Why abandoning Netanyahu will not end well for the Israeli Right.
It is an iron rule of Israeli politics regularly disregarded by the political Right that left-wing parties govern from the Left, not the Right; center-left parties govern from the Left, not from the Center.
Despite the axiomatic nature of this rule, time after time, politicians and public figures on the Right have ignored it. Periodically, they make light of the distinction between governments run by their political camp and governments run by their leftist opponents.
For the past month, a rapidly growing chorus of columnists and politicians – all of whom dwell on either the right-wing or left-wing margins of the nationalist camp – have decided to join the Left in its assault against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and call either directly or indirectly from his ouster from office.
The Left – like its rightist followers – characterizes its anti-Netanyahu campaign as an anti-corruption campaign.
For the past several months, Netanyahu has been the subject of two dubious criminal probes. The first involves allegations that he received too many cigars as gifts from his personal friends. To date, investigators have found no evidence that Netanyahu provided special favors to his friends in exchange for the cigars. We know no evidence indicating the cigars were bribes has been found, because if any had been found, it would have been leaked to reporters just as every shred of even mildly incriminating findings from the probe has been leaked to the media in real-time.
The second investigation is arguably even less substantive. Netanyahu is being investigated for conversations he held in 2014 with his political nemesis Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes. Netanyahu recorded the conversations and they were found on the cellphone of his former chief of staff Ari Harow in the course of a separate criminal probe against Harow for alleged influence peddling. In the recordings, Netanyahu and Mozes discuss the possibility that in exchange for Mozes tamping down his incendiary coverage of Netanyahu at Yediot, Netanyahu’s ally, Sheldon Adelson, would decrease circulation of Israel Hayom, the free daily Adelson owns.
We know that the two men never made a deal because in late 2014, Netanyahu disbanded his own government after his coalition partners voted in favor of a bill drafted by Yediot’s lawyers, that was aimed at shutting down Israel Hayom.
Moreover, during the 2015 election and since, Yediot has led the 24/7 media campaign for Netanyahu’s political destruction.
Mandelblit’s reported lack of enthusiasm over the probes led leftist political strategist Eldad Yaniv to launch a massive political campaign against him earlier this year.
Several months ago, Yaniv began organizing anti-Netanyahu demonstrations outside Mandelblit’s apartment building in Petah Tikva every Saturday night, demanding that he indict the prime minister.
Not surprisingly, the Netanyahu-obsessed media have given massive and sympathetic coverage to the rallies. Reporters have airbrushed out the protesters’ anti-Zionism while massively exaggerating the number of participants. And while the protests are self-evidently anti-government protests, the media have played along with Yaniv’s conceit that they are apolitical protests by people who simply want to ensure that Netanyahu is indicted because he has to be guilty because they hate him.
The story of Netanyahu’s alleged corruption has led nightly newscasts countless times as breathless reporters present the public with details of investigations that are supposed to be secret. The open bias of police investigators, some of whom have openly called for the public to participate in political rallies against Netanyahu, is ignored.
Recently, the protesters decamped from Petah Tikva to the tony Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. And although most right-wing commentators and politicians acknowledge the leftist agenda of the protesters, last week Yaniv scored a significant victory. Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, one of the rabbinical leaders of the National Religious community, participated in his rally.
Cherlow wasn’t the first public personality on the Right who chose to turn against Netanyahu. Last month rightist attorney and newspaper columnist Nadav Haetzni wrote in Maariv that Netanyahu has become a burden to his political camp and must resign. Last week, Haetzni’s niece Sarah Haetzni Cohen, a columnist at Makor Rishon, and Yehuda Yifrach, Makor Rishon’s legal affairs editor, wrote side-by-side columns arguing that the nationalist camp mustn’t allow the Left to monopolize the fight against public corruption and must support the criminal probes against Netanyahu.
Yoaz Hendel is a columnist at Yediot identified with the soft Right. Ahead of the 2015 election, Tzipi Livni offered soft-rightist Hendel a spot on her leftist Knesset list.
Hendel announced this week that he is organizing an “anti-corruption” rally for members of the nationalist camp at Zion Square in Jerusalem this Saturday night. Since members of the nationalist camp don’t feel comfortable standing with protesters holding massive pro-BDS signs on Rothschild, Hendel said he decided they needed a place of their own to go to show that they don’t like corruption, (or Netanyahu).
Former MK Aryeh Eldad of the National Union Party, and Kulanu MK and coalition member Rahel Azariya, are scheduled to participate at Hendel’s protest.
The members of the nationalist camp insisting Netanyahu is bad for the Right ignore the weak foundations of the probes against him and the political bias of police investigators. They ignore as well the probable consequences for their political camp if Netanyahu is ousted from office due to these investigations.
Some of Netanyahu’s homegrown opponents like Hendel and Azariya are motivated by the belief that Netanyahu is too opposed to the leftist establishment that controls Israel’s legal system. They attack him for not stopping his party members from criticizing Israel’s activist, post-Zionist Supreme Court justices and for calling out police investigators and journalists for their bias against him.
Others, including Yifrach and Eldad, argue that Netanyahu isn’t much of a rightist since he hasn’t actively expanded construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and has not enacted significant court reform.
We’ve been here before.
The same groups from the soft and hard Right joined together twice before to overthrow right-wing governments and hand the Left the keys to the realm.
In 1992, the far-right Tehiya party brought down the government of Yitzhak Shamir. Tehiya leaders Geula Cohen and Hanan Porat on the one hand justified their behavior by pointing to the Left’s allegations that Shamir and his Likud colleagues were corrupt. On the other hand, they claimed that Shamir’s agreement to participate in then-US president George H.W. Bush’s “peace conference” in Madrid meant that he was no better than the Left.
Their action facilitated convinced enough right-wing voters that there was no difference between the Likud and Labor to bring about the Labor Party’s electoral victory in the 1992 election. A year later, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin recognized the PLO and initiated the Oslo peace process.
In 1999, the Likud’s soft-right and hard-right establishment bolted Netanyahu’s first government and formed new parties. Dan Meridor, Yitzhak Mordechai and Roni Milo left Likud and joined with leftist politicians to form the “Center Party.”
Bennie Begin abandoned his father Menachem Begin’s party to form the National Union party with far-right ideologues.
But together, they brought down Netanyahu’s government and facilitated the Left’s electoral victory and Ehud Barak’s replacement of Netanyahu as premier.
In other words, the soft Right and the hard Right paved the way for the Camp David summit and the Palestinian terrorist war that followed, as well as Israel’s surrender of south Lebanon to Hezbollah. Those events in turn brought about Israel’s surrender of Gaza and northern Samaria to the Palestinians.
Both in 1992 and 1999, the Left based its electoral campaigns on opposition to corruption and tough talk on terrorism. Rabin pledged in 1992 never to recognize the PLO or withdraw from the Golan Heights. The next year he recognized the PLO and the year after that he offered Syrian dictator Hafez Assad the Golan Heights.
In 1999 Barak assured voters that there was no possibility of reaching a permanent peace with the PLO. A year later, he offered Yasser Arafat the Temple Mount and half of Jerusalem.
We can see the same situation forming today. As prejudicial leaks from the investigation of Netanyahu’s cigars multiplied, and Yaniv received more and more air time for his anti-Netanyahu rallies, Labor leader Avi Gabbay made a series of centrist statements to the media. Last month he said he doesn’t support uprooting Israeli communities in the framework of a peace treaty. This month he said that the Left made a mistake by embracing atheism.
Yair Lapid, head of the center-left Yesh Atid party, for his part has been going out of his way to court the Right for more than a year.
The willingness of ostensibly right-wing intellectuals and politicians to make the same mistake for a third time is stunning. If Netanyahu is forced from office for receiving lots of cigars from his friends, the Likud won’t be stronger without him. An ugly battle for succession in Likud among equally uncompelling politicians will immediately ensue.
The Likud will enter the early election frayed, with a weak leader, under the pall of Netanyahu’s forced resignation.
For their part, the leftist parties, with the full support of the media that will hide their radical Knesset candidates list, will present themselves as incorruptible, moderate centrists who are tough on security and nice to poor people.
And they will win.
Yaniv, Gabbay, Lapid and the media all know that they cannot overthrow the government. They know the government will only fall if its members bring it down.
And that’s where the right-wing intellectuals come in handy. By falling yet again for the Left’s Three-card Monte corruption trick, right-wing media personalities are leading a campaign that if successful, will lead to only one outcome: the rise of the Left. And again, once it is in power, the Left never ever governs from the Right.