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Uncivil War  

A narrow right-wing government should be able to last through the summer session


For a perfect example of the stark contrast between the state of the nation and the conduct of its leaders, one had only to drop by at the commencement of the Knesset’s darkest summer session since the founding of the state. Despite the war, the atmosphere inside the building shows that nothing has changed.

On the first day of the session, May 22, mounted police were lined up across the road outside the chamber to greet Kaplan demonstrators who promised to appear in force, but ended up making a rather anemic showing. Driving on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road on what was announced as a “day of sabotage” showed me that the protest is struggling to get off the ground, with numbers far below what we were accustomed to during the judicial reform protests, before the outbreak of the war.

To overcome the embarrassment, the demonstrators armed themselves with megaphones that reverberated well inside the building, which bustled with lobbyists and activists — as if there was no war going on. One could compare it to passengers squabbling over catering arrangements on a sinking ship.


What perhaps best reflected the bubble inhabited by Israel’s political class was the Likud faction meeting, attended by a black-shirted Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Likud MKs, especially backbenchers, showed up in combative mood to call out Gallant’s repeated public tiffs with the prime minister.

Bibi himself is avoiding escalating tensions with his defense minister, but his proxies in the Likud faction did the job for him, as usual. Backbench Knesset members whose names you’ve likely never heard, such as Amit Halevi, Tali Gotlieb, and Moshe Saadah, yelled at Gallant, “Who do you want to give the power to?” and termed his management of the war a “colossal failure.”

Gallant, who learned the art of politics in the school of Moshe Kahlon’s now defunct Kulanu Party, is one politician who’s never above a good fight, no matter how high his position. He ignored the junior members with blatant contempt, and when Economy and Industry Minister Nir Barkat chimed in to demand why he’d approved the entry of Palestinian workers into Israel in defiance of the cabinet’s decision, Gallant called him a serial liar.

The atmosphere in the Likud faction merely reflected the feeling in the Knesset as a whole. Members of Knesset continue to bicker, insult, and snub. Gone is all the tsk-tsking of, “Together we’ll win.” All the talk about unity and cohesion we’ve heard from politicians since October 7 has faded into smoke.

The prime minister and defense minister, who are waging a bloody war against a common foe, are simultaneously locked in a bitter political struggle against each other. We’ve gotten used to the noise, but what highlighted the magnitude of the crisis at the Likud faction meeting was the moment it strayed outside Israeli politics, with the news of ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan’s decision to seek arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant. In an instant, the Likud faction meeting went from a chaotic melee to a spontaneous show of support for the embattled prime minister and defense minister.

Like it or not, ever since they fell asleep on their watch on October 7 — or weren’t woken by the chief of staff, in their version — Netanyahu and Gallant’s fates are inextricably linked. The request to issue arrest warrants against them and Sinwar is beyond outrageous — not only on the part of the ICC prosecutor, but also because it draws attention to the small-mindedness of local politicians who are engaged in a civil war at the same time they should be uniting against our shared enemy.


The prime minister’s Wing of Zion aircraft took off last weekend on a test flight to Rome loaded with Guinea pigs, in the form of satisfied civil servants enjoying the luxuries of the jetliner at the height of the war — but after the prosecutor’s decision, no flights to Europe are on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s or Defense Minister Gallant’s calendars.

But on the political level, the low point of the chief prosecutor’s announcement in the Hague was only a boost. There’s no one like our prime minister when it comes to leveraging a common enemy.

The immediate dividend was the entire political system, with the exception of the Arab Hadash–Ta’al Party and the increasingly out-of-touch Labor Party, coming out in support of the prime minister. Benny Gantz, chairman of National Unity, sitting in the war cabinet on borrowed time, was forced to shelve his aggressive speech against the prime minister and come out in his defense.

Gideon Saar, who planned to open the session with a blitz from the podium against the government’s weakness, made it clear that he would not support a vote of no confidence against the government. Netanyahu’s associates spoke again on Monday evening about the Saar option, as a force to be added to the coalition after Gantz’s withdrawal. As in almost every political event over the past year, Netanyahu’s circle remembered to take action only when the horses had bolted the stable.

Had Shas chairman Aryeh Deri’s view been adopted a month ago, Saar would currently be a member of the war cabinet, slowly paving his way back to the right-wing bloc.

“Don’t demand any commitment from him in advance,” Deri told Netanyahu, who characteristically postponed giving an answer, as he also did to Finance Minister Smotrich, who demanded a war cabinet seat alongside Saar.

“The trust with Saar needs to be rebuilt gradually,” Deri explained. “Once he’s in the war cabinet, you’ll be able to discuss other issues as well, but if you try to negotiate everything in advance, you’ll push him away, and we’ll be left with a limited support base after Gantz pulls out of the coalition.”

As Chazal said: A wise man is preferable to a prophet, especially a false one.

Netanyahu isn’t looking back. Saar is a factor, but only one of many, in Netanyahu’s plan for political survival through the summer session. A narrow right-wing government without Gantz, who’s become more an obstacle than a help, should be able to last through the summer session, which is only ten weeks long.

In order to survive the “asarah shavuos,” Netanyahu schemed up a plan to advance the draft law proposed by Benny Gantz during the previous government, behind Gallant’s back.

“I don’t understand what you’re complaining about. After all, you said you would only approve a bill accepted by Benny Gantz, so with you in mind we brought forward the proposal made by Beny Gantz in the last term,” Netanyahu mockingly remarked to his defense minister and bitter rival, who complained that the decision was made without his consent.

The two certainly know how to fight each other. If only they devoted some of their talent to fighting Israel’s real enemies.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1013)

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