By Caleb Mills
Benjamin Netanyahu, or ‘Bibi’ as he’s commonly called, has never been what you’d call ‘squeaky’ clean. Going back for nearly 20 years, Israel’s Prime Minister has been dodging indictments and convictions like it’s simply part of the job. Luckily for him, hardliners in his ruling Conservative Likud Party were never that interested in purity so much as electability. A month out from the general elections and it seems that both those traits, as well Netanyahu’s entire government, are running scared for their political life.
In late February, the prime minister was indicted by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s office on charges of bribery, fraud, and public breach of trust. Netanyahu was quick to accuse that Mandelblit’s office, whom he had appointed, was infiltrated and turned against him by left-wing operatives. “The left understands that they will not beat me at the ballot box,” Netanyahu said. “They exerted extraordinary pressure on the attorney general to issue an indictment even though there is nothing, in order to influence the elections and to crown a left-wing government.”
Bibi may be comfortability using these types of theatrics to save his skin; a man who’s been in politics this long has a few tricks up his sleeve. But after 13 years as leader of the fledgling Jewish state, Netanyahu has proven through his skillful political maneuvering both at home and abroad that staying in power at any cost has undoubtedly replaced any semblance of governmental responsibility he ever possessed. If there was ever any at all.
Netanyahu has made it clear he is taking a nativist path towards re-election, seeking to unite Israel’s far-right parties in order to secure his precious majority. Otzma Yehudit, or ‘Jewish Power, is his new partner in crime (No pun intended) and their background couldn’t be more sketchy. Yehudit’s leaders are known as strong followers of extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose own party was barred from entering the Knesset in the 1980s. Later, his organization was listed as a terrorist group by the United States government.
Although Kahane himself was killed in 1990, his ideas still inspire far-right leaders in Israel to this day, such as Netanyahu’s new allies. Among the rabbi’s most revered beliefs were eliminating Israel’s democratic government and replacing it with a theocratic model, banning intermarriage between Arabs and Jews, as well as annexing the entire Palestinian state.
Otzma Yehudit has made a concentrated effort to mold themselves into more of a ‘alt-right’ image in recent years, but their roots stick out like a sore thumb at every turn. They still believe in annexing the Palestinian territories and seizing the Temple Mount. In fact, many of its leaders hold celebrations in honor of Baruch Goldstein, a fellow follower of Kahane who massacred 29 Arab civilians at a mosque in 1994.
The far-right parties that Netanyahu is courting are not popular; Yehudit doesn’t hold a single seat in the Knesset. Even overseas in America, his most fervent supporters seem to be jumping ship. The American Jewish Committee issued a statement calling Otzma Yehudit’s ideas “reprehensible,” adding that they “do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee concurred with that statement, noting their group has a “longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party.”
But the prime minister understands his path to victory lies in consolidating the Israeli right wing before April’s contest at any cost; particularly in the face of a new alliance led by former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Along with Yair Lapid, a former journalist and longtime foe of Netanyahu, Gantz merged several center-left political factions to create the ‘Blue and White” coalition.
“We all need a government that solves our real problems and is not preoccupied with itself,” Gantz said during his launch rally, “I thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his service for 10 years. We will continue from here.”
Gantz and his allies’ confidence are not entirely misplaced; they are fast becoming the greatest threat Bibi has ever faced, a fact which is clearly not lost on the prime minister. “We may have a left-wing, Lapid-Gantz government relying on Arab parties. A government like this will destroy our economy. Sooner or later, probably sooner, they will establish a Palestinian state… that will endanger our existence,” Netanyahu has loudly claimed. Polls are showing that Blue and White could beat Likud by up to 10 seats in the Knesset. But It’s obvious that Netanyahu’s politically motivated attacks are nothing but exactly that.
Gantz personally oversaw two successful campaigns against Hamas in the Palestinian territories between 2011-2015, and his party’s first slogan was, “there is no more Right and Left, there is only Israel before everything.” Traditional political rhetoric is not what Gantz and his allies are running on, and that’s exactly why he’s currently ahead of Likud. “The reason why polls are high for Gantz is because he brings something new, he is shaking the political arena,” former Netanyahu advisor Orit Galili-Zucker told the Guardian.
Benjamin Netanyahu, with his enormous but slipping influence on international politics, with his slew of corruption scandals going back decades, and unnecessarily extremist tactics, has overstayed his welcome. It’s time for him to go. Maybe Gantz said it best himself:
“No Israeli leader is a king.”
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