Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, August 5, 2016.
There is no better time than the “Nine Days” leading to Tisha BeAv for Bibi and Bennett to overcome their personal animus, and get on with the business of efficiently running the government with a minimum of mutual respect.
It’s a good thing that the Knesset went into summer recess this week, and it would be great if the cabinet did so too. That might be the only way to prevent the coalition partners, especially Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, from gouging-out each others’ eyes.
The Prime Minister and Education Minister have been at each other’s throats for years, but it seems that their squabbling is getting nastier and more personal every month. It’s going way beyond the bounds of expected political rivalry, especially between two leaders who supposedly belong to the same nationalist camp.
You would think that there were no bigger issues for them to worry about, together – like keeping Presidents Obama and Abbas at bay, or thwarting the radical liberal kulterkampf that is being attempted in this country!
It’s not that the two leaders don’t have serious issues to disagree about.
They do, including IDF (re)deployment in the West Bank, (the lack of) settlement construction and the legalization of outposts, continuing religious-national disgrace on the Temple Mount, IDF readiness for war with Hamas and the government’s (insufficient?) attention to the tunnel threat, real-time and comprehensive intelligence briefings for security cabinet members, the regulation of public broadcasting, and prosecution of the soldier who shot a wounded terrorist in Hebron.
Netanyahu and Bennett have legitimate, different opinions on these issues, and these differences will likely find political expression the next time Israelis go to the polls. But in the meantime, there is a government to run, and a nationalist camp to keep in power. Does the vicious name-calling and mutual demonizing really help?
Consider: In recent months, Bennett has wildly and wrongly accused the government (read: Netanyahu) of “dancing to the tune of B’Tselem” and of “ethical befuddlement.”
He infuriated Netanyahu last month by harshly and unfairly indicting the Prime Minister of “voting for the Gaza disengagement and destruction of Gush Katif, releasing more terrorists than anyone in the history of the state, freezing construction in Judea and Samaria, surrendering to Hamas, and declaring a Palestinian state at Bar-Ilan University.”
Bennett consistently accuses Netanyahu of hiding relevant intelligence from the cabinet and information about diplomacy from the public. And he has voted against Netanyahu in several critical cabinet decisions.
For his part, Netanyahu has nonsensically called Bennett and Justice Minister Shaked (also of Bayit Yehudi) “darlings of the Left,” while himself begging Yitzhak Herzog to bring his hard-Left Labor Party into the government to replace Bennett. Netanyahu has spuriously accused Bennett of “teaching the poems of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish” to Israeli school kids.
Netanyahu spitefully slams Bennett whenever the Bayit Yehudi leader tries to raise a serious matter in cabinet. He lords it over Bennett in public with the refrain “I have led more soldiers into battle than you. You will not preach to me.” And he has threatened to fire Bennett half a dozen times, calling him “cheeky” and “irresponsible.”
Particularly galling to Netanyahu is that Bennett receives favorable coverage in the fiercely anti-Netanyahu newspaper Yediot Ahronot. Particularly galling to Bennett is that Bayit Yehudi is savaged almost daily in the pages of the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom.
Alas, both leaders are guilty, I think, of “firing inside the armored personnel carrier”; of undermining the nationalist camp with unrestrained acrimony from within.
This is unwise and intolerable, and must end; or else, the government will collapse.
Would Netanyahu and Bennett and their voters prefer that Herzog, Tzipi Livni, and Haim Ramon lead Israel towards an Oslo III agreement or unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and a division of Jerusalem? Would they prefer to see Amir Peretz return absurdly as defense minister, or Shelly Yachimovich disastrously lead a socialist revolution as finance minister?
The answer, of course, is of course not! So stop squabbling, boys, and get on with the business of efficiently running the government with a minimum of mutual respect.
Remember that in past ardent political rivals have worked civilly together at the helm of the country despite inbuilt tensions. Think of David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, or Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, or Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres, or even Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu. Not smooth, and without much love. But in each case, their raspy governments racked-up real achievements.
Think also of Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, who have clawed at each other mercilessly over the past two years while Lieberman was in opposition. But now that they’re in government together, certain decorum pertains.
In the end, Netanyahu and Bennett have a lot in common. They are gifted, intelligent, outspoken, well rooted in security discourse, conversant about America, and ideologically committed to conservatism. Bennett needs to be patient and earn more political experience. Netanyahu must learn to groom successors.
The Talmud (Shabbat 63a) comments that even the most vociferous and bitter disagreements can lead to a good result if the dueling scholars actually listen to each other attentively. If they do so, says Rabbi Shimon Ben-Lakish, the Heavens will listen to the Jewish People too, and vanquish its enemies. (He uses a play on words to make his point: Proper speech, dibbur, will lead to the subduing, yadber, of our adversaries).
Is it too much to ask Netanyahu and Bennett to make a similar scholarly effort? It might even help us win some important diplomatic battles.