Shulamit S. Magnus
Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

To Laugh? To Cry? Perchance, to Hope?

Last night, this country was treated to the spectacle of two men, obsessed with one another, each the other’s mirror image in so many ways, going at it in prime time.

First, there was Bennett, posturing as not a politician. This is the man who, with all of seven Knesset seats out of 120,  fancies himself as rightful prime minister (after all, not that long ago, he and his then-party did not even pass the electoral threshold, and this is seven times better than that. Plus, it’s a different party).

But he’s not a politician and this is not, repeat not, about him. Watch that raised right eyebrow, his version of Pinocchio’s nose.

Then, we had a frightening looking Netanyahu, he has aged incredibly and looks awful, go at Bennett, who, we recall, has all of seven Knesset seats — for so long that all three TV news channels stopped covering the spectacle. Commercials, indeed, were better. Thank you, corporate Israel.

Netanyahu, with no hope of forming a government, has now — after subjecting the country to four elections in two years, each so he could better his outcome, a strategy that has not exactly worked for him– suddenly decided that “democracy” demands that we have an immediate, direct election for prime minister; elections he is sure to win.

I am not saying that, he did. The man is saying openly, not some analyst, him– that he wants an election so he continues as Prime Minister. As he is entitled to be. Says this with a straight face. The people’s voice has to be heard, he said. I seem to recall something about four elections in two years, but maybe that’s just me.

He did keep stressing that B-man #2, Bennett, got only 7 seats. And that it is absurd, just ridiculous, that someone with 7 seats fancies himself the people’s choice as PM.

I do agree with him there.

He spoke of Bennett as frantically desperate to reside in Balfour. With a straight face. He clearly has never spent a moment, a millisecond, in therapy. Maybe we could take up a collection. He likes other people paying his bills.

Here’s what I think. Or at least, what I hope.

Right after this latest election, Lapid, seeking recommendations to President Rivlin for the mandate to form a government, offered Bennett a rotation as prime minister, with Bennett even going first. Bennett declined and went to Netanyahu (having recommended himself to Rivlin), knowing full well that Netanyahu, B-man #1, would never agree to that idea. But that it would look good on his, Bennett’s, right-wing resume, to have preferred Netanyahu. But not because he’s a politician, because he’s not!

When Netanyahu returns the mandate to the president, Lapid must say to B-man #2, that was then, this is now. You got 7 seats. I got 17. By my math, that is more than double yours (not to mention that Gantz has one more seat than you). You can get to be Defense Minister, as you used to covet. Even though Gideon Sa’ar badly wants that, in a government headed by Bennett, who also wants his sidekick, Ayelet “Fascist” (she used that term about herself a few elections ago) Shaked, to be Justice Minister. As in, these three, with 13 Knesset seats among them, want Prime Minister, Defense, and Justice. I think a cold shower in Lapid’s home or office, Bennet’s choice, is indicated; no soap, towels provided.

The other deals with the rest of the would-be coalition partners would also need to be struck, but with everyone playing with a full deck, and of real cards. Not 7 seats. Lapid has said that he would put a cap of 18 Ministries; no repeat of the hoggish, reckless, profligate inflation of Ministries and sub-Ministries that the Netanyahu- Gantz pseudo-government foisted on us.

We all know that a government that is left, right, and center under Lapid won’t be doing anything radical.

It could, however, pass a budget. We haven’t had one in more than two years and badly need one. We have no overall planning, a huge deficit, and ad hoc spending. Much of it, on elections. Though there were the vaccines– details about which deal are sealed. I am not arguing that we should not have gotten the vaccines. Just that in a functioning democracy (granted, Netanyahu does not employ that adjective), The People really ought to have an accounting of such multi-million dollar deals with our money. And of our vaccination and health records given to Pfizer.

We could have a permanent, not a temporary, head of the police, which we haven’t had in years because Netanyahu did not want to deal with Gantz about that appointment. It could even be a competent professional and not a Netanyahu lackey.

We could have a Justice Minister, so that five key Knesset committees, including the State Security and Corona cabinets, which can’t meet or decide anything because those require the Justice Minister’s presence and signature, can meet and make decisions. (We don’t have a Justice Minister because Netanyahu refuses to appoint anyone from Kahol Lavan, as his coalition agreement with KL requires, after Gantz’s temporary appointment to the post lapsed, after he got the appointment when his partnership with Netanyahu blew up and Nissenkorn had to quit as Justice Minister after he bolted to a new party that did not last the night).

Is this a bad circus, or a country?

This matter has now gone to the Supreme Court, with several citizens’ groups arguing today that the Court– which Netanyahu and others on the right will then accuse of “meddlng” and “activism”– must order the government to make permanent appointments to these posts, in particular, Justice. We do have a PM on trial. Who has refused to sign a conflict of interest agreement with the Attorney General though the Court ordered him to sign such an agreement months ago; an agreement that would bar him from, you know, making judicial appointments. Including a replacement for the current Attorney General (whom he detests), whose term ends in a few months. But someone competent and, preferably, also clean, really ought to make those apopintments.

So nothing radical. Just– a functioning government.

Without Netanyahu.

Who still has to show up regularly in Court for his trial on three criminal charges. With all the political drama, including from Not A Politician!–  we are not paying enough attention to the testimony coming from that trial, which makes Netanyahu look like a media- manipulation-Don, playing this role like a maestro.

I can’t believe his sudden move for a direct election for prime minister will pass. It is  personal legislation if ever such existed, to which, until now, we kept hearing he was utterly opposed! not democratic! — when that meant legislation to bar anyone indicted from forming a government. This would be a major alteration of Israel’s political system, done shot-gun- wedding-style, purely for Netanyahu. Der’i of Shas wrote the law, whose clauses are packed with corruption.

I could just be projecting my own sensibilities here, confusing hope and thought. Because such a scenario would assure the current members of Knesset that they would stay in office, at least as long as a government with Netanyahu at the head and no one outside his bloc working with him would last, which would still be long enough to keep him in the Prime Minister’s office, working his mischief. And them in Knesset, not facing another election.

Will the public tire to upchucking of both these men? Will that make Lapid, who does not fare well in polls of the public’s perception of PM material, more palatable? Lapid has been keeping a typically low profile, quietly getting things done behind the curtains.

I did not vote for him. But I sure am rooting for him now.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus is a professor of Jewish history, author of four books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, and the Jerusalem Post. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and read Torah there in the first such tefilla, in Dec., 1988. She is first-named plaintiff in a suit currently before the Supreme Court of Israel asking the Court to enforce its own rulings about women's prayer rights at the Kotel.
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