6/17/2016 Is this the beginning of the end for Netanyahu?

The political landscape of Israel shifted yesterday. For the first time, in quite some time there was a sense there is a real opposition to the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yesterday, at the Herzliya Conference former Defense Minster and Army Chief of Staff Moshe “Bougie” Ya’alon announced he was going to run in the next election to become Prime Minister. In an acerbic address Ya’alon lambasted the current government. He began his speech by recalling the fact that during the Yom Kippur War he was a young soldier, and that then it felt like the very existence of the state was at stake, however, since then, that has not been the case. Instead, Ya’alon contended that Netanyahu uses security as a means of scaring the population and diverting the debate away from the other problems Israel faces. Yaalon confided,

“If there is something that deprives me of sleep, it is the fissures in Israeli society – the erosion of basic values – the attempt to hurt the Israel Defense Forces in a way that endangers its might. Our leadership has become reactive and tempestuous rather than leading an exemplary society here”.

Ya’alon went on to say that Israel needs a leadership that does not divide between Arabs and Jews, Left-wing and Right-wing, just to gain a few more days in office. Ya’alon asserted that the country deserves a government that strengthens the court system, instead of attacking it – even when it disagrees with the court’s decision; and that the country deserves a government that fights for the freedom of the press, rather than trying to control it. The former Defense Minister’s words were received enthusiastically by the usually reserved audience at the Herzliya Conference on Israeli security (held annually at the Inter-Disciplinary College in Herzliya).

If Ya’alon’s speech was not potent enough, in the evening Ehud Barak (another former Defense Minister/former Prime Minister/Former Army Chief of Staff) delivered an even more blistering attack on the Netanyahu government. Among other assertions Barak stated:

“The Prime Minister’s ‘Hitlerization’ of the various regional threats, dangerous as they may be, is Holocaust degradation at its worst.”

Barak also lamented that

“in world capitals,– no leader believes even one word from Netanyahu and his government. The government’s hidden agenda will enlist the entire world against us, undermine Israeli society, tear it from within and sever us from the next generation of American Jews.”

Barak proclaimed that if the current government does not change direction, then we must bring the government down.

Barak and Ya’alon are not personally close, and yet their speeches were remarkably identical – with the same basic criticism of a government whose policies are leading Israel off the cliff, combined with a shared profoundly personal criticism of Netanyahu – i.e. that Netanyahu’s only real policy was to stay in power.

Netanyahu responded to Yaalon’s allegations with televised remarks, in which the Prime Minister stated:

“You cannot express full faith in the leadership when you are inside and say the complete opposite when you are outside, therefore, no importance should be attributed to such political barbs.”

This verbal barrage yesterday came following a string of bad news for Netanyahu, which included: a scathing State Controller’s report; his wife lost two court cases, in which former employees sought damages ‘for pain and suffering’ inflicted on them while working at the official residence of the Prime Minister; and reports of money received by the Prime Minister from accused French embezzler Arnaud Mimran. In addition, Netanyahu’s hand-picked Attorney General announced this week that Netanyahu (who also currently serves as the Communication Minister) cannot be involved in any decisions related to Israel’s main phone company, cable company and Satellite provider because of a conflict of interest created by his close friendship with the controlling owner of Israel's leading telecommunication provider. Finally, there was the forced disclosure that the Prime Minister’s last four-day trip to New York cost Israeli tax payers $1.6 million dollars, and included $1,600 charge for a personal hairdresser.

In the past few years Netanyahu opponents, regardless of however talented, seemed no match for him – either in security area or possessing comparable levels of experience. With Ya’alon’s entry into the fray those deficits have officially changed. The current government can boast having two Brigadier Generals, one as Housing Minister, and one as Cultural Minister (thought there are none in the inner cabinet.) On the other hand, almost every former living Army Chief of Staff and Defense Minister has now publicly voiced their opposition to the policies of the current government.

Will Israel’s hopelessly split opposition be able to set aside their own petty egos to finally present a credible opposition to Netanyahu? That is the question most of Tel Aviv residents are asking themselves this morning.