Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (yes, it’s still strange to say that) convened a meeting of Knesset opposition parties on Monday and called for absolute loyalty to himself and his struggle to bring down the new “government of change.”
As Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, began to address the gathering, he mistakenly referred to Netanyahu as “Mr. Prime Minister” and quickly caught himself. With a smirk on his face and a chuckle in his throat, Netanyahu reacted: “Aryeh, don’t fight it. Just say ‘Your Highness.’”
It’s a long-running joke in the country that Netanyahu thinks of himself as “King Bibi.” For many Likud voters, it’s not a joke at all. They indeed view Israel’s longest-serving prime minister as its sole legitimate and divinely-appointed ruler.
“Nobody can take the mantle of kingship from Benjamin Netanyahu,” Nissim, a vegetable vendor at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, told Israel Today in the run-up to the recent election. “God chose Bibi. And he is our King David, the King of Israel.”
On Sunday, just before the new government was sworn in, Netanyahu played to those sentiments, reminding Israelis that one of the Judaism’s foremost sages of the modern era had called him God’s chosen leader of Israel.
“I am reminded of comments made to me by the rabbi of Lubavitch: ‘You will need to fight with 119 people [i.e. all other members of Knesset], but you will certainly not be impressed by this as God is on this [i.e. your] side. Blessing and success to you. God will give a blessing and success,’” Netanyahu tweeted.
ג׳ תמוז ואני נזכר בדברים שאמר לי הרבי מליובאוויטש: ״אתה תצטרך להיאבק עם 119 אנשים, בוודאי לא תתרשם מזה כיוון שהקב״ה בצד הזה. ברכה והצלחה, נתינה של הקב״ה ברכה והצלחה״. pic.twitter.com/FvhbtRjHk9
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) June 13, 2021
In addressing Monday’s gathering of opposition party chiefs, Netanyahu called for “opposition discipline. The [new] government is small. It can be overthrown on the condition that we act together and with iron discipline. If we squabble, we will not achieve it. No friendly fire.”
Netanyahu insisted that he, together with the leaders of the opposition, must “rescue the people and State of Israel” from the Bennett-Lapid government, which is based on nothing but “fraud, hate and power-seeking.”
There have already been signs of right-wing infighting over Netanyahu’s failure to form the next government when he received the mandate first from President Reuven Rivlin. Some within his own Likud party blame Netanyahu for refusing to step aside and allow a more widely-trusted party member take on the task. Others accuse the smaller right-wing parties of scuttling Netanyahu’s efforts by refusing to accept deals he was attempting to make with factions across the political spectrum, in particular the Islamist party Ra’am.
Now that the “government of change” is a fait accompli, Netanyahu wants all such bickering ceased, and for the right-wing and religious parties that remain loyal to him to be laser-focused on regaining the reins of power in Israel.
Given the degree of that loyalty, and Netanyahu’s long experience and mastery of Israeli politics, the new government has a bumpy road ahead, to say the least.
Is King Bibi finished, or will we see him retake the throne in short order?