Opposite the demonstrators who are pleading with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to vacate his residence immediately, there is often a small counter-demonstration: a group of supporters, mainly activists from the Jerusalem Likud branch, who usually number only a few dozen. They wave Israeli flags, rain down a shower of Mahal (Likud) ballots, and sing songs of praise to the first lady.
Totally absent from these demonstrations is a group that was a key factor in Netanyahus rise, and is now choosing to sit on the fence because this may turn out to be his downfall: Religious Zionism and the ideological right are simply not to be found on Balfour Street.
Where are the right-wing masses who knew how to fill Rabin Square when they cared to? Where is the countrys most skilled, effective apparatus for organizing demonstrations? Where are the masses who voted for the Netanyahu camp three times? These are the smallest right-wing demonstrations ever. Its true that counting demonstrators is so 2011, but something is happening at Balfour. To be more precise, something isnt happening.
The kippa wearers have always turned out to demonstrate for ideas and values, not for a specific person. The same is true of both Elor Azaria and Netanyahu. Admirer Dr. Avishay Ben Haim claimed at the start of Netanyahus trial that the entire right is sitting in the dock with him. But in the test of the street, the kippa wearers are not in the dock. Who in the religious Zionist movement can identify with Netayahus affairs? With the hedonism, the consignments of lavish gifts, the dubious financial transactions, the shady deals whose only purpose is to trample rivals and obtain favorable media coverage?
The Netanyahus hedonism doesnt prevent the right-wing mainstream from voting for Likud again and again. Many Israelis dont consider his relationships with the media or with certain billionaires a criminal matter, are pleased with his performance and identify with his criticism of the media. But its a long way from that to a sick and blind personality cult.
The mass abandonment is only a symptom of the sense of disgust percolating in the ideological right with the behavior of Netanyahu, his advisers and his admirers. Its not only his botched handling of the coronavirus, its also the realization that Netanyahu is willing to risk the welfare of the public and the country for the sake of his own, and that Likud under his leadership is sometimes run like a chaotic kindergarten, playing recklessly with the idea of a fourth election.
Netanyahus hubris towards his electorate is gradually coming to haunt him. Maybe breaking every possible promise, giving half of the government to the other camp in return for preserving his rule, and subordinating the interests of the right for the sake of his battles and those of his family do have an effect after all.
When Netanyahu is ready to move heaven and earth in the Knesset so that Labors Merav Michaeli will appoint judges and not, God forbid, Yaminas Ayelet Shaked, that filters down. When Netanyahu gets an opportunity to influence media outlets (Case 4000), and decides to defame Naftali Bennetts wife and his father, or undermines the handling of the coronavirus crisis as long as Bennett doesnt get credit, its clear theres a difference between the right and Bibi-ism.
Its too early to say how this will affect the next election. Netanyahu is still a world-renowned expert at attracting the votes of religious Zionists. MKs like Bennett and Yoaz Hendel will have to be very smart to succeed where they have had difficulties until now. But Netanyahus winning card in 2015 was the clear media mobilization against him. The atmosphere of one last push and hes out helped innumerable right-wingers to swallow their disgust and cast an anti-media protest ballot. Five years later, the media is the same media and the mobilization is the same mobilization but does the combination of all the circumstances mean that this time it will be different?
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