For the past decade or more of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s time in office, he has faced a steady stream of criticism from senior Likud officials, but only behind closed doors and in off-the-record conversations with journalists. These officials, often presiding ministers appointed by Netanyahu himself, enjoyed voicing their critiques while knowing they wouldn’t have to pay a price: a win-win situation from their perspective.
They were unwilling to attack Netanyahu publicly not out of fear of the prime minister, but rather of the card-carrying Likud supporters and members of the party’s Central Committee. These are the people who decide the political fates of Knesset members and ministers in the party’s primaries.
Many of those who assailed Netanyahu benefited from it, but others, those who crossed the line, found themselves at home. Skilled Likud politicians know just where this line lies and how not to cross it.
Gideon Sa’ar is one of the more skilled politicians, but may have crossed the line this week. Netanyahu is fighting for his political life and personal liberty, but no less than that he is howling the cry of many in his camp.
In the wake of Thursday’s indictment by Israel’s Attorney Ggeneral Avichai Mandelblit, the atmosphere in Likud has been turbulent. The smugness of television pundits noticeably overcome with joy, coupled with the thought that the left could be gifted power by the state prosecution and police—or at the very least celebrate Netanyahu’s downfall sans democratic elections—are driving Likud supporters mad.
In party primaries, they will vote for Netanyahu without hesitation. They will rally in the squares on his behalf; they will jump on the proverbial grenade for him.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s outline for a national unity government aims directly at appeasing his party’s political base. The more extreme left cannot stomach the notion of any cooperation with Likud—not just with Netanyahu, but also with Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Knesset member Miki Zohar.
From their point of view, this entire group is an illegitimate partner. Gantz isn’t angling for their support, nor is he targeting those Likud voters who still believe Netanyahu will one day bring them another government.
And even if he can’t, Netanyahu jumping ship now or waving the white flag could have far-reaching implications for the entire right-wing camp. Taking into account the general sense that law-enforcement agencies have helped topple the prime minister of the right on exceedingly dubious grounds, it stands to reason that when the next leader runs amok they will do the same to him.
The fact that those in the attorney general’s circle are weighing the option of prohibiting Netanyahu from receiving the president’s mandate to form the next government, which essentially means dismissal before the trial, is only further proof of this.
Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.