“As a just and healthy person is governed by knowledge and reason, a just society must be under the control of society’s most cultivated and best informed minds, its “lovers of wisdom.” ~ Plato
The Lion of the Likud party is now fighting for his political life and his freedom. The battle begins in the Knesset between Netanyahu supporters and everyone else. The Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, as the number two man in the Likud Party, is in a delicate position politically with his dual role.
He received a letter from Bibi and his block parties on Tuesday, January 14, demanding he stop work on forming a House Committee which would have a majority for voting against immunity but would still need to win a full Knesset vote.
Benny Gantz responded to that challenge with, “Netanyahu has requested parliamentary immunity, well aware that part of the discussion would entail a review of the request itself. He cannot both have requested immunity and demand that his request not be discussed.”
Bibi’s strategy is to have it his way as always. He wants the immunity discussion delayed until after the next election which he hopes to win, where if he can form a government, he will have immunity for his full term.
His political enemies are tired of him holding the country hostage and want to vote no on the immunity now so his prosecution will begin, with many considering this would kill his chance of winning re-election, and the country could move on to realign itself politically.
When Netanyahu began the new year by requesting the Knesset give him immunity from prosecution, some pundits had posed that it was unknown whether he would do so, something that came as a big surprise to me. The man has a long history of using scorched earth tactics when fighting for his political existence, where delaying tactics are critical to buying time, in this case to derail the prosecution somehow.
Bibi is also not a man to bet on just one horse to save himself. We just found out he had another plan to play the indispensable war leader by making a major incursion into Syria. The Jerusalem Post reported on January 4th that Attorney General Mandelblit had intervened to stop his initiating a large-scale operation in late December to target Iranian facilities, and to expand it to Lebanon if Hezbollah resisted.
Mandelblit blocked the operation on the grounds there was no sitting cabinet to authorize such an action. This was the 2nd time that Bibi had tried to use the IDF offensive operations to advertise himself as a wartime leader, the first being just before the last election over two rockets fired in protest of Bibi’s political event near Gaza.
He had attempted to initiate retaliatory airstrikes without the involvement of either Shin Bet or the IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, another case of Bibi’s willingness to use anything and everything at his disposal to maintain power as prime minister to block his prosecutions. NEO carried my story on this event September 21st, 2019.
Can Bibi pull a political rabbit out of his hat?
Since the dust had settled after the second election debacle, leaving Israeli voters looking at their third election in a year, Mr. Netanyahu has had time with his team to carefully plan his next political and legal case moves.
This was apparent when he made his carefully constructed January 1 TV appearance on his request for immunity. Everyone was waiting to see how he would deal with his Channel 12 News question last March on whether if he would ask for it and he answered, “What? No way. The answer is no.”
One would think that was an insurmountable credibility leap to overcome, but the master politician that he is, that is what he attempted. Bibi has circus showman genes in his DNA and understands the power of staging and presentation to hold an audience.
Leviathan gas operations used for theater
He featured the turning on of the Leviathan gas rig operations, ten years in the making, that are going to bring tens of billions into Israel’s public coffers as if he were Moses presenting the ten commandments. He didn’t say that he had created the gas in the field, but left the impression that without him, it never would have happened…classic Bibi.
Bibi does have a God-complex, meaning that he feels he is beyond criticism on anything he has done. The prosecutors and police investigators are left wingers wanting to frame him, Attorney General Mandelblit framed him, and all of his detractors hate right wingers and will do anything to depose him as their leader. He has labeled all his legal charges as nothing more than a legal coup attempt to remove him.
Netanyahu made a mistake in that Israelis surely remember that Ehud Olmert of the Left was charged, convicted and went to jail. Olmert does not claim to this day that the charges were unjust. He got caught taking a bribe, something woven into politics all over the world. He served his time and went on with his life.
Bibi imports Trump team to revive his fortunes
Bibi’s advisory team had to choose between making a low key request and moving on to other issues, or making a big media splash of the request. He decided to take the latter route, with many feeling that was what the former Trump team advisors he hired steered him toward.
The tactics used were borrowed from the Trump campaign. He was relaxed and smiling during his TV announcement, like he did not have a worry in the world. He did rallies and town hall meetings non-stop, four of five on some days. He had a laser focus on holding his Likud base together, which so far has blocked all comers from unseating him as Prime Minister.
Immunity means whatever I say it means
“I intend to continue to lead Israel for many more years [in pursuit of] historical achievements…that once we could only dream of and now are actually within reach. Together we will strengthen our economy. We will stop Iran. We will determine our borders. We will enter into a defense pact with the United States. We will forge peace with additional Arab countries. And we will extend sovereignty over the land…we have turned Israel into the world’s eight most powerful country.”
The above was all warmup lather for what he was about to spring on them, a carefully framed new presentation of the immunity issue.
“Many of you think, because it’s what you’ve been told, that immunity for elected officials is permanent; that it enables [a suspect] never to stand trial. This is simply not true.
“According to the law, immunity is always temporary, ending with the term the Knesset that granted it. If the Knesset is incumbent for three months, for example, as is currently that case, the immunity is canceled after three months. According to the law, there is no possibility, for anyone, to avoid standing trial.”
He went on to cover his former “No way “[he would ask for immunity] in the Channel 12 interview. He said, “I meant those words then, and I am not retracting them now… I didn’t promote of change any law. I intend to appear in court to smash the unfounded libels against me.”
So he tells them he is requesting immunity, but standing by his statement of “No way”, courtesy of some fancy interpretation footwork. It reminds me of the famous line in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “When I use a word, it means exactly what I want it to mean, nothing less, and nothing more.”
Gantz has his say, not a good day
Benny Gantz was quick to respond, but seemed to not have gotten advance notice on what Bibi was going to say and was not prepared to rebut any of it, poor staff work from his team. Gantz had to stick to past statements.
“Netanyahu knows he’s guilty…A person who believes his is innocent is not afraid to stand trial. Either we will have a radical immunity government or a unified national one…Immunity is not the bedrock of democracy; it is a detriment to democracy. Blue and White will make every possible legal effort to establish the Knesset House Committee in order to prevent immunity from those indicted for crimes.”
The weakness in Bibi’s argument is that if he feels the charges against him could be defeated in court, he could have agreed to a coalition government with Gantz, letting him take the first two years while Bibi fought and defeated his charges, and then could have picked up the Prime Minister mantel after two years, or at worst four years.
What I suspect is that he is bluffing. The prosecution has a witness list of 330 people. No prosecutors in their right mind would even dream of railroading someone and having to coordinate 330 stories. They would all go crazy during the trial.
Judges and layers versus the voters
Netanyahu’s immunity lecture will have to be answered clearly and directly by current Israeli legal authorities. Fortunately, being a small country, higher court rulings do not take years to resolve like in the US. The political battle lines are now drawn and there are not many crossover votes to be had. Those who would sell their votes already have.
Bibi’s detractors view him as holding the country hostage to save his own skin, and frankly the Likud might even admit that privately, that their goal is to rule the country exactly the way they want, like occupiers many would say, in that they have utter disdain for views other than their own. What’s not to love about that?
The problem with the opposition is the Israeli ego, with so many wanting to be the boss and tell everyone else what to do. They end up as slaves to their own ideologies, when democracy has always been a compromise form of government.
Benny Gantz is polling ahead of Netanyahu, with his four seat lead expanding to six. But Israeli polls are small, in the 500 to 700 range, which makes them weak indicators. Even if he were to beat Bibi in the March election, they could see a repeat of no one being able to form a government again. Israel might run out of anti-depressants if this continues.
It has me thinking of the great political irony that maybe the Israelis have entrapped themselves in their own “political Gaza”, a kind of purgatory for the sufferings they have visited upon the Palestinians.
Jim W. Dean, managing editor for Veterans Today, producer/host of Heritage TV Atlanta, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.