Does Bibi Have a Deus ex Machina?

A limbo, then? Another election? This is a nightmare for Bibi.
March 26, 2021
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu smiles during his speech at a Likud Party campaign rally on January 21, 2020 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Israel’s last elections revealed that Israelis are split not over the big issues, like how to stop drifting towards one, bi-national state, what to do about the social gaps, or how the number of Ultra-Orthodox men not working might jeopardize Israel’s economic sustainability. We heard almost nothing about these important matters during the campaign, because these elections — much like the previous ones — boiled down to one question only: Are you for Bibi or against him?

The anti-Bibi block gained 57 out of the 120 Knesset seats, while the pro-Bibi block collected only 52. Two seemingly neutral parties can now become the kingmakers: Yamina, led by Naftali Bennett, with seven seats, and the United Arab List, which against all odds won four seats. The anti-Bibi block has an advantage here: It can cross the 61-seat threshold needed to form a coalition with either of the two parties, while Netanyahu needs both parties to accomplish that.

Does this mean that we will possibly see a government led by those who ran on the anti-Bibi ticket? Not so fast. The Arab votes might be too hard to swallow for an Arab basher like Avigdor Lieberman or hardliner like Gideon Saar. And the leaders of the block — Yair Lapid, Benny Ganz, Saar,

Lieberman — have small parties but big egos, so the question of who would be at the top might scuttle the whole process. And if Bennett joins them, he would probably demand — with his seven seats — to be the prime minister himself.

Yet those challenges pale in comparison to the difficulty Bibi is facing. Addressing his base on election night, he declared that “we have achieved a great accomplishment, and now we must and we can form a stable right-wing government.” His supporters cheered, although he lied to them not once, but twice: Likud, under his leadership, shrank from 36 to 30 seats, and his chances of building a coalition are slim. If he does, potential ministers on the right could include Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party, who had once said that his wife wouldn’t like to give birth next to an Arab woman, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, a follower of Meir Kahane, who had the picture of Arab killer Baruch Goldstein hanging in his living room. I’m anxious to see how Bibi seats them with Mansour Abbas.

A limbo, then? Another election? This is a nightmare for Bibi, because his corruption trial resumes soon, and dirt reported daily from the courtroom might doom him completely.

A limbo, then? Another election? This is a nightmare for Bibi.

The ancient Greek tragedians had a solution for such a situation when the play seemed to reach a dead end: Deus ex Machina (god from the machine). In a surprising twist of the plot, a crane would lower a person or a gadget onto the stage, saving the protagonist. Medea, for example, should have paid for her horrendous crimes (including killing her own children), but Euripides lets her off the hook by escaping in a dragon chariot which shows up from nowhere.

Can Bibi devise a Deus Ex Machina to save his political and personal career? Probably not, but he’ll definitely try: The crane in his vision will usher at least two defectors from the other block to the stage, thus enabling him to form a narrow coalition government without the Arabs. Sounds improbable? Maybe, but we have seen Amir Peretz, former leader of Labor, shaving his famous moustache as a vow not to sit under Bibi, only to do exactly that afterwards. Quite depressing.

Following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in 2016, Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote an oped in the Guardian in which she wondered how Americans elected a leader who had incited so much hatred. However, she also had an optimistic message for her American neighbors: “Just Like the Wizard of Oz, Donald Trump has no magic powers.”

Has the Wizard — or the Magician, as Bibi is called here — run out of tricks? Never say never about him. But “The Wizard of Oz” reminds me of the one Deus Ex Machina that I would wholeheartedly embrace: At the end of the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” young Dorothy wakes up after a fantastical journey only to be told that it was all a dream. Many criticized this ending as gimmicky, but trust me, many Israelis would love to wake up now and realize that it was all a (bad) dream.

Uri Dromi was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments (1992-96).

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