Serving PM Netanyahu leads in the political polls. Photo by Haim Zach CC National Photo Collection)

The verbal clash between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters against the formation of a government headed by Naftali Bennett has reached a fever pitch. 

Bibi himself was recorded “off-mike,” calling on his supporters to “sock it to them” – that is the media and political opponent Naftali Bennett, who has cobbled together a 61-seat majority required to oust Netanyahu. The PM and his supporters have accused Bennett, a Right-wing politician, of betraying his campaign promises by forming a new cabinet that will include two Left-wing parties, Labor and Meretz, as well as an Israeli-Arab party. Netanyahu is leading the Likud charge by implying that Bennett is an outright traitor to his former Right-wing positions. 

Moreover, several rabbis, who back Bibi and Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), have also appealed to their followers “to do everything” to bar Bennett from becoming Prime Minister. One of them, the highly influential Rabbi Chaim Druckman, later corrected the statement saying he meant “to do everything legal!” Nevertheless, it is fair to say that they have muddied the waters.

Yitzhak Rabin

All this harsh dialogue has recalled the most horrible specter in Israel’s political history – the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the night of November 4, 1995, after he had addressed a peace rally in Tel Aviv. Although Shabak security guards surrounded Rabin, Right-wing fanatic Yigal Amir succeeded in walking behind Rabin and shooting him in the back. Amir, who is now serving a life sentence, said at the time that he was incited to murder Rabin by the fierce political and religious campaign against the Prime Minister, who was engaged in peace negotiations with Yasser Arafat. 

The writing is obviously on the wall. The fever pitch of criticism swirling around the Bennett-Lapid drive to topple Netanyahu and form a new government is again sending shockwaves throughout the state. Bear in mind that Bennett himself has been a staunch supporter of settlement building in Judea and Samaria. However, now, he has changed his political course because he feels Bibi, who is currently being tried on three counts of corruption, must be ousted at all costs. At present, Bennett and Yair Lapid (from the Center) are managing to put together a razor-thin majority to replace Netanyahu, who has served as PM for 12 straight years. 

However, Knesset Speaker Yair Levine of Likud is delaying the Knesset session to swear Bennett in as the new PM. Tempers are flaring, and groups of angry Bibi supporters have staged rallies near the homes of Bennett and his party allies. The political discourse has become so virulent that Nadav Argamon, the Chief of Israel’s Internal Security Service (Shabak), has issued an unprecedented warning – one full of foreboding. 

Saturday afternoon, the Sabbath, is a time of relative peace and quiet in the Jewish Land. Life slows down for everyone, not just religious worshippers. It is indeed a ‘day of rest,’ and the news media are also taking it easy for a change. Suddenly, the radio and TV stations kicked into action – they started broadcasting an urgent written announcement by Nadav Argamon. Shabak is responsible for protecting Israel’s political leaders. It is always hush-hush and remains in the deep shadows. But not this time – its tight-lipped director issued a startling warning that was so urgent he did not even wait the few hours to the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evening. Argaman certainly caught everyone’s attention with his carefully crafted statement:

“The public discourse in Israel has now reached such a feverish pitch that it could lead to mortal injury.”

Shabak Chief Nadav Argaman (Photo By Niv Aharonson, CC BY 3.0)

In other words, the Shabak Security Chief now believes there is a clear and present danger to politicians such as Naftali Bennett, who are now being tarred and feathered for challenging Netanyahu. The Shabak is also providing bodyguards to protect both Bennett and his new political partner Yair Lapid before they officially take office. 

In his statement, Argaman added:

“As the head of the organization tasked with protecting the state security and its institutions, I warn that the current public discourse may create the impression among some groups or individuals that it is permissible to act violently and illegally, even to inflict bodily harm. All public officials are obligated to issue a message, loud and clear, to cease this violent discourse immediately. The responsibility for cooling off tempers rests on all our shoulders.”

Later, in a speech to the nation, Bennett appealed to Netanyahu to accept defeat and desist from his “scorched earth” policy against a new emerging government. By the way, Bennett previously stated that no Israeli settler in the West Bank would be evicted from his home. In any case, Netanyahu is determined to carry on his campaign to remain in office. And again, bear in mind that all it takes will be one of Bennett’s Knesset supporters to jump ship and cross over to the Likud. 

Naftali Bennett

What has enabled Bennett to forge such a diverse coalition with two Left-wing parties and even an Arab-Israeli party? Apparently, Bennett, a strong supporter of West Bank settlements, now understands, and rightly so, that a new Israeli government cannot pursue such a policy now that President Joe Biden has taken over in the White House. The writing is now on the wall, as clear as can be, that new settlements will jeopardize not only the vital 4 billion dollars in military aid but also America’s political support at a time when the Iranian nuclear threat will again be staring Israel in the face, from what is known of the new agreement now being forged with Tehran. In addition, after 12 straight years in power and now being tried on three charges in an Israeli court, it is obviously time for Netanyahu to go.

It is still early days, but it may very well be that some Israeli leaders, such as Bennett and Lieberman, are reverting to the policy of Yitzhak Rabin that favored preserving the existing settlements in Judea and Samaria, and primarily in the Jordan Valley Basin that everyone agrees is necessary for safeguarding Israel’s security. 

Summing up, this is a cliffhanger that could go one way or the other – Bennett is standing his ground in this trial of strength when political passions are running so high they have even spooked the director of Israel’s secret service. 

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