out of office, his is not just a look into the rearview mirror but a roadmap to his next journey. The book provides a reliable, thorough G.P.S. of his political philosophy and platform.
Why then, given the magnitude of the judicial reform, how aggressively his government is pushing it, that all sides have agreed for decades that some type of reform is needed and that Netanyahu does lay out his other political goals for another term, is he silent on judicial reform?
And why risk the collapse of your government over an issue that doesn’t merit a single reference in your magnum opus?
Other than family the book’s primary focus is the economic reforms that Netanyahu initiated twenty years ago and justifiably boasts about. Those reforms launched an economic boon, catapulting Israel to where it is now, a sought-after partner for peace and commerce with so many countries who used to shun her.
In his eyes, these economic reforms are his greatest legacy and were necessary to achieve his other – military, diplomatic, political, high tech – accomplishments. The son and grandson of scholars and historians, and a self-described serious student of history, Netanyahu cherishes his legacy…having just published 650+ pages to help shape it.
Netanyahu has served a total of 16 years as Prime Minister and 12 years as leader of the opposition bloc in the Knesset. Until now he and his party never prioritized judicial reform.
So again, why fall on your sword – jeopardizing your Israel economic revolution, your governing coalition, and your claimed unique ability to combat Iran – for such a “non-issue” as judicial reform?
Alert: Here’s where we pivot into pure speculation. Netanyahu won’t fall on his sword. Not for judicial reform. No matter how much he may agree with the harsh critiques of Israel’s legal system.
He will blink. He will orchestrate or consent to a grand compromise precisely because his autobiography provides an accurate read: he’s just not all that into judicial reform.
The judicial reform imbroglio is already damaging Netanyahu’s precious economic miracle. The downgrading of Israel’s credit rating, the shekel’s devaluation, the exodus of capital and the slower pace of investment all threaten to unravel the extraordinary gains of the past few decades. And that, based on “My Story,” is what Netanyahu cares about most.
He proudly cites the economy as why Israel is consistently listed as the “world’s 8th most powerful country,” arguing “a strong economy is vital to creating and sustaining Israeli power.”
After leaving office in 1999, what motivated Netanyahu to return to the “ugly sport of politics?”
“Power itself didn’t interest me. Without a clear purpose power is futile. Everything I wanted to achieve…fight terror, stop Iran, make Israel’s case, were all dependent on reforming the economy…We can’t build military power without first building economic power…No one else [but me] had the capability to carry it out.
This economic reform would be my coherent purpose that could justify the endless struggles and sacrifices that political life demands [especially of my family]. I was willing to risk my political future on my free-market revolution. If I became finance minister [under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, I would severely jeopardize my chances to become Prime Minister myself again. But why did I want to return in the first place? To transform …the Israeli economy… Wasn’t that goal worth the [risky] attempt?”
To fulfill his economic reforms Netanyahu even stayed in Sharon’s government despite his vehement opposition to the Gaza withdrawal.
Netanyahu won’t trade “his” Israeli economy for someone else’s judicial reform.
He says as much, by so conspicuously not saying it, in “My Story.”