I’m voting for the Likud this time because, who else? I’m supporting Netanyahu for prime minister again because, who else?

No I am not a fan of Netanyahu’s, but I used to be.

More than 30 years since my personal political awakening and a lifetime of being passionate, informed and active on all political issues, I have come to the sad conclusion that it is never worthwhile to invest any emotional energy in political leaders nor to look to them to be role models or pillars of virtue. Better to vote for the guy who you can’t stand but who gets the job done and does what you want than for the guy who you admire but fails in office.

Someone once said that in England the people can support their political leaders while at the same time despising them. Why?

Because the British have the Queen to love. There the powerless head of state has become the object of the people’s love and admiration. That leaves the prime minister free to be an SOB if he needs to, just as long as he gets the job done.

So maybe Americans too should stop looking to their leaders to be better people than they are and to their presidents to be white knights in shining armor.

Better the hard drinking, philandering, two faced narcissist who agrees with my politics and gets the job done than the genuinely good, kind and noble man who either supports a political agenda that I do not or who cannot get the job done.

And let’s face it. It takes someone who has a big ego and is a bit of an SOB to get the job done.

I remember once saying to my brother how I agreed with everything that Netanyahu did in his first term as prime minister from 1996-1999. I said that I agreed with all of his policies and all of his decisions.

As I listed them my brother kept saying, “But, but…” He is very shrewd. Of course there was a “but.”

The “but” was that Netanyahu failed as a leader because he alienated everyone in his party as well as his coalition partners and as a result lost his majority and was forced to call for early elections.

He failed to build coalitions, lobby people and convince members of the Knesset, even those from his own party, to support his agenda.

Also, to be blunt, he failed as a human being. He seemed to care more about his status and his power and stroking his own ego than anything else and the politicians and the Israeli public at large knew it.

I defended him until the day that he lost the elections in 1999. Netanyahu simply quit. Quit as Likud Party leader and as a member of the Knesset. In doing so he left others to clean up his mess.

It was like he was a renter who destroyed someone’s beach house and had not left behind a security deposit. Others were left with the job of rebuilding the Likud.

I know why he did it. Netanyahu did not want to be the leader of the opposition or just another member of the Knesset. He wanted to be free to make money and wait for better times to try and make a return to politics.

Let someone else suffer through the tough times ahead, as everyone in the summer of 99 expected Ehud Barak to be the prime minister for some time to come.

But, ironically, Barak had all of the same flaws as Netanyahu and also failed as a leader.

You might think that I always hated Netanyahu. Not true. I supported him all through his first term in office.

In fact, I was once a really big fan of his. When Netanyahu was Israel’s ambassador to the UN in the 80’s I was in high school and I remember him speaking on the news all the time in defense of Israel. He was great.

When I was in college Netanyahu had joined the Knesset and become Israel’s deputy foreign minister and he continued to master the art of speaking to the American media. He was clearly born for public relations work.

I continued to be impressed by him and continued to admire him. I was in awe when I saw him speak in public a few times.

In 1992, when I first made Aliyah, I immediately signed up for the Likud Party so that I could vote for Netanyahu for party leader.

By 2006, I was so disgusted by him that those were the only elections since I have lived here in which I did not vote Likud. I voted for the marijuana legalization party as a protest vote instead.

I saw the same people who I worked with on Sharon’s campaign in 2003 dejected and depressed heading into the elections of 2006 because of how the party had divided over the Gaza disengagement and Sharon’s departure.

But they were also annoyed with how Netanyahu ran the election campaign that year.

The biggest problem that I had with Netanyahu was with how he behaved throughout the entire disengagement debate. He was the finance minister when it came before the cabinet and there he voted against it. But when the vote for the Gaza withdrawal came before the full Knesset, Ariel Sharon threatened to fire any cabinet minister who voted against it. Bibi voted for it.

In Israel laws have to go through 3 different votes before they become final. Netanyahu voted yes the first 2 times. Only on the third vote did he vote no.

He did so because by then it was clear that he had the support to oust Sharon as Likud Party leader, but only if he suddenly grew a spine and agreed to let Sharon fire him. Netanyahu could not afford to go on record as having voted in favor of the Gaza withdrawal on its third and final vote.

Also, everyone knew that new elections were coming up so Netanyahu was not going to keep his seat at the Cabinet table and his office in the Finance Ministry for much longer anyway.

When Netanyahu became prime minister for the second time six years ago I hoped that he had learned from his mistakes. He did not!

He is still the same selfish man who seems to care more about money and personal comfort than any of the issues.

He still spends public money on himself every chance that he gets.

He continues to alienate all of the Likud Party’s best leaders and not just because he sees them as potential threats to his own leadership.

Netanyahu pushes them away because he is a bit of a bully when it comes to leadership. He cannot seem to learn how to placate people and give them a few small victories from time to time even if it is just to keep them happy and to let them show their supporters that they are getting things done.

He brought Tzipy Livny and Yair Lapid into his government because he needed their respective party’s votes in the Knesset, but proceeded to alienate both of them and treat them in a humiliating fashion. He did the same thing in the 90s to Natan Sharansky and the Likud’s Dan Meridor.

He never learned that unlike in America where cabinet secretaries serve at the pleasure of the president, in Israel they are partners in government.

He caused benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Roni Milo to all walk out of the party the first time he was PM in the 90s. These were people who, no matter what one may have thought of their politics, undeniably added to the Likud Party’s image and credibility among voters.

Most of the Likud people who jumped ship for Kadima together with Ariel Sharon did so because they were political opportunists. They saw the writing on the wall and knew that Sharon would win, giving them a better chance of holding on to their seats in the Knesset and of becoming cabinet ministers if they had remained in the Likud.

But some left because they had no desire to continue in that party under Netanyahu’s leadership.

Most recently the party’s biggest star, Moshe Kahlon, jumped ship, ostensibly due to Netanyahu’s failure to support social welfare programs for the poor in the current Knesset. But also because Netanyahu treated him like shit.

Kahlon has now come back to bite Netanyahu on the ass having formed a new party of his own which promises to push through a social welfare agenda.

It is currently polling at 10-12 seats in the next Knesset. Its votes are coming mainly from people who might otherwise have voted Likud. But even if only half of them were Likud voters then the party would still be polling at about 30 seats right now and be the clear frontrunner.

Netanyahu treats foreign leaders in the same way as his cabinet ministers. He makes promises that he cannot keep and tells each of them different stories.

It’s no wonder that former French President Sarkozy called him a liar.

It’s also no wonder Obama hates him. Barack Obama may hold a position on Israel commiserate to its left wing political parties, but only someone on the country’s extreme right really believes that he is somehow anti-Israel.

His relationship with the country has certainly been strained because of Netanyahu himself.

Just look at Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress. Of course he knew that the Republicans invited him without consulting the White House just to undercut Obama.

Of course Netanyahu knew that he should have informed the President before formally accepting the invitation to speak. And the least he could have done was to apologize for any misunderstanding and failing to inform the White House ahead of time.

There were no mistakes there. Netanyahu knew exactly what he was doing at every stage. He went under Obama’s head to the Republican controlled US Congress on purpose. He wanted to appear tough to the right wing back home and to all of the Israel supporters in the US who have mistakenly described Obama as somehow being anti-Israel.

If in America presidential candidates run to the right or left in their party primaries and to the center in the general election, in Israel the heads of the two major parties must do the opposite. They must pander to the extremes in hopes of winning votes away from the smaller parties because having the largest block of seats may be what influences the President to choose your party to form a government.

(In Israel the ceremonial president has few powers, one of which is picking which party gets the first chance to form a government after an election. He is supposed to choose the one with the best chance of doing so.)

The man has never learned how to garner the support and respect of his own people. While he has proven that he could continue to control the Likud Central Committee as well as the party’s national apparatus – even when Ariel Sharon was its leader – he has done so to the party’s detriment.

Just look at where it stands in the polls. Less than 25 seats.

In the last two elections, which the Likud won, everyone agreed that the party would have done much better in the elections if it were not lead by Netanyahu. In 2013 it lost as much as 10 seats to Livni’s party and Yair Lapid’s Party just because of Bibi.

So why am I endorsing him? Because who else?

The alternative for prime minister are Isaac Herzog and Tsipy Livni, who have agreed to have a rotating premiership if their Zionist Union party wins the elections. (The Zionist Union is just the Labor Party plus a few friends of Tzipy Livni’s so I am still calling it Labor.)

For some reason that no one understood, Herzog not only agreed to a joint list with Livny’s “Hatnua” Party but also to a rotating premiership. That means that should the Zionist Union List which they formed win the elections, the two would take turns as prime minister.

No one in Israel knows why Herzog did this. Livni just did not have that much clout to bring to the table and Herzog gave away too much.

Livni is now on her fourth party. First she was a Likud member of the Knesset for two terms. Then she went with Sharon to Kadima and ended up as Ehud Olmert’s number two and foreign minister.

She was that party’s leader in 2009 and even managed to beat the Likud by one seat in the Knesset, 28-27. But the president of Israel at the time, Shimon Peres, tapped Netanyahu to form the next government instead of her. This in spite of the fact that Peres himself had joined Kadima for the elections of 2006 before he became President.

But Livni had made few friends in the other parties and none of them, not even Labor then headed again by Ehud Barak, wanted to see her as prime minister. So as president, Peres had little choice but to ask Netanyahu to form a government.

Then Livni was ousted as leader of her party. So what does she do next? Form her own new party of course!

This, after all, is Israel where party loyalties extend only as far as how good a job your party can give you.

While her Hatnua technically still exists, Livni is now really associated with the Labor Party.

If Labor loses the elections don’t expect Herzog to last that long as its leader. He will certainly be punished by its members for not just losing, but for giving away too much to Livni.

On that point, how many different leaders has the Labor Party had since Ehud Barak lost that special by election to Ariel Sharon in 2001 anyway?

After Barak resigned from the Knesset and as Labor leader after his defeat the party chose Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to lead it. But he was ousted before the next elections were held.

This will be the fifth general election that Israel has had since it dumped the direct election of the premiere fiasco in 2003. That year the former mayor of Haifa Amram Mitzna, who ousted Ben-Eliezer in the leadership race, led Labor to its worst defeat ever.

Mitzna was the only one in all of Israel who did not know that he was just a sacrificial lamb and was immediately forced out.

Then came Amir Peretz who led the Labor Party to an even worse defeat in the elections of 2006. He had campaigned heavily on social welfare issues and so Peretz of course chose to become Israel’s defense minister in a coalition government led by Ehud Olmert.

But in part due to the party’s defeat at the polls and in part due to his incompetence during the 2006 war in Lebanon, Peretz was soon ousted and Ehud Barak returned.

Labor did not do too much better in 2009 and so Barak was dumped in favor of former journalist Shelly Chaimovich before the last elections in 2013. While the party did gain a few seats that year, Chaimovich was a failure as leader of the opposition and was ousted by Herzog.

Is Labor really a stable enough party to lead the nation right now? And look at its leader. He seems like such a nebbish that even John Oliver made fun of him on HBO.

But more importantly, Labor has not specified what it plans to do if it wins. Will it agree to the same concession that Barak made at Camp David in 2000 but that Arafat refused to accept? Will it go further?

Will it dismantle settlements?

Will it agree to divide Jerusalem?

Israeli voters don’t know because Herzog has not said.

So why Bibi?

Again, who else?

Also, at the very least, even if he is left with no choice but to agree to drastic concessions the other side will know that they need to make concessions too?

Labor leaders negotiate like a poker player who shows the other side his cards before betting. They start off saying that they already are willing to do X, Y and Z and so the other side then also demands T, U, V and W and they get it too.

And there is no way that Labor will be able to have a majority without including the right wing Bayit Yehudi Party and all of the ultra-orthodox who will negate Herzog’s ability to make concessions.

Regardless of which party wins the most seats in the Knesset on Tuesday one thing is certain, whether it be the Likud or Labor, neither will have an easy time forming a government.

There was a time in Israel where the ruling party had well over forty seats – more than a third – in the Knesset and did not need to give too many concessions to the smaller coalition partners. In 1981 the 2 parties finished with a combined 95 seats.

This time the only certainty is that the 2 combined will have fewer than 50 seats. The winner will have at most 25.

Each will need all three of the now second tier parties, Bayit Yehudi, the Moshe Kahlon Party and the Yair Lapid Party. And neither will be able to form a government if both Yair Lapid and Bayit Yehudi refuse to sit with the ultra-orthodox parties again as they did the last time.

Both Likud and Labor have said that there will be no national unity government which would include both. Even so, it is doubtful that it could work this time.

This might be the first time in Israel’s history that the country will be forced to hold a second election because no government could be formed after the first.

Or President Rivlin may choose to do the right thing for Israel and what we all know is actually in the country’s best interests and appoint me dictator.

About the author


Gil Tanenbaum made aliyah from New York after he completed college. He Has lived in Israel for over 20 years. He has an MBA from Bar Ilan University and is a contributor for various blogs.