Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / August 4, 2020
Protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been on the increase, whether due to his failed measures to tackle the coronavirus, or the corruption cases in which he is involved, as well as the inconsistency of the government coalition. Israeli circles consider the demonstrations the beginning of the end of Netanyahu’s political era; some have compared them to the French Revolution that toppled Emperor Louis XIV.
Netanyahu has been concerned about losing the position he has enjoyed for more than 11 years, as Israel has not witnessed protests like these for decades. Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the PM’s official residence in occupied Jerusalem headquarters, with many of them staying well past midnight on Saturday demanding his resignation.
Even on the anniversary of the French Revolution, 14 July, protesters came out in force to topple Netanyahu who many consider a tyrannical embodiment of the French Emperor and his wife Marie Antoinette. It was to become known as the “night of Bastille”. Netanyahu was not overthrown but his regime has been left shaken as a result and the demonstrations have left an impact on him and his ability to govern.
Netanyahu is clearly fighting for his survival, fearing for his personal freedom while facing trial on corruption charges, but his planned escape from the law shattered with the impact of Covid-19 and the economic crisis that ensued.
Remarkably, these Israeli demonstrations started to affect the performance of the Likud party in opinion polls, and reduced the opportunity for the continuation of the power-sharing government with the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance, which could accelerate preparations for new elections.
Netanyahu has promised grants as support during the lockdown put in place as a result of the coronavirus, however, Finance Ministry officials and senior economists have come out in opposition to his move saying his real goal is to reduce the number of people coming out to protest. Netanyahu is losing control and perhaps entering a state of panic.
The question now is that if the Israeli protests escalate, the Netanyahu crisis will intensify, and this time it appears that he will face a bigger storm. For the first time, protests have touched the partisan base. Unemployment, business closures and loss of livelihoods have an impact, voters may be more affected than others, and billions that he promised to deliver to the masses will fade quickly in intense heat.
Netanyahu paints himself as a saviour but he is harming society. During his time as PM, he has acted systematically for his personal benefit; his reign brought with it several time bombs: the failure to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and the fear that the infection rate will be uncontrollable, or the economy that is failing to withstand the population growth and trials it is facing.
Netanyahu has also imposed a fateful decision on Israel’s agenda to annex the West Bank, which requires his supporters to prepare for the possible consequences, including endangering security stability, destabilising relations with Arab neighbours, Europe, Jews around the world and half of the citizens of the US.
Each of the fronts constitutes an epic drama, because they push Israel to face a host of challenges in health, economy, society, security and foreign relations, and this seems to be very unstable, at a time when Netanyahu is heading a fragile coalition government that can push society into a political crisis in anytime.
It is obvious that Netanyahu is an experienced leader, who has ruled Israel for a decade, avoided unnecessary wars, pushed Israel’s economic prosperity and worked to improve its international standing.
There is a prevailing Israeli conviction that Netanyahu is acting in his own self-interest to harm Israel’s internal power. But there will be no escape for Netanyahu except by holding elections soon, as he is awaiting his trial in January, and he will be asked to attend three weekly sessions. Political sources believe he is very concerned because the government attorney is already working to create conditions that make it difficult for Netanyahu to work.
This new situation creates a state of conflict of interests that prevents Netanyahu from dealing with state affairs, and it may be a basis for claiming that he will not be able to work in this way, and even if he managed to overcome this obstacle, there are more bumps along the way which may push him to call for elections quickly. Polls show he is currently losing favour with the people.
The prevailing assumption in Israeli political and party circles is that the sharp decline in Likud votes and its electoral contributions will continue, and that every day, the biggest beneficiaries of Netanyahu’s losses are the opposition leaders who are preparing to attack him.
Adnan Abu Amer is a Palestinian academic