With elections coming to Israel on Tuesday, blog after blog discusses the candidates. So far, the bloggers are all anti Bibi Netanyahu. Even though many parties are running in the election, only three candidates have a realistic chance of becoming Prime Minister. (There once were four, but Gideon Sa’ar is dropping in the polls like a rock in the Sea.) The three are Netanyahu (Likud), Naftali Bennett (Yamina), and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid).
I have tried to analyze Netanyahu’s strengths and weaknesses objectively in another blog, “Evaluating Bibi”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wlGJ_j0viE&list=PL3uWizAk9VQ99sE1_AP_zmYpoSYdotFJB , so I will not go into Netanyahu in detail. The gist of what I said was that despite his obvious faults, the secular Netanyahu does some things very well. Nevertheless, in the last elections, as a matter of strategy, he tried to put together “a “coalition of the right”, ran a racist campaign, and had, I believed, sold his soul to the religious right. His campaign rhetoric was aimed at appealing to the religious, right wing and getting them to vote Likud, so I did not vote for him. He almost pulled it off, but could not gather enough votes to form a government. Eventually, his chief opponent in the three elections, Bennie Gantz, agreed to form a government with him. The result was a highly-secular, moderate government, but it did not work. Still, because Netanyahu did not need them, Naftali Bennett and his gang of right-wing, mostly-religious followers were not included in the government. Bennett correctly claimed that he had been double crossed and joined the opposition.
This time, Netanyahu is being attacked by Bennett from the right and Lapid from the center-left. As a result, Netanyahu is staking out a position in between them and attempting to attract enough votes from both sides to be able to form a government.
Here, I evaluate Bennett and Lapid, as I did Netanyahu.
I believe that either of them would be a disaster as P.M. I wish there were a first-rate, moderate candidate for whom I could vote, but under the circumstances, I intend to vote for Likud.
Naftali Bennett is a religious, right-wing candidate, as he has been for years. He has a law degree and before he entered politics was an enormously-successful businessman. He is a hawk who wants to invade Gaza, even though it would cost thousands of both Israeli and Palestinian lives. So far, as Prime Minister, Netanyahu has been a moderating force and has kept Bennett and the other hawks under control. Should Bennett become P.M. I truly fear that he will try to invade Gaza.
Bennett has long-expressed the desire to be Defense Minister. He is a former commando in the IDF and is still a Major in the reserves. The underlying assumption behind the hawk position to invade Gaza is that Israel would defeat Hamas with some ease. In my view, that is the same hubris that led the IDF to invade Lebanon in 2006, absolutely sure that it could wipe Hezbollah out easily, only to discover after thirty days that Hezbollah had fought it to a draw.
Bennett is also the darling of the settlers. For years, he has advocated annexing all of area “C”, as defined in the Oslo accords. In the last elections, he advocated annexing huge portions of the West Bank. Netanyahu’s position on annexation has been and continues to be that there will be no annexation without the approval of the United States. Since he knows that Biden will never approve any significant annexation, he might have just said that there will be no significant annexation in the next four years. Both the settlers and Bennett feel that Netanyahu has betrayed them. While they are correct, I am grateful that he did. For a detailed description of Bennett’s long history as a right-wing, religious hawk, see David Remnick’s article in the “New Yorker.” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/21/the-party-faithful Caveat: Remnick is a committed Bibi Basher, but he makes it clear in the article how much further to the right Bennett is than Netanyahu.
Lapid postures himself as the secular candidate of the center left. I agree with many of his political positions and wish I could support him. My problem is that I think that Lapid is a scoundrel who has been salivating to become Prime Minister for at least eight years and will abandon any position he has espoused, if it will help him become Prime Minister, something that he cares much more about than he does about Israel.
While Lapid is not an egomaniacal, miserable human being like Donald Trump, the two have something in common. Both are charismatic former television personalities who converted their television stardom into political capital. Neither has any business leading anybody’s government.
Yair Lapid first entered politics in time to run in the 2013 elections. He formed his own political party, Yesh Atid, and, surprisingly, won 19 seats in the Knesset. Then, even though Lapid advertised himself as a secular, moderate, he had no problem joining the right-wing, religious Bennett in order to bargain as a unit with Netanyahu to form a coalition. The key issue upon which Bennett and Lapid agreed was that legislation was needed to bring more of the Haredim both into the work force and the IDF. Lapid and Bennett were successful in their bargaining, and Lapid became Finance Minister, a very powerful ministry for which he had absolutely no qualifications. (Lapid never graduated from high school. Netanyahu, in contrast, was a Finance Minister who had an M.B.A. from M.I.T.)
In 2014, after the Gaza war, Netanyahu looked vulnerable, in large part because of the Bibi bashing by Barack Obama, Tom Friedman, and the J-Streeters. As a result, both Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, each of whom wanted to be P.M., started attacking Netanyahu from within the coalition. Netanyahu, who felt he could not govern under these circumstances, fired them both and called new elections — elections which EVERYBODY thought he would lose. Surprise! He won again. That began his move to the right. Since he could no longer trust Livni nor Lapid, he was forced to form a government which included the religious, right parties. The election ended the legislation to control the Haredim for which Lapid and Bennett had argued, but so what: Lapid wanted to be Prime Minister.
Lapid, who is now the leader of the opposition, has never accomplished anything in government but has used his charisma and speaking ability to become the leader of the center left. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.