From Israel: What the Heck Is Going On??

First, a clarification: One reader recently posed a question about my origins, and it is possible that others may wonder as well. I was born in the US, and spent a good part of my life there: I still pay US taxes and vote in American elections.

I am passionate about my chosen life as an Israeli, but this has not closed me off to caring about the country of my birth. When I write about the US, I do so as an American.


Having said this, I want to turn to the situation in Israel – which is also deeply distressing. It is about Israel that I posed the question, “What the heck is going on?”

But there is a difference with regard to my current unease about Israel: I have already expressed my deep concern about the future viability of America, should – Heaven forbid! – Biden win the election. I fear the irredeemable loss of American exceptionalism and traditional American values.

But here in Israel, as weary and irritated – as disgusted – as I am with the current situation, I retain confidence that ultimately we will pull out of it.


I repeat what I have written before: Whatever I indicate about the situation here is qualified and tentative. Our current state of affairs lacks stability, so that what I write one day is frequently no longer the case the next. That instability – that lack of solid ground upon which to stand – makes for a restless, frustrated and sometimes irate citizenry.


It is undoubtedly the case that having to deal with the coronavirus adds to that sense of instability.


Life simply is not normal and the realization that we don’t know when this will end hangs over us. We are dealing with high anxiety, stress and depression.

Exacerbating this has been the failure of the government to cope with the situation decisively or with clarity. There have been mixed messages and frequent changes in guidelines. Hopefully now the new set of regulations to be put in place ‒ mandating limited lock-downs for areas with the highest levels of contagion ‒ will be effective. Numbers are quite bad, not just in Israel, but in many places in the world. A full lock-down is threatened, but there is a desire to avoid it because it wreaks huge economic damage.


In the midst of all of this, there is a ray of hope:

Israel Institute for Biological Research has announced that it has an excellent vaccine for corona in hand, which has already been tested successfully on animals. In October, after the High Holidays, testing on humans will begin.


credit: Jerusalem Post

What I’m looking for, as well, is a ray of hope on the political front.

Declared Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin on Monday (emphasis added):

“… the way things are going at the moment – it is impossible to work and run a country this way.”

And is he on the mark!


Time and again, when Israel has faced difficulties, the country has rallied with a spirit of unity. Yet now, for a variety of reasons, this is not the case – quite the contrary!

In today’s JPost, Ophir Falk writes about just this troubling phenomenon: Previously, politicians who felt antipathy towards one another managed to come together “in times of crisis when the nation needed it most.” This was true of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, as well as others. But it is not happening now!


credit: Bloomberg

If anyone is going to come out ahead at the end of this fiasco, it is likely to be Naftali Bennett, head of Yamina, which currently sits in the opposition. Yamina’s numbers are going up as Likud’s are dropping. He is, certainly, the man to watch. He’s had his eye on the premiership for some time, but I suspect it begins to feel possible to him now.


OK, so two politicians with no love lost between them, Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Benny Gantz (Blue & White), came together for the good of the country because of the crisis of corona and concomitant economic problems. Or so we were told.

President Ruby Rivlin, who pushed for this, celebrated when the decision was announced. But as we’ve watched the situation unfold, it becomes clear that this government should never have come into being. I believe I have written as much previously. It is a misnomer to even refer to it as a “unity” government.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister/Defense Minister Gantz are at each other constantly and, at this point, very publicly. When a compromise is called for, each says that it could all be solved instantly, if only the other would compromise.

credit: Israel Hayom

It is the good of the country that is being compromised again and again by political considerations.


I feel as if the country is engaged in a prolonged bout of political “whack-a-mole.”

“Whack-a-mole” – a situation in which a mole is pushed down into its hole only to pop up from another – is a metaphor for a series of unending complications.


Briefly, this is what we are looking at:

The unity agreement specified that a budget had to be passed by August 24th or the country would automatically go to elections. It was to be a two-year budget.

Netanyahu recently came forward with a proposal for a one-year budget, which, he said, would permit important flexibility during the corona crisis.

Is he correct? Various economist take differing positions on this. What is fairly universally noted is that going to elections would be bad for the economy. This is not only because it would be a further financial drain at a time when things are already difficult but also because it would signal instability, which deters recovery.

If an election would be bad for the country then it behooves both factions to make sure it doesn’t happen, or so one would think. But it’s not that simple.


Gantz is insisting on the two-year budget, which is what was in the agreement. What’s in Gantz’s head, along with any other factors, is his one-and-only opportunity to become prime minister. If there is a one-year budget, then a crisis might arise, or could be generated, when the next budget would be brought forward – and that would initiate elections. That would happen before Gantz had taken over. But if there were a two-year budget, Gantz would already be prime minister before the next budget vote.


Is this part of what Netanyahu is considering as he holds out for the one year budget?

Surely, yes.


A compromise has been advanced by Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser (bless them) of Derech Eretz, to delay the deadline for elections by 100 days in order to allow more time for negotiations on the budget to take place. Both factions voiced approval of this approach.

But now Netanyahu seems to be stalling. which prompted Gantz to give Netanyahu a 24 hour deadline for moving the legislation along.

Responded Netanyahu: “We don’t need 24 hours, we have a one-year budget ready to go.”

Gantz has implied in response that he might support an “anti-Bibi” bill that Bibi-hater Yair Lapid is promoting, a bill that would prevent Netanyahu from forming a government because he is under indictment. (That is, if elections were called, and Netanyahu had sufficient mandates, he would be blocked from forming a new government.) Lapid is urging Gantz to come along (although I don’t believe it would pass in any event).

Were Gantz to support this, retorted Netanyahu, it would be a signal to call new elections immediately.


None of this is remotely pretty, and I suspect your heads may be spinning at this point.

What this does for me is give me a stomach ache.


An analysis follows that I hope will provide some context and clarity. I will return very soon to follow up and look at a host of other major issues.

Gantz and Lapid ran together in the last election on a despicable “anyone but Bibi” platform that was deficient in addressing issues. Gantz subsequently walked away from his partnership with Lapid (to Lapid’s enormous ire), I am convinced primarily because a unity government gave him his only opportunity to become prime minister. Never mind all his talk about the noble sacrifices he was making for the country.

What is clear is that Gantz retains great animosity for Netanyahu even as he has agreed to work with him, and would still be happy to bring him down. Knesset Speaker Levin has addressed multiple ways in which Blue & White sabotages government efforts.

A good part of the dysfunction of the unity government can be attributed to this.


On the other hand, Netanyahu would truly prefer that Gantz never have an opportunity to serve as prime minister. And Gantz knows this and has little reason to trust him. Not a dynamic that allows for governmental progress, either.

(In truth, I also would much rather that Gantz never became prime minister. I do not believe he is equipped or experienced. Nor do I believe he is politically savvy. He is a follower, not a leader.)


As to Bibi Netanyahu, I see a picture that is terribly sad and disconcerting.  I do not hate him – as many say they do today.  I believe the country owes him a great debt on many counts – strength against Iran, establishment of fiscal stability, enhancing of Israel’s diplomatic stance in the world, etc.

But I see a man who has passed his prime and is on the verge of losing control.

I believe the indictments against him had considerable political overtones, and I don’t think he has been treated fairly. But the fact remains that a trial is imminent and it has to pull on him and distract him.

What I dearly wish is that he had mentored a successor and stepped down some while ago. But that is not his style. That propensity for going it alone is one of his major weaknesses.

Now the pressures on him are overwhelming and it is not surprising that he no longer conveys an image of a confident leader. He is an adept politician – said to be one of the very best, but he is also, for want of a better term, a finagler. Big time. There are reasons why he is not trusted. There are those who charge, not without reason, that he talks right, and then acts left — so it’s impossible to know what he really stands for.


There is a left wing/progressive movement in the country to push him out now, with major demonstrations taking place weekly. It is supported politically and financially by those eager to take Netanyahu down. I find these demonstrations to be terribly distasteful. Why should a few thousand people in the streets imagine they have to right to push a duly elected leader from office? Yet that is what they say they are about.

They claim a democratic right to demonstrate thus and their protests are scrupulously guarded (never mind the risks to the nation of increasing corona when so many gather in tight congregation, even as there are strict limits to people gathering for prayer or weddings).

Lapid has incited these demonstrations, declaring to Netanyahu recently that “we will continue until you step down.” And Moshe Ya’alon, head of Telem, which is allied with Yesh Atid, has joined at least one demonstration. The proper place for Lapid and Ya’alon, who are members of the Knesset, to contest Netanyahu is via the next elections.

Because Bibi Netanyahu is who he is, he will not cave to these pressures. If anything they stiffen his spine. Those who are demonstrating simply increase the unrest in the nation.


Fervently do I wish I had better news. But I reiterate: We will prevail in the end. There are many good people, wonderful people, in this land.


This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. . Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
Arlene from Israel website.

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