I begin with an announcement about a One Israel Fund Webinar in which I will be participating: In Conversation with Eve Harow (pictured), director of community development and tourism.
“Guarding Israel at this Critical Juncture”
Sunday, June 19, 10 AM eastern N. America time, 5 PM Israel time
It is necessary to register for this Zoom program.
I will be so pleased if you share this information with others, and join me.
It is not unreasonable in a democracy to expect elected officials to reflect the political orientation of the electorate to some significant degree. One might assume this as a given. Except that here in Israel right now – as a result of personal animosities and untenable alliances – this is simply not the case.
We are able to see readily enough that the electorate tilted right in the last election. The Likud, headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, garnered 29 mandates – that’s 12 more than Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, the second largest party in the Knesset.
The problem was that Netanyahu – with the inclusion of Religious Zionists (7 mandates), Shas (9) and UTJ (6) – fell well short of achieving a governing coalition because Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope (6) and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (6) refused to sit with him. Refused? They took pride in shunning Netanyahu. But if we consider that the voters who chose New Hope and Yamina were predominantly right-wing, we can readily see that the majority of voters (more than 52%) tilted to the right.
What Bennett and Yair Lapid (chair of Yesh Atid) did was to cobble together the most diverse governing coalition in Israel’s history – stretching from New Hope on the right to Ra’am, the political arm of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement of Israel, and Meretz, which asserts that it is Zionist, but in fact does not vote like a Zionist party, on the left.
There were claims emanating from the left that this coalition was to be celebrated for its inclusion of an Arab party, making it Israel’s first truly inclusionary coalition. But those claims avoided mention of the fact that the Arab party in question is Islamic/anti-Zionist. Whatever politically conciliatory statements a very smooth Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas has made, the fact remains that he answers to the Islamic Movement, whose charter states:
“The State of Israel was born of the racist, occupying Zionist project; iniquitous Western and British imperialism; and the debasement and feebleness of the Arab and Islamic [nations]. We do not absolve ourselves, the Palestinian people, of our responsibility and our failure to confront this project.”
This is a red line that should not have been crossed. Israel is a Zionist State, a Jewish State. The inclusion of anti-Zionist elements in the government generates a slippery slope and weakens the ground we stand on, both literally and figuratively.
At one point well into the course of this year, Abbas had said he didn’t mind if the coalition fell apart. As far as he was concerned, he had helped his Arab constituency, primarily the Bedouin in the Negev. He felt confident that he would garner additional mandates in the next election, enabling him to come back even stronger in the next government. But it hasn’t worked that way: he is being accused of collaboration with Zionists.
Thus has Abbas reversed his position: he is not eager to depart the coalition. The opportunity he has now will not likely come his way again.
Jamal Zahalka, a former MK and chair of the Balad party, which is a faction of the Joint List in the opposition, says he will not forgive Abbas for the “the great political crime he committed against [the Palestinian people].”
Abbas, charges Zahalka, gave political backing to the “occupation” government, led by “far-right” Naftali Bennett, “to kill Palestinians, break into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and bomb Gaza with missiles.”
So there you have it. A word of extreme caution to those who imagine that true cooperation with an anti-Zionist party is possible. Bottom line: it’s never enough.
Abbas, seeking to play his cards to the best of his ability, declared on Saturday that he does not rule out being in the same government with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and members of the Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir (whom he obviously assumes will be in the next government).
Well, we needed a bit of levity, and with this he provided it. Why? Why would he imagine that Religious Zionist party members Bezalel Smotrich (left below) and Itamar Ben Gvir would sit with him?? If there is any certainty in this whole mess, it is that they would not remotely consider it.
Even as Foreign Minister Lapid made much of how wonderful this coalition was because it represented a cross-section of Israeli society, he knew quite well that it had had very little chance of functioning cohesively precisely because of its diversity. He frequently offered words of caution regarding the need to avoid moving forward on an ideological tangent that would split the coalition apart.
Now, precisely what Lapid feared has come to be. It was inevitable. Over the last several weeks we have seen a diminution of the coalition, as Idit Silman left Yamina, and Amichai Chikli declined to vote with the government as well: in both cases they expressed discontent with government positions.
It was an ideological vote – on applying Israeli law to the citizens living in Judea & Samaria – that precipitated the implosion of the coalition that we are witnessing now. The law did not pass because two MKs – Meretz’s Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Ra’am’s Mazen Ghanaim – did not adhere to coalition discipline and voted against it. They are not inclined towards reversing their votes or leaving the coalition.
Just as there has never been a governing coalition in Israel as diverse as the current one, neither has there ever been a spectacle such as we are now witnessing. I know that I am hardly alone in my sense of horror. We are so much better than this. Yuval Steinitz (Likud) described the coalition as a “circus,” and he is not wrong.
I will refrain from describing the government implosion in detail, for the situation is unstable, with new situations emerging almost hourly.
At the heart of the drama right now is Nir Orbach, who had been a Bennett loyalist.
What we’ve seen over the last couple of days is a deterioration of his original position. Having agonized about what steps he should take, he finally made a decision of sorts, telling Bennett that he will no longer vote with the coalition until the current situation is rectified. At a minimum this means passing the Judaea & Samaria law. Orbach had said he wouldn’t vote to bring the government down, but he seems to be shifting on this. In early meetings with the prime minister, a release was put out indicating that all was cordial. During his last meeting with Bennett yelling could be heard, and he then stormed out.
Bennett now estimates that the coalition has about two weeks in which to fix the situation. It is highly unlikely that he can “fix” it. His party is scrambling.
I will share just one further aspect of this situation that sheds light on how convoluted it is:
According to the agreement between Bennett and Lapid, if a member of the coalition’s right takes the government down, Lapid would take over as prime minister for three months or more, until after an election was held and a new coalition set in place. This is a situation that Orbach had been exceedingly reluctant to generate.
Lapid is a “two-state” advocate – this much has been clear, but what has come to light is even worse:
Yair Lapid has a new communications advisor by the name of Mia Bengel. She believes that Israel must recognize the “Nakba,” – the catastrophe, as the Arabs refer to Israeli Independence Day. What is more, she thinks the “refugees” should be paid reparations.
Heaven help us! This, too, is part of the slippery slope. The government cannot fall fast enough.
None of this would be happening if the opposition had supported the Judaea & Samaria legislation. They were roundly criticized in some quarters for refusing to do so. But they knew that if they withheld support, it would expose the inherent weakness in the coalition. I remain confident that in due course that legislation – or stop-gap legislation for the interim – will be passed.
The way to avoid an election when the government falls is via a constructive no-confidence vote. This is possible when a new coalition has coalesced in the opposition that has at least 61 mandates and is prepared to govern. This can only happen if a sufficient number of the members of the current government move over to the opposition – either as an independent party or as part of Likud. This would be Orbach’s choice and is what he will seek to promote.
It could happen, but the odds are not good right now. Gideon Sa’ar, who remains adamant in his refusal to go back to Likud, is the stumbling block. Sa’ar also brought a moment of levity to these proceedings, when he declared that members of the government have to sacrifice more.
I lost all respect for Sa’ar a long time ago. He claims to be right-wing, but harbors such intense animosity towards Netanyahu – whatever his failings — that he would prefer to sit in a coalition with Ra’am than re-join Likud.
Has he not noticed that if he “sacrificed” now and brought New Hope to join with Likud he might save the day?
MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionists) was correct when he said yesterday that there is nothing we can do now, we must wait for the government to fall.
Rothman does not seem particularly distressed, nor am I. It is essential that this government go down, and in the end there is a silver lining:
The electorate has moved further right! Ironically, it turns out that this is the current coalition’s gift to the State of Israel.
Depending on the poll, it is predicted that Likud will have has somewhere between 34 and 36 mandates, and Religious Zionists between nine and 11. Polls are predicting a 60-60 tie, but Netanyahu is reportedly confident that in this political climate garnering one more mandate via campaigning will not be difficult.
What is more, I am seeing an increased activism on the part of the right-wing of the electorate. They are assuming Zionist positions with conviction: seriously embracing their belief in our right to the land.
All of this is exciting, and I look forward to writing about this phenomenon. Perhaps it will turn out that we had to go down in order to come up.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner.