In just a few weeks’ time, on April 9, Israel, once again, goes to the polls. And for the first time in many years Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not so secure — I might even say “smugly” secure, because at times I think he believes himself to be prime minister for life.
This time, despite last-minute kicking and screaming to try to stop it being announced before the election, Bibi is asking the Israeli public to vote for him while facing a number of serious charges of corruption.
Readers may recall that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was also facing charges of bribery and corruption while in office. He stood down in order to fight the charges, an attempt which failed and saw him jailed; but whatever one might think of Olmert, and those who attended the Zionist Federation dinner in London last month had plenty of time to make up their minds about him, at least he wasn’t serving as both prime minister and defence minister at the same time, and Bibi, who is doing just that, has only recently given up the foreign minister portfolio as well.
I make no comment on the charges themselves, other than to observe that it’s a fairly cavalier attitude to take, to defend them at one remove, so to speak, all while continuing to claim to Israelis that he is the only person who can run the country.
Additionally, Bibi is facing a much more serious challenge than he is used to, in the four-person Blue and White centrist coalition, consisting of Yair Lapid and three ex-chiefs of the IDF staff — Benny Gantz, Gabi Mizrachi, and Moshe Ya’alon. The latter is a former Defence Minister who resigned from Bibi’s government in 2016.
Bibi has form, of course, in scaremongering to Israelis. At the 11th hour, before the last elections in 2015, he announced that Arabs were “streaming in droves to the polling station”, and claimed that “the left”, that amorphous mass used by the right to terrify the population, was bringing Arabs in buses, to vote. Which, if it even had a smidgen of truth about it, so what?
The prime minister’s default position is to accuse his opponents of making some sort of deal with “the Arabs”, and currently claims that Blue and White can only win with the support of the Arab bloc.
Distasteful as this is — and, remember, this is the same man who brokered a hard-right alliance with the Kahanist extremists of Otzma Yehudit — Bibi sank to a new low this week by pronouncing that the state of Israel only belongs to the Jewish people. This was his response to a social media comment by actress Rotem Sela, who wrote that Israel is a country of all its citizens.
She wrote: “When the hell will someone in this government broadcast to the public that Israel is a country for all its citizens. And every person was born equal. Arabs, too, God help us, are human beings. And so are the Druze. And so are gays, by the way, and lesbians, and…shock…leftists.”
Bibi is gambling — with events like Eurovision — on just such a “rainbow nation” set of criteria to sell Israel to the outside world. So it’s a country of all its citizens when it suits him, and a country only for Jews when it doesn’t.
I hope Israelis have an appropriate response to this charlatan approach on April 9. Otherwise, they deserve Bibi.