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The just-not-Bibi Camp Needs Bibi

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Desperately hoping for an election home run.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

Describing the political crisis as a stalemate is misleading. There is no political tie, but rather a crushing right-wing majority, in both senses of “crushing.” The political crisis is an internal right-wing one, wrought by Avigdor Lieberman in 2019 when he decided to turn his back on that bloc’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, and defect to the rival camp. The real reason Lieberman chose this path is known only to him, Netanyahu and God, or at least to two of those three.

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Netanyahu was the first to identify that this was a bloc-crossing move, not just a political abstention. He rushed to declare that “Lieberman is now part of the left.” As is his wont, he was both right and wrong. Lieberman indeed defected, but not to the left. Netanyahu still didn’t have the right words with which to describe what had just happened. In retrospect, we know this was the birth of the “just-not-Bibi” bloc. Even though Netanyahu now has the words for describing the camp that includes Lieberman and Netanyahu’s other rivals on the right (Gideon Sa’ar, Zeev Elkin and others), he and his supporters continue to label them as “leftists.” They do this to harm the just-not-Bibi right wing – labeling them as leftists is meant to insult them and return them “home,” to the bosom of the right.

The thing is, interchanging “left” with “just-not-Bibi” serves not such Netanyahu, but left-wing parties as well. Blurring the difference between “left” and “just-not-Bibi” has given these parties some room to maneuver between left and right, with the latter being the only reason they managed to return to power despite their leftist character. Due to the “just-not-Bibi” camp they could act just like right-wing parties without the leftist compunctions. (There is no other choice, we have to cooperate with those we have been calling icons of Israeli fascism, such as Lieberman, Shaked, Bennett and Sa’ar; there is no alternative, we have to approve emergency regulations due to the danger posed by Netanyahu.)

Let’s note the obvious: Without Netanyahu, there is no “just-not-Bibi” camp. Without this camp, Labor and Meretz would not be part of the government. Without this camp, these parties will return to the opposition. Thus, they and their electorate have an inherent interest in fostering Netanyahu’s mythic-demonic status, while preventing his political neutralization. We clearly saw this when the idea that he run for president came up, or each time the possibility of a plea bargain in exchange for his retirement from politics is raised. The most vocal opposition to this comes from his supposed rivals. We also saw how the just-not-Bibi government refrained from advancing “Netanyahu-related” laws. It’s obvious: If he goes, they all go.

The confusion between “left” and “just not Bibi” affords the left-wing electorate the illusion that the left is “back in power.” This is a dangerous illusion, since this return is meaningless in terms of its values. That was the deal: Let’s leave our differences aside, or, in other words, resign ourselves to the rightist status quo. The just-not-Bibi bloc also allowed Lapid to remove his boycott of the left and reconcile with it, allowing the left to desist from scorning Lapid, casting him as their leader with no shame. This bloc also allowed – first Netanyahu and then his rivals – to woo Mansour Abbas, shattering the wall separating Arab parties from a governing coalition.

The parallel process is proceeding before our eyes in the Netanyahu camp, with the legitimation of a cooperation with Kahanists, something that would have been impossible before the days of the just-not-Bibi bloc. In other words, this camp has enabled political mobility that is untethered to political starting points or ideological inhibitions. “A plugged up political system” as cover up for tectonic changes, a political stalemate allowing complete freedom. An actual political revolution celebrating political liberation (without the pill).

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