Seeds of hope
The Skeptic’s Kaddish was never intended as a politics blog, and despite the political turmoil of the last two years (which I won’t get into right now), I hadn’t written anything about Israel’s political scene until very, very recently… The endless political limbo brought about by endless megalomania and endless corruption seemed endless. Endless. Endless. Endless.
For all intents and purposes (to somewhat oversimplify), Israel had not had a functional government for two years until a broad group of unlikely political partners came together to establish the most diverse government in Israel’s history, spanning nearly the entire political spectrum, including even an Islamist Arab party.
But, as of today, finally, a new page has been turned in Israeli history; and, in recent days, I have been unable to remain silent because delicate seeds of hope have found purchase in my soul.
As I’ve written before, it’s important to emphasize that Israel’s new government could not possibly be any more threadbare. It represents only 61 out 120 seats (and, apparently, one of those has declared himself a free agent, separate from his party).
It has been said that in a governing coalition of 61, every member of the coalition is, essentially, a Prime Minister because any one coalition member could singlehandedly topple the government. Given that context, hope seems an especially scary thing.
Rational reasons for hope
In this blog post I am going to posit several related reasons as to why it is not irrational to hope that Israel’s new, very fragile government may actually survive.
1. The members of Israel’s gov’t know there is no alternative
There’s no alternative to this government.
Rather, the only alternative to this government is another round of elections, and Israel has already been through four rounds of national elections in the span of two years.
Whereas former(!) Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to be unwilling to step down from the chairmanship of his political party (the Likud), and has repeatedly proven that he has no compunction against sending the country to round after round after round of costly elections, other politicians and parties are tired of the chaos. They feel responsible to the citizens of this country. They feel, for example, responsible for passing a friggin’ budget, which Israel has not had since 2019!
But you know what? I’m not naïve enough to think that all the members of Israel’s new government actually feel responsible to the country. That would be silly, right? Politicians who have unselfish interests?
Well that’s okay, because the thing is this: since Bibi Netanyahu failed to form a stable government after four consecutive, grueling rounds of elections, the self-interested members of Israel’s new government coalition have the perfect excuse to partner with politicians from across the political aisle. After all, Netanyahu, they now declare, has been selfishly dragging the country to elections after elections! And they, as deeply concerned and moral political leaders, are merely trying to save the State.
2. Netanyahu unifies the new gov’t by leading the Opposition
Netanyahu is the glue that holds the new coalition together. The more determinedly he battles to regain power, the more he unifies his otherwise unthinkable mix of governing adversaries.-David Horovitz, Editor, Times of Israel
It’s that simple, and that’s the ultimate irony of Netanyahu’s political position. The more he continues to throw his political weight around, as he has been doing non-stop; and the more he thrashes around like a wild animal, attempting to discredit Israel’s new government, the more the disparate parts of this new government will be motivated to work together.
3. Most of the parties that comprise the new government stand to lose if the government falls
This may actually be the most important thing to understand.
There are eight parties, which are part of this coalition government, as I’ve written before. They include three right-wing parties, two centrist parties, two left-wing parties, and one Islamist Arab party. The only parties that would stand to benefit politically from another round of elections at this time are the centrist parties.
The government’s right-wing parties
- Let’s begin with the Prime Minister and his own party, which is one of the right-wing parties. It won 7 Knesset seats (out of 120), and one of its members has abandoned the party, bringing it down to 6 seats. It is ideologically to the right of Netanyahu’s Likud, and many of its own voters oppose the formation of Israel’s new government because it is not an exclusively right-wing government.
- By joining this government, Prime Minister Bennett and his party have married themselves to it. Only by successfully governing, thereby proving to their voters that this was, indeed, the correct decision for the country, can they expect to get reelected to the Knesset.
- The 2nd right-wing party is comprised of former members of Netanyahu’s Likud but explicitly ran on dethroning Netanyahu. If this new government without the former Prime Minister falls apart, the party’s raison d’être ceases to be relevant. And the members of this party will have an incredibly difficult time rejoining the Likud, for they are now perceived as political traitors – of Netanyahu’s own party.
- The 3rd right-wing party is secularist and refuses to rubber stamp the policies of the Orthodox political parties that have long partnered with Netanyahu. The two ultra-Orthodox parties refuse to sit with it in a government because it opposes their agenda; and they, together, have twice as many Knesset seats as it does. If the new government falls, and a right-wing government arises, this party may find itself outside of the coalition.
The government’s left-wing parties
For the purposes of this post, it’s not important to draw a distinction between the two (1, 2) left-wing parties because they’re essentially in the same boat. As I’ve written before, Israel’s left-wing has been decimated and stands no chance whatsoever of forming a government at any point in the near-to-mid future. That’s why their political calculus is so simple:
If the new Israeli government falls, its two left-wing parties will once again be relegated to the Opposition; and they will lose all of their Ministries.
The government’s Arab party
There is a very interesting story to be told about the government’s Islamist Arab party, which broke off from the other 3 Arab parties in the Knesset prior to this 4th round of elections.
Historically, the Arab political parties have refused to join or support Israeli governments (with very rare exceptions) because they did not want to grant them legitimacy. However, this strategy essentially left the Israeli Arab community without any political clout and with no access to the government’s purse strings.
While the Islamist Arab party is the most socially conservative of the Arab parties, it took a calculated political risk in the last elections and declared that it would be willing to join any Israeli government willing to meet its demands. This party now needs to prove to its community that its gamble was worth it – that its partnership in this government will benefit its constituents. If the new government falls, the Islamist Arab party will never get the chance to prove that it made the correct, historic choice.
A final personal note
I didn’t always care so much about Israel, even though I was born here and visited regularly from the USA throughout my childhood.
I did not dislike Israel, but to me it was primarily the home of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, rather than my home. Also, the significance of it being a “Jewish state” (i.e. of a Jewish state existing) did not resonate much with me emotionally… I just took that for granted. For example, I remember visiting Israel’s national military cemetery as a youth and awkwardly watching my mother cry at the graves of Israel’s fallen soldiers. “Is there something wrong with me?” I wondered back then. “Why don’t I care as much as Mom does?”
My personal journey of returning to live in Israel as an adult is a story for another day… but suffice it to say that my thinking and way of relating to the Jewish state has profoundly matured over my four decades. Today, I am a deeply patriotic, proud and concerned Israeli citizen; and, as such –
I humbly wish our new government every possible success – may it serve all of Israel well and restore some measure of decency and good will to our society and national discourse.