Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is arguably the most experienced politician in Israel today.
Some call him “the magician” for the way he singlehandedly won the last elections in 2015 against all odds.
His recent political moves, however, might suggest that perhaps the magician is running out of tricks.
First came the scandalous law denying surrogacy for same-sex couples. Netanyahu, who just a week before the passing of the law had promised to oppose it, changed his mind and supported it, clearly under pressure from his Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) coalition partners.
For Netanyahu to zigzag, or even to make an immediate turnabout, is so common that, like with his companion Donald Trump, few raise an eyebrow. On the contrary, like kids who marvel at a magician’s shticks, the fans are cheering with admiration.
In April, for example, Netanyahu triumphantly announced an agreement he had reached with UNHCR, the refugee agency of the United Nations, only to backtrack a few hours later, again under the pressure of his Haredi allies. All he suffered was few days of ridicule in the press, and that was it.
This time, however, it seems that the magician has miscalculated. In July 22, tens of thousands of people rallied in cities across Israel against the recent surrogate law, which had discriminated against gay couples.
If Netanyahu believed that he could dismiss this as just another nuisance of the “left,” he was surprised by the business sector’s response: Many leading corporations announced that they had allowed their gay employees to take a paid day off to participate in the rallies.
Losing the support of the conservative business community was the last thing Netanyahu expected.
Worse, in the eyes of the prime minister, was the reaction of the public. A July 24 poll showed that 56 percent of the Israelis supported the LGBT protests, while 33 percent opposed them. Netanyahu surely realized that, in this case, he couldn’t blame the “left” anymore: The poll showed that 51 percent of his own Likud voters backed the protests; more surprising, so did 58 percent of voters for Jewish Home, a largely religious party also in Netanyahu’s coalition.
Like the great Harry Houdini, the illusionist and stunt performer noted for his sensational escape acts, Netanyahu rescued himself from this embarrassment by stunning his loyal fans with another great act: the nation-state law, passed last week. This law, which shook the already-fragile Israeli equation of a “Jewish democratic” state, moved the needle toward the Jewish pole of the spectrum and impoverished the democratic nature of Israel.
For Netanyahu, however, this was not a problem, but rather a blessing: This was his way of telling his base that they were the true believers, and that the opponents of the law, those leftists and liberals, were not loyal to their Jewish heritage.
Except that he goofed again, this time in a more serious way. By sending a message to the Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — that they were not as equal as the Jewish residents of Israel, he also alienated the Druze community, whose sons serve in big numbers in the IDF and the Israeli police.
More than 400 Druze were killed in wars and being the human shield protecting Israeli Jews against Palestinian terror attacks. No wonder many retired generals and police commissioners expressed their indignation and called for the law to be scrapped.
That people have the right to be equal regardless of their contribution goes without saying, but in Netanyahu’s Israel today, one shouldn’t be picky.
On Saturday night, a huge crowd is expected to gather in Tel Aviv to protest the shameful law, which not only marginalizes one out of every fifth Israeli, but slaps in the face of our Druze brothers-in-arms as well.
Hundred years ago, Houdini stunned his audience at the New York Hippodrome when made a 5-ton elephant, 8 feet tall, vanish from the stage. Likewise, Netanyahu will have to pull another amazing trick from his sleeve to maintain the trust of the Israeli crowd.
Except that unlike the audience at the Hippodrome, which was merely entertained by the magician, we are doomed to pay the price for the prime minister’s damaging acts.