Ben-Dror Yemini
Ben-Dror Yemini
Photo: Ynet
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The paradox of political protests

Opinion: The anti-Netanyahu demonstrators insistence on ousting the prime minister at all costs has only strengthened the right wing, and may result in a more extreme government that will give more to both ultra-Orthodox and settlers

Ben-Dror Yemini |
Published: 01.02.21 , 00:31
In Israel’s bodegas and market stalls a new hot trend has emerged - masks advocating support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the phrase “Just Bibi” and for those on the opposite side with the phrase “Just not Bibi.”
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  • What about the settlements in the West Bank? The draft of the Haredi youth? A Palestinian state? The enormous budgets the ultra-Orthodox enjoy?
    None of that apparently matters in the slightest as long as we can continue to argue about Netanyahu.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: Reuters)
    This is just another consequence of the recent anti-Netanyahu protests, which turned out to be the best thing to happen to both the right-wing and to the prime minister in a long time.
    First and foremost, the protest is responsible for the dissolution of Blue & White - a tragedy both to Israeli politics and the state as a whole.
    Again we had another true attempt to create a serious center party, again its creation was accompanied by real enthusiasm, again it did surprisingly well in the polls, and again it crashed and burned in front of our eyes.
     הפגנה של ה"קריים מיניסטר" והדגלים השחורים נגד ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו בבלפור הפגנה של ה"קריים מיניסטר" והדגלים השחורים נגד ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו בבלפור
    Anti-Netanyahu protesters in Jerusalem
    (Photo: AFP)
    There is no debate, the left is no real opponent to the right, but the center is.
    Its numerous victories against the right can be attributed to the fact the center understands that both the right and the left make good points.
    It is also the most important bloc in Israeli politics because it represents the majority of Israelis - those who abhor the government's surrender to the whims of the ultra-Orthodox and those who have no wish to see Israel turn into a binational state.
    Netanyahu should admit that he is the closest thing the right has to a centrist.
    He has already declared his support for a Palestinian state, and in 2014 agreed in talks with then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for sweeping compromises.
    Blue & White head Benny Gantz Blue & White head Benny Gantz
    Blue & White head Benny Gantz
    (Photo: EPA)
    All of that did not stop him from winning the 2015 election. Not to mention he is the only one on the right who supports U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which includes a Palestinian state on the West Bank.
    The political argument has not dissipated, it's just not center stage right now (if you will excuse the pun), and the same goes for the socioeconomic argument.
    No, we are in the midst of a new argument best exemplified by phrases on masks bought on the street.
    The growth of the anti-Netanyahu camp caused the right-wing bloc to grow significantly and erase large swaths of the center, specifically Blue & White and its leader Benny Gantz.
    Evidence of this claim can be seen in the explosive growth of the right-wing ultra-Orthodox bloc, which according to recent polls is expected to receive some 80 seats in the March 2021 elections.
    הפגנת הדגלים השחורים נגד בנימין נתניהוהפגנת הדגלים השחורים נגד בנימין נתניהו
    Anti-Netanyahu protests in Jerusalem
    (Photo: AP)
    The center’s hopes of replacing Netanyahu now lie with former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is far more right-wing than Netanyahu and who has very close ties to the ultra-Orthodox.
    This too an outcome of the protests, which hypnotized the voters of the center bloc to vote against Netanyahu no matter what, even if it means casting a ballot for a more extreme rightist such as Sa’ar.
    The only one who is truly in the center is Yesh Atid and its leader Yair Lapid.
    Its strength is derived from the fact the party actually has a spine, as it proved when it refused to abide by former MK Ofer Shelah’s attempts to sway it to the left before he resigned.
    יאיר לפיד באולפן ynetיאיר לפיד באולפן ynet
    Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid
    (Photo: Kobi Kuankas)
    And while Lapid went up in the polls since Shelah’s departure, his strength may dwindle before long if Netanyahu keeps being the one main theme of the upcoming elections.
    Either way, the right wing has gained no less than a prospective 10 seats over the last few months.
    Those who think Yamina leader Naftali Bennett or Sa’ar will choose Meretz or Lapid over Netanyahu are deluding themselves.
    The protest crushed Blue & White and helped the right soar to new and unprecedented heights.
    Instead of Netanyahu, who at least made peace with four Arab countries, we will be stuck with Sa’ar and Bennett, who will give more to both the ultra-Orthodox and the settlements.
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