Bibi pledge ‘turns pollies into puppets’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media after the Knesset voted to dissolve itself, May 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

BENJAMIN Netanyahu has been criticised for taking personality politics to a new level – by having 40 top Likud candidates pledge their allegiance to him.

“Netanyahu’s paranoia has crossed all reasonable lines,” claimed Labour Party leader Amir Peretz. 

Ehud Barak, who is heading the Democratic Camp, said that Bibi has turned his politicians into “puppets”.

The pledge of allegiance came about after the politician who forced new elections said that he may circumvent Netanyahu after the September vote, and consider making another Likud lawmaker PM.

Soon after Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beytenu, outlined this possibility, Netanyahu started talking about a “shady plot” to unseat him. Likud politicians were presented with a pledge, which Netanyahu welcomed for making his party “more unified than ever”.

But critics said it had little to do with the good of the Likud party, and everything to do with Netanyahu’s survival. 

Three corruption cases are expected to come to a head for Bibi soon after the election. This has led some in Likud to wonder whether the leader who was always their trump card is becoming a liability – especially as Blue and White is open to a unity government with Likud if led by anyone but Bibi. Netanyahu wants to end the discussion about a possible leadership change. 

“Netanyahu is the only Likud candidate for prime minister and there will be no other candidate,” states the pledge. 

Political scientist Gideon Rahat told The AJN that this unexpected twist in the election campaign has come about because Netanyahu is more worried about internal challenges from within Likud than the strength of rival parties. 

“He’s afraid that his support within Likud will collapse and he’s doing his best to retain it,” said Rahat, who researches at the Israel Democracy Institute and Hebrew University. “He sees his biggest challenge coming from in Likud and he’s doing his best to counter it.”

Rahat said that the trend towards personality politics in Israel is relatively new. “Everything today is about specific personalities. It’s something that wouldn’t have been imaginable in old times here.”

Even the state’s founder, David Ben Gurion, got burnt when he tried to push his personality above his party. In 1965, Ben Gurion broke away from the dominant Mapai party, which still won 45 seats in the election, while his Rafi party won just 10. 

Rahat has assessed the growth of personality politics in 24 parliamentary democracies, using 11 measures, and found that it is most pronounced in Israel and Italy. “People are talking about politics in terms of personalities and not parties, and journalists see it as a personality competition,” he commented. 

“The real veteran parties like Labour and Meretz suffer, while smaller personality parties succeed, and Likud becomes highly personalised.” 

As well as fighting over the rights and wrongs of Netanyahu’s loyalty pledge this week, politicians have been clashing on what Israel should look like as a Jewish state. 

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of United Right told a conference of rabbis: “We all want the State of Israel to follow Torah and halachah, we just can’t because there are people who think differently and we have to get along with them.”

Lieberman said it was “incredible” that Smotrich, who has been attacked for similar comments in the past, restated his position. He predicted that Smotrich’s party will be left out in the cold after the election. Addressing Smotrich, Lieberman said that the next government will be a “broad liberal national government, without you and without anyone trying to force a state of law on us”.