Prior to the Six Day War, which took place 54 years ago this month, the pages of this paper were filled with foreboding and ominous news of enemy militaries amassing adjacent to Israel’s borders. The very next issue was triumphal and jubilant – the war already had ended.
Such is one of the challenges of publishing a weekly newspaper. When a war only lasts six days, it presents difficulties for a journal that comes out every seven. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been on a twice-monthly publishing schedule, adding to the challenges of bringing you news in a time of fast change.
Of course, as regular readers know, we recognize our limitations and strengths and, as the internet has made information accessible 24/7, we have adapted to provide thoughtful, contextualizing essays and ideas, complemented by coverage of local events that only we can deliver.
Still, commenting on events that are subject to rapid flux remains a reality. This week, as we go to press, many or most observers assume that Naftali Bennett will soon replace Binyamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. Netanyahu continues to insist that such a new government represents something undemocratic. Indeed, his choice of language has been incendiary, and the imagery employed by some of his supporters veers into the realm of the demonization that we saw in the lead-up to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Whatever his political objectives, Netanyahu should beware not to lead Israel down a path of “scorched earth,” as Bennett warned this week.
Bibi seems to be taking a page from the playbook of his ally Donald Trump, who emerged again recently to rehash his lies about stolen elections and assorted nonsense, including his imminent reinstallation in the White House. While scarily huge swaths of Americans (Republicans mostly, of course) believe that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president, we have more trust in the intelligence of Israeli voters to know that whoever is prime minister by the time the dust settles is there by due process.
If, as seems likely, Netanyahu is replaced, do not expect to hear the last of him. Again, like his friend in Florida, Bibi is clearly not done yet. He has been defeated before and returned to hold the position, becoming the country’s longest-serving leader.
Perhaps the biggest variable will be whether his Likud party stands behind him, as Trump’s Republican base has apparently stood by their man. Already, Yuli Edelstein, Netanyahu’s health minister, has said he would challenge Bibi for the party leadership should they lose power.
If successful, Edelstein, or any alternative Likud leader, would almost certainly cause an immediate tectonic shift in politics. That’s because the binary in that country’s politics is now cemented as “pro-Bibi” and “anti-Bibi.” With anyone but Netanyahu at the helm, some of the right-leaning partners in the new, broad coalition would likely look afresh at a deal with the party that has, by a large margin, the most seats in the Knesset.
Netanyahu may yet pull another rabbit out of his hat before Bennett can take his place. More likely, we are about to see a political shift that will see Netanyahu out but not down. That is, he seems to have enough capital to remain a major player in Likud and Israeli politics in general. The corruption case currently proceeding against him may affect that, but it has done little so far to dislodge his defenders.
If, as smart money has it, Netanyahu is unseated in the next few days, we will truly see a new era in Israeli politics. But we would caution that such a new era will begin with a time of flux. The new coalition is unwieldy and may not hold. Netanyahu has been the centre of gravity for Israeli politics for a very long time. In his absence, everything changes.
Our next issue is June 25. We promise this: plenty will have changed by then.