Bibi Netanyahu’s failure to cobble together a governing coalition despite 6 weeks of trying after the last election, is embarrassing. The only thing more embarrassing is his end-run around Israeli law by passing, at the eleventh hour, a bill dissolving Knesset. That denied President Rivlin, one of his arch nemeses, the opportunity to offer either another Likud MK or Blue and White Opposition leader, Benny Gantz, the right to form the next government. It appears that more MKs (70) could agree on voting for their own demise than for legislation that would actually benefit the country.
Chemi Shalev, writing in Haaretz, likens all this to a zombie apocalypse:
Wednesday, just before midnight, was the Israeli Knesset’s witching hour. Possessed by a dybbuk bearing an uncanny resemblance to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli parliament went bats, bonkers, berserk…and what have you. A whopping majority of over 70 MK’s voluntarily terminated themselves, less than two months after getting elected, in order to accommodate Netanyahu and his quest to avoid the long arm of the law.
…They could have easily safeguarded their Knesset seats, retained their hold on power and saved their own souls simply by picking another Likudnik to lead them. Instead they walked to their Knesset seats like zombies and voted to terminate themselves.
Though news reports call these development “unprecedented,” that doesn’t begin to describe just how bizarre these proceedings are. After serving for only a month, the new Knesset voted to dissolve itself. Before this new record in infamy was set, to find the shortest previous Knesset term you’d have to go back 60 years to 1961, when, faced with the Lavon Affair, Ben Gurion resigned and disbanded the fourth Knesset, turning to new elections.
It may be pertinent to recall that in the elections to form the fifth Knesset, Ben Gurion returned as prime minister, only to resign in a fit of pique when his Party allies failed to offer him support. That, in effect was the end of his career. There may be a lesson there for the current holder of his position.
It’s certainly understandable that facing a scandal of the magnitude of the Lavon Affair, it was necessary to call new elections 60 years ago. But now? What can this Knesset and Israeli politics, in general, say for itself? That it failed because its leader sought a Get-Out-of Jail-Free card in the form of a new law guaranteeing him retroactive immunity from prosecution? And because its leader sought a law that would enfeeble the Supreme Court, which already had been drained of any independence after years of whittling away its former reputation for protecting human rights?
Netanyahu, who has always been fond of overreaching and often succeeded at it, couldn’t quite pull this one off. Though he retained the loyalty of his Likud minions and the ultra-Orthodox, who saw him as their patronage gravy train, he couldn’t quite get over the hump and persuade Avigdor Lieberman to join him. It’s not clear whether Lieberman balked out of principle (he claimed he wanted passage of a military draft bill that would end exemptions for ultra-Orthodox students) or out of pique (the two are long bitter rivals who nevertheless have managed to co-exist in various governments over the years).
Under these circumstances, you’d think the electorate would be disgusted and turn to the Opposition for something fresh and new. That’s what would happen in almost every other democracy in the world. But Israel isn’t a democracy and doesn’t obey such norms. Political life there consists of two parties, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Both claim to be different. But they aren’t. There is some differences in nuance. One speaks nicely but snarls under its breath. The other speaks crudely and snarls with venom. So the public rightly asks–what’s the difference? At least we know Netanyahu. He’s a crook, but he’s our crook.
The cynicism of not only Israeli politics, but Israeli life in general, is all-pervasive. That’s why the latest polls show that, if anything, Likud may pick up a seat in the next election, set for September 17th. They would do so at the hands of the Opposition and thus seal the success of forming a new far-right ruling regime. Which would mean, by the end of its next term, Israel will have been governed by the far-right for the past 45 years (except for a few years when Ehud Barak was PM). Not that it would matter much if the Opposition was given a crack at governing.