PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting of the Right-wing parties bloc at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. 

Last week, Cleveland Jewish News columnist Cliff Savren laid out what could be next in terms of Israel possibly heading for an unprecedented third national election in one year and the failings of the current prime minister. He didn’t hold back on his contempt for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that’s OK because he is not alone. There are plenty of Israelis and Americans who feel the same way.

I am not going to argue with any of Savren’s serious issues with Netanyahu because I feel the same way about many of them.

That is not to say that “Bibi” has not done very good things for this country – the economy, security, relations with other countries throughout the world, to name a few.

But it appears he thought he would always be around to handle things. That he is, perhaps, irreplaceable.

Or maybe it is just too difficult for him to see another person assume the office of prime minister.

Did he possibly think that they would carry him feet first out the door of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem after I don’t know how many consecutive terms?

This is my absolute biggest problem with Netanyahu – that he did not groom a successor.

He has just been indicted on charges in three separate corruption cases and he still thinks that he can lead the party and the country.

Technically, he can. He does not have to resign as prime minister unless he is convicted and a final decision has come down on an appeal of such conviction.

But why should we have to wait for that?

The Likud Party reportedly will hold leadership elections in the next six weeks or so, before the threatened third elections, but probably later than sooner. This is too bad, because if the party could have managed to hold snap primaries, it would have allowed the winner, even if it were Netanyahu, to emerge strong enough to form a government in the few days left before President Reuven Rivlin has to declare that the country will go to an unprecedented third election in less than a year.

So far, the only Likud lawmaker publicly willing to challenge Netanyahu for leadership of the party is Gideon Saar.

Saar, who is third on the Likud Party list of lawmakers, has been popular with party members, receiving the highest vote totals next to Netanyahu in party primaries in 2008 and 2012. In late 2014, Saar took a hiatus from politics, returning in 2017 and re-entering the Knesset in 2019.

Many Likud lawmakers have in previous years been Netanyahu’s “teacher’s pet,” believing themselves to be the one that Bibi would anoint to be the party leader after he retired. Who knew he would hang on for so long?

Among those pets was Avigdor Lieberman, now head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and the man who could make Netanyahu prime minister again. Lieberman was director-general of the Likud Party from 1993 to 1996, and Netanyahu named him director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 1997, when he resigned from the party and formed his own.

Another pet who formed his own party was Naftali Bennett, who served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2008, when Netanyahu led the opposition. He also ran Netanyahu’s primary campaign to lead the Likud Party in August 2007. In 2012, in part because he saw that the Likud was not his future, Bennett jumped ship for The Jewish Home party, which he ultimately led, and in 2018, he and Ayelet Shaked formed the New Right Party. Earlier this month, Netanyahu made Bennett the country’s defense minister, a portfolio that Netanyahu had been holding.

There are several Likud lawmakers who have been biding their time and hoping to slide into the leadership position after it is vacated by Netanyahu. This as they continue to proclaim loyalty to their already-indicted party leader. These include Yisrael Katz, Gilad Erdan, and Miri Regev.

But a Likud Party without Bibi at its head could face disaster. A recent Channel 12 poll found that in a third election Likud would garner 32 or 33 seats when led by Netanyahu, but only 26 with a different party head.

I hope Netanyahu will be ousted in the coming party primaries. Let him focus on the business of defending himself against the charges in the indictments. Let another party lawmaker go about the business of running the party and, ultimately, a new government.


Marcy Oster is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Karnei Shomron, West Bank. To read more of Oster’s columns, visit cjn.org/oster.

Disclaimer

Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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