Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90
Ayalet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich, February 22, 2016.

Several Likud MKs on Monday demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sack transport minister Bezalel Smotrich (Rightwing Union), his most vocal critic on the right, in response to Smotrich’s feisty attacks on Netanyahu and on a judge Sunday.

It appears that, much like Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman, the quartet at the helm of Rightwing Union have figured out how to resist Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign tactic which has yielded him, on two consecutive election campaigns, a hefty portion of other rightwing parties’ share of the votes.

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In Israel this is known as Bibi’s “gevald” campaign, when he appeals to the troops with threats that the Arabs (in 2015) or the left (in 2019) are voting en mass, which means that the Likud is going to lose badly, so don’t waste your votes on the small, rightwing parties, give it to Bibi.

The outcome is known as “vote drinking” or siphoning, and the PM has been able to pull it off twice. Smotrich et al have been determined to create a separate, ideologically consistent, rightwing front, to counter the Netanyahu late-game claim that Likud and the rest of the right are really the same.

Which is why Smotrich has been vocal about his desire for a religious Israel, in the spirit of the biblical prophecies, and why now he depicts a weak and treacherous Netanyahu. No more traditional NRP Mr. Nice guy. Smotrich’s partners at the top have been absorbing some of the fire that has been trained on him, and have largely supported Smotrich. On occasion they disagree with his positions in public, but rarely confront him.

Smotrich was responding to a Nazareth District Court which on Sunday accepted the petition of the Women’s Lobby against the Afula municipality and banned the municipality from holding an event that segregates between women and men. The event was a concert performed by singer Motti Steinmetz scheduled for next week at the city’s public park. Steinmetz cancelled the concert in response to the court ruling (see also: Shas to Petition Court over Afula’s Ban on Separate Seating Concert).

Smotrich tweeted in response to the court decision: “It’s a dumb judicial system. I’m sorry that despite my status, I can’t find a more refined description. It’s a fundamentalist progressive idiocy. And since we are such fans of effective government, we can’t allow ourselves to roll the responsibility on the judiciary: [the responsibility belongs with] a weak prime minister whose term in office coincides with 100 percent of this craziness. Zero leadership. Zero governing. [Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber] is the real prime minister.”

The irate transport minister attacked directly Judge Jonathan Abraham of Nazareth District Court, who ordered the Afula municipality to remove the separation between men and women at the concert.

“This judge has a name and a picture,” Smotrich tweeted. “Jonathan Abraham. And there’s also Dina Zilber – who has been leading this craziness in the justice ministry for several years, and [Attorney General] Avichai Mandelblit – who knows she is acting against the law but is afraid to confront her and the women’s organizations. The public needs to know the truth.”

The prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, tweeted back: “Hmmm … Who has been the justice minister for the last four years?”

But Netanyahu Jr. chose not to mention that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had fought bloody battles against Zilber, and eventually told the various Knesset committees that Zilber does not represent the justice ministry, please do not invite her to your hearings.

The prime minister yet to make a decision on Smotrich’s immediate future. If he fires him, he would deprive him of his membership in the security cabinet; on the other hand, firing Smotrich would also mean possibly losing the Rightwing Union’s endorsement of Netanyahu to the president as the next PM.

Peretz expressed the same sentiment as Smotrich, albeit using softer language: “The decision to cancel a segregated event means trampling on the dignity of a dear and large public. I urge the court to descend from its ivory tower to the people in the streets and understand what a gap there is between the court’s four walls and the common citizen, who isn’t disturbed by such an event, but is rather pleased by it […] without offending their lifestyle.”

MK Yair Lapid, one of the four leaders of Blue&White, tweeted that “If Bibi does not fire Smotrich who said that he is a weak prime minister, with zero leadership, it means he is a weak prime minister with zero leadership.”

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