Pretty much everyone is saying that Netanyahu folded and lost the battle over the appointment of the Justice Minister by agreeing today to approve Blue&White’s Benny Gantz for the job, especially after putting up such a stink yesterday that it turned into the Israeli version of a Constitutional crisis.
Some are saying it pushed Sa’ar and Bennett deeper into Yair Lapid’s open arms. Others claim it was the action of a desperate man who knows it’s almost over.
But Netanyahu walked into the Cabinet meeting yesterday with his allies ready and prepared to stand beside him. There was nothing unpredictable as to how it would unfold once put to a vote for (or against) Gantz. To assume that Netanyahu was tilting at windmills or that he wasn’t taking advantage of this manufactured crisis to deliver a message to a whole slew of people is to really underestimate Netanyahu.
I say that while everyone else is busy playing checkers, Netanyahu continues to play chess.
Let’s look at two salient facts:
(1) The High Court inserted themselves into the middle of a political battle of wills between Netanyahu and Gantz, and in a way that was not to Netanyahu’s favor.
(2) In response, Netanyahu cynically did what they demanded, but not what they intended, and then all hell broke loose.
Let’s look at the individual messages that Netanyahu broadcasted with this little act:
- Netanyahu stood up to the High Court and stuck out his tongue at them. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was a major act of open defiance that he has rarely displayed against them.
- The majority of the cabinet stood up together with Netanyahu against the High Court and stuck out their collective tongues at them, also in an act of open defiance.
- Netanyahu openly ignored, contradicted, and even denigrated AG Mandelblit.
- Netanyahu instructed Mandelblit as to what message Mandeblit needs to deliver to the High Court in Netanyahu’s and the government’s name.
- Netanyahu told Mandelblit that Mandelblit’s rulings are irrelevant.
- Netanyahu forced the High Court into the very uncomfortable position where they were going to need to rule on Netanyahu’s actions, which unlike Mandelblit’s claims, may have been quite legal.
- Netanyahu ran roughshod over Benny Gantz, while repeatedly saying if only the court gave him more time, they could have reached a mutually acceptable agreement.
- Netanyahu explicitly told the court and the AG that they overstepped their legal mandates and interfered with the political process.
So what was Netanyahu’s overriding message here and who was it to?
Primarily it was to Gideon Sa’ar and a little bit to Bennett.
Netanyahu drew a line in the sand, stepped over it, and showed Sa’ar that Netanyahu and his allies will now openly stand with Sa’ar to reform the judiciary. Whereas Lapid’s people will do all they can to protect the current broken Judicial system.
That’s a major message. Netanyahu is telling, no, showing Sa’ar that he will give Sa’ar his full backing, which he won’t get from Lapid.
The secondary message to Sa’ar and Bennett is that a “parity coalition” with Lapid, where Sa’ar and Bennett are in the absolute minority, will not work. It only works for as long as the actual majority partner decides it will work, and they will step on you when they decide to.
Netanyahu didn’t let it get as far as the ruling, but he made it clear enough that the situation wasn’t black and white (or fifty-fifty) as most claimed, and that Bennett and Sa’ar can and will find themselves outvoted in Lapid’s cabinet on issues dear to them, and when they try to take their losing vote to court (a court they won’t be allowed to reform), they stand a good chance of losing.
If the two of them have any smarts, that’s a scary message that the pair of them are hopefully busy digesting right now.
There was also a small message to Gantz in there.
Netanyahu was telling and showing Gantz that he would still work with him if Gantz was willing to compromise on areas close to Netanyahu, and that Netanyahu is able to compromise on certain things. At the same time, Gantz didn’t hear much of anything from Lapid’s side when it came to supporting and defending Gantz personally. It’s lonely out there.
So if you thought that Netanyahu lost this round, you weren’t watching the same game.