Opinion: The Likud leader has always treated allies with contempt and with his removal from the national stage, those who were on the receiving end of his abuse will also likely demand his removal from the leadership of the party
Gideon Saar, left, talks with Benjamin Netanyahu during his stint as a Likud cabinet minister in 2012
(Photo: Flash 90)
Benjamin Netanyahu’s looming political downfall can be attributed to the actions of five former allies.
Gideon Saar, who resigned from Likud to form the New Hope party, had previously served as cabinet secretary; Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman was director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office; Yamina head Naftali Bennett and his deputy Ayelet Shaked both ran Netanyahu’s office when he was leader of the opposition; and former Likud minister Zeev Elkin, now of New Hope, was coalition chairman for the prime minister and once among his closest associates.
The past two years have seen four rounds of elections and continued political chaos after both Netanyahu and his political opponents repeatedly failed to cobble together a majority government.
But the prime minister’s assumption that if he were to be replaced, it would be by his political rivals, turned out to be wrong.
And despite blanket support from his Likud party, whose loyal members never publicly questioned their leader’s decisions (a position they may yet regret as it impinges on their own political futures) it was his opposition from the right that finally took a stand and declared that Netanyahu must go.
Liberman was first to make the move. Netanyahu explained away his former ally’s motives as personal and not ideological – and he was not entirely wrong in his assessment.
When Gideon Saar, who failed to remove the prime minister from the leadership of Likud in a primary election, resigned from the party, Netanyahu ignored the warning signs and showered his former associate with contempt.
Then it was Elkin who left. He was a dependable ally who facilitated many of Netanyahu’s political maneuvering over the years, built seemingly impossible coalitions for the prime minister and ensured parliamentary discipline that allowed the leader to advance his agendas.
But even he left after he was repeatedly humiliated as others in Likud were promoted over him into more senior ministerial positions.
The last to defect were Bennett and Shaked. Who until the last minute said they preferred a right-wing government but ultimately went with a broad coalition from across the spectrum.
All five know Netanyahu’s secrets. They took part in formulating his strategies and understand his motivations on important national security matters as well as in petty political battles.
By announcing their intention to remove him from the leadership of the country, they embarked on a battle without an army and with no guarantee of success.
Netanyahu’s mistreatment of members in his own camp was well known. Many who aspired one day to replace him accepted this behavior.
They were oft,en excluded from meetings, barred from participating in election campaigns and sent forth to television studios to mouth statements prepared for them by others.
Had the Likud leader allowed any of them to rise through the ranks of the party and even be rewarded with a leadership role, Likud would have likely been able to head a right-wing coalition after the March 23 elections.
Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Miri Regev, David Amsalem and Osnat Mark during a Likud faction meeting in 2018
(Photo: EPA )
But Netanyahu made Israeli politics about him and not the country. And with his removal from power, many in his party can be expected to emerge from their hideouts and demand that he be dismissed as leader of Likud as well.
Netanyahu will now have time to ponder his mistreatment of others.
Some among them will cast their eyes down in shame over the abuse they were willing to take, but others may muster the courage to lead – and may even find that without him, they can succeed.
Ovad Yehezkel was cabinet secretary for former prime minister Ehud Olmert