Is Bibi finished?

Not yet, but the signs indicate that his end may be near.

He’s had a long run. He served as Prime Minister during 1996-99, and again from 2009 to the present. That makes him the longest serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history, surpassing the record previously held by David ben Gurion.

Earlier he was Israel’s Representative in the United Nations, 1984-88. Then he was elected to the Knesset, and filled several slots as Minister of this and that, most notably as Minister of Finance. There he led several reforms in the direction of moving away from socialism toward a more liberal, free-market economy.

His long service as Prime Minister has been marked by several international achievements, most recently opening diplomatic relations with the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan, with the help of his close ally Donald Trump, as well as managing Israel’s experience with the pandemic Covid-19, and bringing the country to one of the highest levels of inoculation.

Yet it’s been far from rosy. Beginning in 2017 he’s  been under police investigations, leading to three indictments for fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. His trial has begun, and has been estimated to take at least three years. Who’s paying for his defense has been an issue, as well as his ability to continue to serve as Prime Minister while under indictment, and whether he needs to sit in the court while testimony goes forward.

He’s been a strong leader of Likud, making decisions to favor close supporters and to sideline those suspected of being, or becoming opponents.

While under police investigation, weekly demonstrations have occurred, with hundreds or thousands of participants near his official residence in Jerusalem, and close to his personal residence close to the beach in Caesarea.

Controversy also marks his wife, Sara, said to be a screamer at the household help, and also said to have control of political appointments officially made by Bibi. And their oldest son, Yair, age 29, seldom employed and living at home, has become noted for sharp and divisive comments, some of the most extreme being deleted from the Internet by his father. Among Yair’s points of fame is a bragging conversation in the back seat of a government car, recorded by the driver, when Yair and friends boasted of their sexual accomplishments, and trading of young women, in the basest of language.

Currently Bibi has about a week remaining in his period for forming a government. He doesn’t seem to be succeeding, but neither does he seem to be folding. Besalel Smothrich, head of Religious Zionists, has been firm in opposing any support from an Arab Party. His posture is at least partly racist, and recalls an earlier campaign against his wife sharing a hospital room with an Arab woman after giving birth. Without an Arab party or the Religious Zionists, Bibi can’t form a government.

And in a complex set of Knesset votes, Likud has lost control of Knesset committees.

But rather than giving up, Bibi has begun a campaign in favor of the direct election of the Prime Minister.

The sharpest contrast is with Ehud Olmert, who resigned as Prime Minister when facing criminal charges.

Bibi currently leads all potential rivals in the public’s choice of Prime Ministers, with something like a third of Israelis supporting him as Prime Minister, but it doesn’t seem likely that he has the support in the Knesset for moving toward that option.

Among the questions is, Who’s next?

That may depend on the President’s actions after Bibi’s time for forming a government has expired. Guesses are that Yair Lapid would be next in line, and Lapid has been obtuse with respect to his choice of a Prime Minister. He has spoken of uniting a wide set of Israeli factions, and avoiding an egoistic insistence on being the Prime Minister, or being the first Prime Minister in a rotation, presumably with Naftali Bennett as the most obvious choice.

There may have been an arrangement to have Bibi named first as the person to form a government, likely to fail, in order to get him out of the way and leaving room for the President to turn to Lapid. Presumably he, with all parties but Likud, the ultra-Orthodox, and Religious Zionists, could support a government identified with change.

There’s lots of ambiguities in our political air, as various politicians have spoken vaguely in several directions.

Bibi and his friends use the term “leftist”  to describe their opponents. Yamina (Right) is said to be playing with the leftists, or turning leftist, rather than signing up to support Bibi and Likud. Likewise Gideon Sa’ar and Avigdor Lieberman. All of whom are, if anything, to the right of Bibi in their comments. But they’re all leftists, according to Bibi.

What is left and right in Israel?

It’s hard to say. Socialism is long dead, even while all the parties ascribe to social welfare programs that dwarf what is available in the United States. And if rightists ascribe to an absorption of the West Bank, that’s unlikely to occur, given the opposition that would come from the United States and Western Europe, as well as from Palestinians.

So we’ve got the remainders of ideological identities, reinforced by politicians’ statements, without any substantive meaning for what would be likely to occur if one group or another gains power.

Somewhere in the mix is racism, or what’s thought about Arabs. Again it’s hard to say how, in an operational way, the various parties differ. Explicit comments about race, or the Arabs are rare, and more often hinted at than expressed.

Recently there’s been an upturn of Jewish vs Arab violence, mainly among young extremists, in both Jerusalem and Jaffa. It has something to do with the Muslim month of Ramadan, as well as the actions of extremist Jews. The police are left to sort things out.

And there’s been an uptick in missiles from Gaza, as well as Israeli reactions. So far neither side shows signs of wanting to escalate.

Bibi’s assertion that his opponents are leftists resembles his call, in a previous election, that the Arabs were streaming to the polls, in rented buses. Both that and the leftist label appeal to the lower sides of Israeli politics, and are meant to arouse the baser feelings of those who would support Likud and Bibi. Yet another side of Bibi works to attract some Arabs, but this effort gets in the way of support from Smotricht and the Religious Zionists.

Lots of noise, but seemingly in vain. Or close to that. As the anti-Bibi politicians and their supporters are close to moving the first family move out of their Balfour Street diggings. And looking a couple of years ahead, of getting Bibi into jail.

Whether he would emerge from that, as has Olmert, with something of a grand old man status, like Richard Nixon in the US, being called upon by the media to talk about the great issues, is something so far into the future as to keep us wondering.

Republished from San Diego Jewish World