One of the secrets to Binyamin Netanyahu’s political longevity has been his ability to identify talent and nip it in the bud before it becomes a threat to him.
When Moshe Kachlon, for instance, succeeded as communications minister in opening the cellphone market up to competition, dramatically lowering prices to the consumer, Netanyahu chided his Cabinet that they should all be Kachlonim. But he didn’t really mean it. The last thing he wanted was popular, can-do politicians who are perceived by the public as prime ministerial material. Kachlon got the message and quit the Likud before eventually starting his own party.
The list of those who have been chewed up and spit out by Netanyahu over the years is long and distinguished. The latest is Gideon Sa’ar, who broke away from the Likud earlier this month to start a new party, “New Hope,” which is polling at 20-plus seats. The Likud is upset with Sa’ar for ruining what it foresaw as an easy victory in the coming elections, expected in March, but it really has only itself to blame.
Sa’ar is a longtime Likudnik who served with distinction as education minister and interior minister. He is a bright, articulate politician who speaks in a civil tone, even when addressing opponents. He has become more religious and is said to keep Shabbos, and is pro-Eretz Yisrael, opposing the two-state solution and favoring annexation of Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron.
Not surprisingly, he ranked very high in the Likud primaries, usually making the top five. But being favored by the Likud rank and file and a proven success as a senior minister doesn’t guarantee a promotion. To the contrary, in Netanyahu’s Likud, it makes you a threat and ensures that you’ll be blocked from any position of influence.
In offending a talented politician like Gideon Sa’ar, Netanyahu made himself one political enemy too many. And it’s a shame, because the country would have benefited from Netanyahu continuing at the helm, with his rich experience and track record of success, and Sa’ar at his side occupying a senior position and being groomed to take over.
Instead, we have Sa’ar recruiting MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who chaired the Knesset Coronavirus Committee, by reportedly promising that she’ll be his Deputy Prime Minister. Not exactly a one-two punch that serves Israel’s best interests.
Netanyahu has many achievements to his credit. There is no one who can compete with him when it comes to mastery of economic, security, diplomatic and political issues. There is no one with his communication skills, in English and Hebrew, and his connections with leaders around the world.
In the circumstances, if the choice is an experienced, charismatic leader surrounded by sycophants and unable to form a stable government, or a bright politician who can put together a good team and a stable government, many voters will opt for the latter.
The problem is that the “anyone but Bibi” government Saar could possibly form would be dependent on the good will and cooperation of anti-religious elements like Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman. And any government that has to rely on their good will is unstable by definition.