The Jerusalem Post
It’s Israel’s political system, stupid
The swearing-in on Sunday night of Israel’s 36th government was a relief to some of the public, if for no other reason than the fact that it staved off the fifth round of elections. Or so the members of the motley coalition would have us believe, though they, like most people in the country, don’t have great faith in its longevity.
But since the main purpose of the peculiar formation was to oust now-former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they have good cause to be pleased with themselves. Their mission was accomplished, at least temporarily.
The same cannot be said of the voters who gave Netanyahu’s Likud 30 Knesset seats, a far greater number than any other individual party. Nor are many of those who cast their ballots for Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennett, happy at its having joined forces with the Left and Islamist Ra’am Party. Ironically, though their candidate is now prime minister, they’re suffering from buyers’ remorse.
After all, their criticism of Netanyahu, no matter how vocal and hard-hitting, has always come from the right. The current constellation that Bennett finagled, then, isn’t exactly what they’d had in mind when campaigning for him.
Still, there are those among his loyalists who’ve decided to give him a chance to steer the government in the literal and figurative right direction. So far, he’s been put to and passed a couple of small tests.
These include enabling the Jerusalem flag march to proceed as planned on Tuesday, and subsequent airstrikes on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad military compounds, following incendiary-balloon launches from Gaza into southern Israeli border communities.
IT’S Not the end of the story, of course, as the explosive balloon barrages continued throughout Wednesday. The terrorist group ruling Gaza clearly wants to see how much it can poke the post-Netanyahu government without incurring another major IDF operation against its operatives and assets.
The rest of the world, too, is paying close attention to the shift in Israel after 12 straight years with Netanyahu at its helm. This is understandable. In the eyes of his counterparts everywhere, Bibi came not only to represent the Jewish state but practically to personify it.
Ditto for his admirers at home, whose belief in his leadership has kept him in power for more than a decade. Their sense that nobody is capable of confronting Israel’s numerous challenges better than he naturally drove his political foes crazy. Minimizing his electoral and global successes by calling him a “magician” with tricks up his sleeve and rabbits in his hat, they employed any means at their disposal, including the criminal justice system, to remove him from office.
Yet, neither his indictments on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust nor the weekly black-flag “crime minister” protests, prevented him from garnering the most mandates in each of the four elections held since April 2019. This is not to say that his popularity didn’t wane, however. It did take a hit from within his ideological camp. The message he received this week was that his personal rivalries and unwillingness to cultivate a successor in Likud had finally come back to bite him in the behind.
His fans are furious that politicians otherwise on his side were more bent on stabbing him in the back than in safeguarding and furthering the country’s best interests. Like Netanyahu himself, these supporters have been referring to the new government as “fraudulent,” and accusing Bennett of being a kind of political Robin Hood for “stealing from the right and giving to the left.”
They also point to the unprecedented phenomenon of a government headed by a party with a mere seven seats – six after Knesset member Amichai Chikli dropped out in protest over its leftward move. While there is truth to all of the above, the assertion that the ruling coalition is “undemocratic” needs to be nipped in the bud.
IN GENERAL, it’s high time for Israelis across the spectrum to cease frivolously alleging that “Israeli democracy is in danger” whenever certain policies aren’t to their liking. The Left has spent years engaging in this vile practice, going as far as to compare Netanyahu to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example. The Right, meanwhile, has behaved similarly in relation to the “deep state” and interventionist Supreme Court, which gives itself the power to overrule Knesset legislation.
Today’s disgruntled Netanyahu backers and those disillusioned with Bennett may be justified in feeling duped. They have every right to suspect the new government and try to topple it – if it doesn’t crumble internally by itself before they get the opportunity to try.
They are at liberty, as well, to demonstrate against it and call it names, though the latter is an undignified form of expression that I personally cannot stand, particularly when observing fellow Likud members who could benefit from a lesson or two in decorum.
But nobody in or outside of Likud should refer to a government that was created through the manipulation of an extremely problematic – often loony – system “undemocratic.” In the first place, the principle of “majority rule” in the way that the term is bandied about in Israel doesn’t apply where coalition-building is concerned.
Secondly, had Bennett not made a sneaky deal with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, the country would have been forced to head to the polls, yet again. The notion that if he had joined Netanyahu instead, New Hope Party leader Gideon Sa’ar would have abandoned his “anybody but Bibi” platform to jump on Bibi’s bandwagon is based solely on wishful thinking.
A more realistic assessment is that if Netanyahu had persuaded Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich to agree to backing by Ra’am, Bennett would have stayed with his natural partners on the Right.
NONE OF this speculation is relevant anymore, now that the government is in place. And since Netanyahu is both certain that it will fall and determined to egg on its demise from his perch as head of the opposition, his followers ought to be less fraught.
They’d also do well to keep in mind that working the cockamamie system to his advantage is among Netanyahu’s talents, both as a skilled politician and a great leader who will unquestionably go down in history as such.
Most important of all, as members of the national camp, Likud politicians and voters must take great care not to give Israel’s enemies – whether the ayatollahs in Tehran, the radicals in the US Congress, or the editors of The New York Times – any additional fodder for assault. Hurling epithets at Bennett and decrying the “undemocratic” nature of the new government only fills their antisemitic cannons with ammunition.
We on the Right flaunt our patriotism, proudly displaying Israeli flags and boasting about how lucky we are to live in the only democracy in the Middle East. No single coalition, even one pathetically describing itself as the “change government,” can or should alter that.
No, it’s not the country that requires a do-over. It’s the political system, stupid.