By Yaakov Katz
The Jerusalem Post
A peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of democracies.
It is a sign of stability in the system of government, and trust in that government’s institutions. What happened on January 6 with the storming of the US Capitol was an attempt to stop Joe Biden from becoming president; and what Benjamin Netanyahu did on Sunday was his attempt to stop Naftali Bennett from becoming prime minister.
Listening to Netanyahu speak on Sunday to his Likud faction should raise concern among all Israelis. While he did not openly call for people to storm the Knesset, he did everything he could to delegitimize the government that Bennett and Yair Lapid plan to form this week. This new government, he said, is a case of the “biggest election fraud in the history of the country”; that people “feel cheated”; and it is everyone’s right to take action and protest against the formation of the government.
“We are talking about parties that talk Right and act Left and cheated their voters,” Netanyahu told his fellow Likud members. “I want to say the simple truth that everyone understands: you don’t need to be afraid to attack the media commentators and TV studios and the propaganda machine that is working for them. This is part of the deception. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth.
”On its own this talk might not sound incendiary, but it comes as almost every member of the Yamina Party is under 24/7 security detail due to the surge in threats against them and their families. Bennett is being protected by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Ayelet Shaked by the Knesset Guard, and as of Sunday, MKs Idit Silman and Nir Orbach are also flanked with armed guards.
Netanyahu’s comments came less than a day after the head of the Shin Bet issued a rare public warning, sounding the alarm that the level of incitement in Israel today could end in bloodshed. Did that stop Netanyahu from delegitimizing the new government, or calling on his followers to attack (in a legal way, he stressed) the media and members of Knesset? Sadly, no.
It is true that Netanyahu paid lip service to the Shin Bet chief’s call to denounce incitement, but he quickly went on the attack, adding fuel to the fire. For his followers, there was one takeaway from his speech, and that was to continue to fight, to attack, and to resist the establishment of the so-called change coalition. If, God forbid, violence should occur, Netanyahu will do what he does best: wash his hands of any responsibility and replay his call for the resistance to be within the boundaries of the law. While that might be what he said, there is also the music in the way he said it. Calling something a fraud, and for people to stand up and resist can be interpreted in many different ways.
When your head of internal security warns of bloodshed and you ignore that call and speak the way Netanyahu spoke, you are responsible for what happens next. Sometimes, it is that simple. This is dangerous territory for Israel, reminiscent of the way Donald Trump fought to overturn and delegitimize the November 4 election.
Will this end in the storming of the Knesset, of Bennett’s home, or a physical attack against a Knesset member? We do not know. Netanyahu doesn’t want his followers to be upset; he wants them to feel cheated. That way he can keep them on his side if and when the Bennett-Lapid government is formed. He will play the victim card, and he wants his followers to feel like victims as well. He doesn’t want to give even a single moment of grace to the new government to succeed where he has failed. He wants everyone on edge all the time.
There is an alternative: recognizing that a new government has been established and conceding gracefully. It would mean inviting Bennett and Lapid for a meeting, having top staff meet with top staff on the other side, and ensuring that the transition is done in the smoothest and most responsible way possible. That is not what Netanyahu is doing. He wants to go down fighting since holding a meeting like that would be giving the new government legitimacy – and that is something Netanyahu will refuse to do.
Israelis need to remain vigilant, because what we heard on Sunday is not simply the talk of a politician who lost an election. It is the talk of someone determined to do everything he can to stop the transfer of power to another prime minister and a new government meant to replace him. If that means further weakening state institutions and democratic values, then so be it.
Israel needs to be careful.