Alwaght- The joy of unbelievable return to power of Benjamin Netanyahu did not last long as he expected it to, and the seasoned man of the Israeli politics is now facing accumulated challenges and crises at home and abroad not long after he formed his new cabinet, something indicating that the two-year-old political crisis has not ended and far-right victory was just a temporary wind-down and the circle of crisis in the occupied territories has no intention to cease.
After weeks of protests at Netanyahu’s new cabinet, which in the viewpoint of the analysts are saber-rattling by the opposition to block his power of action and even sink his government, the first shock was given to the Netanyahu-led hard-line coalition and he seems to be losing one of his key allies in the political game with his rivals. After court tried head of Shas party Aryeh Deri and convicted him for bribery, fraud, and betrayal of trust, Netanyahu fired him as minister of health on Saturday.
Deri firing is highly significant because it shows the determination of the opposition to bring down Netanyahu’s government in any possible way. Also, the move indicates that the judiciary is openly cracking down on the far-right extremism. And moreover, it indicates a deepening gap in the PM’s cabinet.
Powerful coalition of opposition
Certainly, the recent move by the Supreme Court strengthens the opposition’s motivation to curtail the life of Netanyahu’s cabinet. The measures the far-right took to restrict the powers of the Supreme Court and to increase the powers of the parliament and cabinet in the key political decision makings aroused the public opinion against the efforts to undermine the supervisory role of the Attorney General for intervention against corrupt policies. For example, on Saturday, at least 120,000 Israelis, according to police estimates, protested the restriction of the Supreme Court powers. Now, if we consider the fact that according to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish principles, there should not be executive or political activities on Saturday, we can understand the depth of popular stances against the religious hardliners. The Saturday tradition, or Shabbat, is so important for the Haredi Jews (ultra-Orthodox Jews) that when in 1975 first batch of American-provided F-16 fighter jets arrived in Tel Aviv and the PM and his cabinet ministers welcomed them in a ceremony at the airport on Saturday night, massive protests were held by the religious hardliners that led to resignation of the PM three days later.
This comes as the corruption of the Shas leader was clear to all even before the court ruling. As a Moroccan Jew, Deri has been in politics for decades and repeatedly involved in tax evasion and alleged money laundering cases. In 2000 to 2002, he was imprisoned for taking a $150,000 bribe while serving as the interior minister and was banned from politics for a decade. He returned in 2012, and since Shas has a swing vote in parliament, he often managed to win cabinet posts in exchange for support for government formation. But in 2018, he was arrested afresh and accused of tax evasion and money laundering. This time, the court allowed him to skip prison if he agreed to a seven-year ban from politics and paying a $50,000 fine.
However, on the eve of the formation of the new government, Netanyahu coalesced with Deri in violation of the court ban to add 11 seats to the far-right coalition in order to form a government in any way and avoid coalition with the leftist parties.
Political quake rattles far-right
Now, although Attorney General has said that Deri can continue his activity as a member of the Knesset, it is unclear if Shas is interested to stay in the coalition without a reward like an important cabinet post for its leader. Therefore, the government may collapse and Tel Aviv go to new elections.
Possible Shas withdrawal is not Netanyahu’s only trouble. The small hard-line parties in Netanyahu’s cabinet are not small in number. Such figures as Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of Religious Zionist Party, adopt policies highly controversial and troublesome to Netanyahu. Aware of the fact that Netanyahu is on the line and in desperate need for their stay in his coalition, these parties have developed high bargaining capabilities to advance their policies even despite Netanyahu and Likud opposition. For example, lawmakers of the Religious Zionist Party boycotted Sunday’s parliament session in protest at the evacuation of an illegal outpost in the West Bank. In an interview with Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation prior to the cabinet meeting, Religious Zionist Party member Orit Strock, who serves as the Minister of National Missions, said: “The cornerstone of our presence in government is our ability to implement our policies regarding civilian life in this country.”
This comes while many of the views of Netanyahu’s allies are totally racist. Deri believes that the Arabs descended from Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the third wife of Abraham, and since Hagar was handmaiden of Sarah, the first wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac, the Arabs must be servants of the Jews. He has suggested that Israeli citizenship be revoked from the Palestinians who account for 21 percent of the regime’s population. He has also supported the complete destruction of the water and electricity infrastructure of the Gaza Strip.
Of 7.5 million Jews in the occupied territories, about 25 percent like Deri were born abroad. If we count the 12 percent of the population born in the republics of Soviet Union, about 44 percent of the Israeli population identify themselves as Ashkenazi (European) Jews. About 45 percent identify themselves as Sephardic Jews, namely those of Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq, and Iran. The Israeli institutions are mainly run by the Ashkenazis and the Sephardic Jews feel discriminated against. They tend to vote for the secular or Orthodox far-right. On the opposite, the Ashkenazis lean to the moderates or center-left parties. It is important to know that Likud was founded by Central European Jews (Ashkenazis) who held far-right tendencies, and in the 1970s, opened its doors to the Sephardic Jews. Therefore, the gaps between Likud and smaller hard-line parties can derive from Netanyahu’s indiscretion to prevent escalation of tensions and also from roots of historical Ashkenazi-Sephardic dispute.
Anyway, the interpretation we can make from the tense situation of Netanyahu’s cabinet after removal of Shas head and also Religious Zionist Party’s boycott of the parliament sessions is that the opposition parties now have a greater chance of success in their push to bring down Netanyahu’s government.