Prime Minister for life

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (Sept. 1, 2017) – One of Iran’s leaders recently predicted that Israel will cease to exist in the next 25 years. He may have had in mind that his country coming ominously close to Israel’s northern border: It’s in Syria as Islamic State is being defeated and Assad’s grip on the country is tightening. It’s in Lebanon through its proxy Hezbollah. And it’s now coming to Israel’s south as a result of a reported deal with Hamas in Gaza.

This most serious situation may play in the hands of Binyamin Netanyahu, who seems more determined than ever to be Israel’s prime minister for life. Whatever internal political problems he may be facing, and irrespective of the various current criminal investigations against him and his wife, as long as he can shine in the international arena, his chances of staying in power remain strong.

He shone in the eyes of many Israelis when he addressed the United States Congress before the current deal with Iran came into effect when Barak Obama was still in the White House. He shows it each time he goes to visit President Putin, ostensibly to make sure that Russia’s allies in Syria don’t attack Israel. He shows it when he travels abroad to forge good relations even with seemingly anti-Semitic leaders in Eastern Europe and supporters of Islam in Africa. And he never ceases to shine in the allegedly very warm relations with President Trump and his Middle East emissaries.

As long as Netanyahu can shine in the international arena, his chances of staying in power remain strong.

Though Netanyahu’s continued attacks on the media and on people who appear to oppose him may reflect insecurity – manifest in what one columnist called recently “fake intimacy” with the Israeli public – his substantive statements point in the opposite direction. Thus, whatever the so-called two-state solution may mean to him, he told the settlers that Israel is there to stay in the West Bank.

Second, as much as he may suggest commitment to international law and Jewish humanitarian values, in the course of a recent visit to South Tel Aviv – where many of the more than 50 000 Eritrean and Sudanese and other refugees (“infiltrators” in the parlance of his supporters) reside – he promised to restore the neighbourhood to its original residents, presumably by getting rid of the newcomers.

Third, even though Netanyahu is prone to preach about the unity of the Jewish people and the importance of Diaspora (i.e., American) Jewry, at times even seeing himself as the most obvious leader and spokesman of the entire Jewish people, he’s prepared to ignore his commitment to Jewish pluralism and not make a section of the Western Wall available to non-Orthodox Jews. There’s a new court order on the matter. Will he act on it, circumvent it or ignore it?

He’s, of course, not alone in the many dubious machinations. Though the cabinet seems to be fractured both between the various partners and within his own party, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman continues to attack Palestinian Arabs at the slightest provocation, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked tries to compromise the integrity of the Supreme Court, and Culture Minister Miri Regev is doing her best to “tame” those on the “extreme left,” i.e., any artist, actor or writer who appears not to be enamoured by the prime minister and his party’s policies.

Israelis will continue to put up with it all and implicitly support the status quo because most of them have work and make a decent living and few are very impressed by opposition politicians. Whether they’re right or not, the future will tell. Elections are still a couple of years away, but the prime minister’s campaign may already be under way.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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