Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Aftermath of an Election Failure: Is There a Leader in the House?

As we contemplate the spectacular political dysfunction that played out last night in a one-month-old Knesset dissolving itself for new elections, at the behest of a Prime Minister incapable of forming a coalition and intent on preventing anyone else from trying, a number of thoughts occur.

Many are playing the blame game but it is clear where the real blame, or more precisely, responsibility, lies, and it is more important still to understand what that means.

Some of us had hoped fervently for a palace revolt within Likud and prayed we were hearing the “footsteps” of one in Gidon Saar’s critique of Netanyahu’s push for an immunity bill that would spare him prosecution for the crimes of which he is accused. That revolt within Likud did not happen, and that is why what happened last night, happened.

Likud MKs folded, led like sheep, in fear, still, of Netanyahu. He is not sufficiently weakened yet for any of them to take him on. Apparently, though, he would have to be on his knees and waving a white flag before any of them made a move. They could have taken a stand for the good of their party– and even that of the country!– at the same time. But that would have required integrity as well as daring, and we should all remember, but Likud voters in particular should remember, that not a one of them has it. Such qualities matter in the leader of a country, too, not just in the would-be-leader of a party—should anyone, perhaps, be thinking about that. ­­­­

Likud MKs behaved like slavish lackeys of the Don. None of them has the stuff to lead this country. I would ­hope that all voters would take note of this reality, displayed for us flagrantly last night, but in particular, that the Opposition could, perhaps, take this message to the public, effectively, this time.

Who bears not just blame, which many are whining about like delinquent children, but responsibility for the utterly gratuitous, costly ordeal now upon us?

Netanyahu. By making first, the immunity law, and then, gutting the Supreme Court, conditions for partners to join his government, he gave those putative partners total leverage over him, making formation of a government impossible. This is what gave Avigdor Liberman the leverage which he, in turn, exercised. He saw paralysis and recognized the opportunity this presented, which he played to perfection. If stymieing without leading is the goal, of course.

Netanyahu played this disastrously because it was all about him staying out of jail; because he puts that above all else. Because, as has been noted for a long time– Gantz referred to Louis XIV in his inaugural speech as head of a party– Netanyahu sees this country as coterminous with himself, meaning everything is justified and justifiable. Yet, even with this clear behavior, not one in his party was capable of action. Instead, they all fell shamelessly in line behind his obscene manipulation of the justice system and democracy itself for his personal ends. Because if Netanyahu is Israel, he is certainly Likud, and Likud, Netanyahu.

If the Opposition cannot get this across to voters effectively, I don’t know what justifies their existence.

If, from newbie party, Kahol Lavan’s perspective a few months ago, it was questionable how forthrightly to take on Netanyahu, and tiptoeing around his criminality and increasingly autocratic behavior seemed advisable in order to attract Likud voters, in heavens’ name, that game is played out. Something very different is needed now: integrity and daring.

Am I confident that any in this lot can and will provide it? I wish I could say I were.

Three more months of this. The pathetic, puerile, mud-slinging—“he’s a leftist!” “Who, me? Look what he (Netanyahu), did!”—while this place rots.

While the hospital system collapses from under funding and insufficient staff, and the [Deputy, wink, wink] Health Minister protects haredi sex abusers, rapists. While building accidents and deaths continue; hearing about another construction site death and more attacks from Gaza (or wherever), compete for my dread in turning on the news. Accidents keep happening because the most elementary standards, and consequences– serious jail time, not just fines, passed on to consumers– are not enforced. There is no licensing and enforcement of pre-school child care in this country; anyone can just do this, so story after story of horrific abuse of babies comes to the news, to no systemic reform. The cumulative effect of all this and other incompetence and negligence is learned helplessness– mah la’asot? this is how it is here– which feeds the dysfunction, which feeds the learned helplessness. And now, another extended period with no government, no hope even, of action to address any of our needs.

If the Opposition—whichever party or a coalition of them– can’t take all this and do something effective with it, I hate to think.

All this brings to mind the biblical, vayehi be’yemei shfot ha-shoftim— “and it was in the days of the judges, before there was a king in Israel”– that is, while chaos reigned, before there was a real leader. Until one stepped up and delivered Israel. In those glory days.

Well, we have a king, do we ever. And we have judges. And we have chaos.

A real leader? Not as far as I can see.

Prove me wrong! The right person, party, please, prove me wrong!


About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus is a professor of Jewish history and an award-winning author of books on Jewish modernity and on Jewish women's history.