Israel’s current political catastrophe is a bit like the fable- “the Emperor’s new clothes.” Reality vs. Illusion. What you thought was there, is in fact non-existent.
If you happened to read my Times of Israel blog on April 1, 2019 entitled “Lapid is right.” (how appropriate that it was published on April Fool’s day !) – analyzing Benny Ganz as a potential Prime Ministerial candidate, you might recall my warning that having been an excellent General has little in common with being a good politician or Prime Minister. There is nothing democratic about the military. There is rank, expertise and decision-making which have nothing to do with the need to understand what one’s constituency holds to be of value. Being a general has nothing to do with the required negotiations between experienced politicians to reach compromise or a solution. Being a General is a monolithic experience having little to do with leading an entire nation.
It would be much better had I been wrong about Ganz. Those who supported him in his bombastic assault on the Netanyahu camp, are now disgusted not only with his abandonment of the only platform upon which he was elected, but with having supported and believed in a man whose feet were made of clay. The Israeli voters went to the polls three times, and finally managed to elect a coalition of 61 members, only to see it crumble before their very eyes.
There are many explanations as to why Ganz threw away his core commitment -which was his promise to never sit in a government with Netanyahu. If one is an optimist, one could say that he felt that “enough was enough” and that he wanted his country to move forward from this stalemate to be able to form a government, whatever the cost.
If one is more critical, one could say that Ganz found himself drowning in a political reality he had not envisioned when he started the campaign. It is all well and good to want to lead a nation, but for one who actually has no political acumen whatsoever, faced with a crisis such as the Coronavirus, the reality of his ineptitude could not have escaped him. How would he step in and help Israel survive this crisis with no political management skills, international connections or established relationships from which to begin?
The question remains as to why Bibi was prepared to hand over half of the future ministries to Ganz for this compromise Unity government. There are those who feel this was unnecessary at best. Now that the Blue and White has lost its coalition partners it has only a solid 15 members, while the Right-wing block has 60. For 15 members to hold half of the ministries is so unbalanced that it is unlikely to bring qualified individuals to the positions. It is clear that Netanyahu will hold on to every ministry which will need to deal with the Coronavirus aftermath industry…health… and all attendant issues. I suspect that in 12 months time, there will be a total re-shuffle of the Ministry heads which will soon be announced upon formation of this new government.
There are those who say that Ganz’s compromise has not only shown him to have led a campaign which was fallacious (as it claimed a moral high ground which has now been abandoned), but has also proven to the Israeli public that even the “ Left” believes that only Netanyahu has the ability to lead in a crisis. If that is so, it becomes clear that Ganz was a paper tiger from the beginning… and the Emperor’s new clothes were once again, made from “smoke and mirrors.” His supporters have every right to be infuriated with him. He held the forming of a government “to ransom” with absolutely nothing to offer the people who were prepared to put him into power.
Now that Israel is in “lock-down,” the Jerusalem Press club is holding daily press conferences which are called “webinars” on “Zoom” for its membership. Once or twice a day, journalists are invited to hear the most erudite speakers on matters of critical importance, and also have the opportunity to pose questions in real time to which they can respond. Regarding the current expected Unity government, we have heard from both Minister Tzahi Ha Negbi and Law Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer in the last twenty-four hours. Ha Negbi has held seven different ministries over his career. At this moment he is both Minister of Regional Cooperation and Agriculture Minister. He is clearly well versed in Israel’s political realities. Prof. Kremnitzer is also a legal commentator for Haaretz newspaper. His current concern is Israel’s damaged Democracy.
Prof. Kremnizer was prepared to assess the future based on the formation of this new Unity government. Notably, he concluded that it is unlikely that Bibi Netanyahu will ever stand trial for any of the indictments against him. He clarified that Netanyahu most certainly will not be able to deal with court cases in the next 18 months as he will be wiping up the aftermath of the Coronavirus. At the end of that period, he predicts that the nation will have little taste for taking Netanyahu to court on a hope and a prayer that he can be convicted of some offense. His detractors will say that he “got away with it” (whatever the “it” might be…) and his supporters will be content to see it all evaporate.
Ganz was only invited by President Rivlin to form a government based on the premise that he had 61 seats in his coalition. Hours later, after going to the courts to get decisions, his coalition fractured and reduced itself to only 15 seats . This is a new form of fraud upon the Israeli public, heretofore not experienced. The Israeli public feels manipulated and disgusted by these antics.
After having experienced the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King decision came down in Los Angeles on May 4, 1992, I became painfully aware of the limitations of democracy. In order to function, citizens must give their tacit agreement to cooperate in an orderly system created by their elected officials. When that civil contract is dissolved…chaos ensues. In Los Angeles, there was looting, rioting, malls set on fire… people murdered, and the police sat back and watched as they could not stop the masses of discontented rioters. The result was 2,383 arrests mostly days after the event as a result of viewing CCTV footage. Being in L.A. then when the fiber of Democracy disintegrated was an experience never to be forgotten.
Israel risks not just rioting (at least not only about this…) but a total political disenchantment which will likely result in future candidates being looked upon with complete distrust. Disillusioned citizens will not bother to participate in the democratic process. Voter turnout will plummet in future elections and fewer individuals of quality will offer themselves as candidates in the future.
What we will see as time unfolds, is whether the Israeli public will demand more of their future candidates than they expected of Benny Ganz. In the current situation, they got what they deserved… and Israel as a whole will pay the political price in the years to come