The Jerusalem Post
Operation Optimize the Opposition
Netanyahu is presenting himself as an opposition leader with endless energy, but he is taking risks that could lead to rebellions in Likud
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s prowess as prime minister will undoubtedly be debated forever.
But he has unquestionably proven himself an effective leader of the opposition during the previous times he has held the title.
Netanyahu brought down prime ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert much quicker than anyone could have expected. Their terms were among the shortest of Israel’s prime ministers, and they each left office in a way that left a bitter taste in their mouths.
But in his last term as opposition leader, Netanyahu had the benefit of a pair of especially effective aides: His chief of staff, Naftali Bennett, and his bureau chief, Ayelet Shaked.
It is no secret that neither of them work for him now. It is currently Netanyahu’s job to try to outsmart the two of them.
To that end, Netanyahu has led the opposition through two weeks of allnight filibusters. He has tried to wear out and fluster his opponents, while portraying himself as an indefatigable Energizer Bunny who posts videos on social media looking fresh after a full night in the Knesset plenum. He tweeted his joy at 7:10 a.m. Tuesday after staying in the plenum since 4 p.m. the previous day.
Shaked and most of the ministers have quit the Knesset via the Norwegian Law, which allows ministers to resign from the parliament in favor of the next candidate on their party’s list and return at their expense if they leave the cabinet. But Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid remain Knesset members, and the latter flew to his historic visit in the United Arab
Emirates immediately after a night full of voting on endless amendments.
Netanyahu is proud of his accomplishments as opposition leader, even though he has not yet defeated the coalition, which enjoys a razor-thin
majority in the plenum and the Knesset committees. A tie vote in the Knesset Arrangements Committee was applauded by opposition MKs, until a recount proved they had lost that vote, too.
Despite his successes, Likud MKs warned this week in private conversations that Netanyahu is taking too many risks and making too many mistakes. They said anger over these
decisions remain under the surface but could eventually boil over and cause the former prime minister serious problems in his own party.
First of all, not every Likud MK is as excited about the filibusters as Netanyahu.
Former coalition chairman Miki Zohar told The Jerusalem Post that he is ready to go on voting all night for as long as it takes.
“When we promised to fight, we meant every word,” Zohar said. “With God’s help, we will win our struggle and topple this evil government as soon as possible.”
But a former Likud cabinet minister told the Post between votes in the Knesset cafeteria that Netanyahu’s parliamentary strategy was
“My only sleep was for an hour and a half on the couch in my office in the Knesset,” he lamented. “I can do this for another week, maybe two. But there is no way it’s going on like this for more than a month.”
MKs in the coalition said passing a two-year state budget next month would prove to Likud MKs that the government will not be falling any time soon and take away the motivation of even the most energetic MKs in the opposition.
The second risky step Netanyahu has taken is publicly shaming Likud MKs who miss even the most irrelevant votes in the plenum at any time of day or night. The shaming messages are posted on the Likud website and shared on Facebook and Twitter, as well as in Likud activists’ WhatsApp groups.
Last week, the MKs shamed were Ofir Akunis, Fateen Mulla and Miri
Regev, who did not take the public criticism from inside her party well. This week, former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein was slammed for having the chutzpah to pair off with Lapid to enable the foreign minister to dedicate an embassy and consulate in the UAE.
MKs Avi Dichter and Mulla again were shamed and told they “caused great harm to the nationalist camp.”
One of the shamed MKs, who missed a vote to take his wife to the hospital, said he made a point of not protesting publicly, because he did not want his wife’s condition to be revealed to the public. But privately, he admitted he was very angry at Netanyahu.
Mulla was greatly insulted that his loyalty to the Likud was questioned. He made a point of tweeting unambiguously: “I was born in Likud, and I will die in Likud.”
The third step Netanyahu took that has angered MKs in his party is insisting that all of the other 29 MKs in the party vote against a bill preventing family reunification of Palestinians
with Israeli-Arabs, even though the Likud has passed the bill every year, including in the cabinet just last month.
The move is intended to put pressure on the coalition and highlight its internal divides between MKs who see the bill as essential for Israeli security and strong opponents of the bill in Meretz and Ra’am (United Arab List). That pressure has indeed proven effective as voting on the bill has been postponed five times, due to a lack of support.
But Dichter, who is a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), has publicly campaigned in favor of the bill and tried to woo Likud MKs to his side. MK Yuval Steinitz has said he also wants to vote for the bill but would respect faction discipline if a decision was made to oppose it.
Dichter has made no such promise, saying he is not ready to give up yet. He met for close to an hour on the matter with Netanyahu, who immediately proposed a compromise to the coalition after they met.
He accused Netanyahu of putting petty politics ahead of Israel’s security. Other Likud MKs privately accused Netanyahu of worse.
In the compromise, which the coalition publicly rejected within minutes, Netanyahu offered to have Likud MKs vote to extend the current family reunification ordinance by two months in return for the coalition backing the passage of a stronger immigration law.
The fourth step Netanyahu took was announcing that compromise to the media at a meeting of opposition party leaders, instead of telling the Likud MKs privately first.
Regev and MK Yoav Gallant, a former IDF deputy chief of staff, criticized Netanyahu for offering the compromise via the press without updating the MKs.
“We decided that we were going against it,” Regev said. “We need to vote against it first.”
The fifth step Netanyahu has taken that angered MKs in his party was actually the first of the five chronologically,
but the anger is still raw. He offered a rotation as prime minister to the leaders of four other parties but made no serious offer to anyone in Likud.
Shas leader Arye Deri told the Knesset plenum that such offers were made to MKs Yariv Levin, Steinitz and Dichter, who could have been the Dmitry Medvedev (temporary puppet leader) to Netanyahu’s Vladimir Putin. All three said no one made such an offer to them personally.
One source in Likud said the names were offered to Bennett and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, who agreed only to Steinitz, because they knew Steinitz was stubborn and could not be anyone’s puppet.
Even the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom reported on Thursday that there is anger in Likud at Netanyahu. Under the headline “the knives are coming out in Likud,” former ministers complained that Netanyahu has nothing to give, no jobs and no budget.
“There is no one in the party who
thinks he really cares about them,” a former Likud minister and MK told the paper.
This anger at Netanyahu is lurking just when the coalition is making splitting the party its top priority. On Monday night, a bill passed in its first reading that would enable four MKs to break off from a party to form a new faction. The current law requires at least a third of the party – 11 MKs in the Likud’s case – for that to happen.
MKs in the coalition admitted they had little hope for attracting four MKs from Likud. But they said passing the bill would create more mistrust and suspicion in Netanyahu’s party. Former Likud MK and current New Hope faction head Sharren Haskel expressed optimism.
“We believe that in a month’s time [Likud MKs] will comprehend that they are stuck in the opposition and will prepare to join the coalition,” she said.
If that happens, Netanyahu’s prowess as leader of the opposition would no longer be unquestionable. •