Why Bibi Blinked
A 2nd speculation based on Netanyahu’s new autobiography “My Story”
His understanding of earlier intra-Jewish crises likely informed his delaying judicial reform
A week ago, in “Bibi Will Blink,” I got the headline correct and the fine print wrong.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did blink, agreeing to temporarily delay several key pieces of his government’s judicial reforms.
He is pledging to forge ahead after the Passover legislative hiatus.
The intensifying boil in the country’s streets, defense ministry, stock market, and Knesset corridors was lowered. For the time being. To a simmer. Still, it feels like temperatures – and the stakes – will rise again after this uncertain, uneasy, hiatus.
My prediction a week ago was that Netanyahu would not jeopardize his most prized accomplishments (a strong, tech-centric economy and the Abraham Accords) or his greatest unrealized goals (preventing an Iranian nuke, recruiting Saudi Arabia to the Abraham Accords) for the judicial reforms championed by others. He never displayed interest in such reforms: not once in his 15 previous years as Prime Minister did he push for such reforms, and the issue didn’t merit a single reference in his 650+ page autobiography written during his most recent political campaign. A campaign whose results are now invoked as the mandate to implement those very reforms.
Bibi stood firm in the weeks leading up to his eventually, begrudgingly agreeing to a delay. He didn’t budge. As Israel’s credit rating, new investment, and shekel exchange rate dropped and the number of commercial and diplomatic strikes, protests, Army refusals, international pressure, and corporate exits rose, Bibi didn’t blink. Either the autobiography was misleading or my literal reading of it was wrong.
During those fraught weeks, it felt as if the doomsday clock was racing toward midnight. Bibi – my impeccable logic notwithstanding, based no less on his autobiography – just wasn’t going to be swayed. He was prepared to watch Israel, and all his accomplishments, drive, autopilot-like, off the cliff. Contrary to his earlier assurances, Netanyahu was unwilling or unable to take control of the wheel.
What then, amid any number of unprecedented events, any one of which would have justified Bibi’s blinking, was the specific “final straw” that prompted it?
Despite it failing me as a useful guide only one week earlier, I nonetheless returned to his autobiography for guidance.
Alert: Here’s where we again pivot into pure speculation as to why “Why Bibi Blinked.”
As worrying as all the negative, snowballing developments were the past several weeks, none shook Netanyahu like the very real prospect of Jew-on-Jew violence. For weeks the streets hosted only anti-reform protests. Only opponents were taking visible actions, not supporters. Upon returning from his third consecutive European weekend trip, Bibi was confronted with paralyzing strikes, the uproar over his firing of the defense minister, and ever-escalating protests. Finally, his and judicial reform supporters decided to hit the streets themselves and to do so directly opposite of and in counter-protest to the opponents. The possibility of violent clashes was real. The anxiety palpable.
That prospect immediately prompted Netanyahu to come out of an uncharacteristic silent mode by Tweeting, “I call on all the demonstrators in Jerusalem, on the right and the left, to behave responsibly and not to act violently. We are brotherly people.”
He followed that quickly by declaring he is “not ready to divide the nation in pieces…I am taking time out for dialogue.”
Why was it the prospect of Jew-on-Jew violence that prompted the belated blink?
Back to the autobiography: a recurring theme is that Zionism’s 125-year history, including episodes directly involving Netanyahu’s father and grandfather, is replete with examples of its right wing, not its left, pulling the Jewish people back from the precipice of civil war. It is the right, Bibi argues, who holsters their pistols. Who blinks. They do so because they love the Jewish people, and the Jewish state more. It is they who are more familiar with and willing to heed the sobering lessons of internecine Jewish violence: Starting in 1380 BCE, we Jews endured 12 civil wars in less than three centuries, directly contributing to our 2,000 years of statelessness.
Netanyahu’s autobiography details several contemporary examples of Jewish civil wars avoided – thanks to right-wing restraint. He describes the incendiary, false accusations against right-wing Zionists for the 1933 murder of left-wing leader Chaim Arlosoroff, and Davi Ben-Gurion’s 1948 decision to fire upon an Irgun ship carrying weapons, killing 16 Irgun fighters (and three I.D.F. soldiers).
As custodian of that noble tradition, Netanyahu also depicts himself and especially Sara as long-suffering victims of an unfair, monopolistic left-wing Israeli media and cultural elite. And true to the Zionist right being of stronger moral fiber and more committed to the ideal that “every Jew is responsible one for the other,” he silently endures the abuse and simply goes about protecting all Jews.
It is that understanding of Jewish history, and the desire to write another chapter in the legacy of the Zionist right demonstrating strength by forbearance that prompted Bibi to blink. Not in the face of economic, diplomatic, or political crisis, but when faced with the prospect of Jew-on-Jew violence.
His autobiography, published merely four months ago, was finished long before his public role will finish. It wasn’t his last word. There will be a “My Story, Volume Two.” He doesn’t want it to have to reckon with overseeing another Jewish civil war. To avoid that personal and national disaster, he blinked.
A blink brought upon by a clear vision of an intra-Jewish nightmare. A blink that came just in time. This time.