Fetters on Israel’s political passions

A straitjacket “change” coalition would be good for Israeli politics and society. National unity, however temporary and fragile, along with a change of leadership after 15 years, is necessary and worthwhile.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, June 4, 2021. Print-friendly copy

Cartoon: Amos Biderman (Haaretz)

The Israeli “unity” or “change” government that possibly will be confirmed by the Knesset next week is oddest doohickey ever devised in a democracy.

The coalition agreement between nine radically different parties reminds me of a business contract where partners divvy-up assets in a situation of zero trust. The documents signed do not read as accords designed to heal the country.

Like the previous, bifurcated, failed government between Binyamin Netanyahu and Benny Gatz, the purported new government involves bits and blocks that can check each other in every possible way every minute of the day. All parties are to wear straitjackets that deliver punishing electric shocks the split second they step out of line.

In fact, all parties are expected to stymie other parts of the coalition on any issue of controversy, like issues of religion and state, alternative family rights, diplomatic moves in the Palestinian arena, and even the much-needed, ramped-up policing of the Israeli Arab and Bedouin sectors.

In other words, the coalition deal is a cockamamie contrivance almost purposefully designed to achieve political paralysis. All parties are neutered, except where they might, hopefully, agree on overarching policies, such as health and economic recovery plans, and countering Iran.

Under normal circumstances, I would say that this is a terrible thing; an incoherent and impossible method to govern the country. It could fail in 1,000 different ways.

But these are not normal times. Israel cannot afford a fifth election within three years. Israel’s most critical challenges (like the likelihood of more military conflict with Iran and/or its proxies, and of Arab insurrection in Jerusalem) can best be tackled by a broad right-left government.

Moreover, it will be refreshing to have an Arab party in the coalition for a while, and healthy for some Haredi and Hardali parties to be out of government for a while.

EVEN MORE IMPORTANT is the absolute and urgent need to tone down this country’s political heat; to restrain Israel’s raging political fevers after 32 months of furious campaigning.

Thus, handcuffing MKs into near paralysis may be a good thing. Muzzling and manacling them by super-rigorous coalition discipline could be good for Israel’s political system and a balm for Israeli society. Israel needs a year or two of respect and recuperation, even if the period is bound to be riven with political disagreements.

Indeed, Israel needs fetters on its political passions, which have gone wildly out of whack.

This has been true regarding the overly fierce debates about Netanyahu’s “criminality” – an issue that eventually will be decided by the courts. It is true regarding the ugly campaigns of anti-religious hate run by some leading politicians (like Avigdor Lieberman and Nitzan Horowitz, who had better clam-up if the new government is going to work). It is true regarding debate about the overreaching powers of the Supreme Court, about conversion policy, about building in Judea and Samaria, and more.

Compromise may not be possible in all these spheres, but at least the declared government can lower the flames.

Indeed, bringing about a climate of relative calm is the greatest contribution the new government could make. The coalition may be a quasi-democratic, quasi-autocratic behemoth; a weighed-down and incongruous creation stemming from force majeure. But national “unity,” however temporary and fragile, along with a change of leadership after 15 years, is necessary and worthwhile.

Perhaps a spirit of bipartisan solidarity will emerge. Perhaps Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid will demonstrate brave and empathetic leadership, especially when dishing out the bittersweet medicine (budget cuts and new taxes) that undoubtedly is coming. Israelis expect them to do so.

Alas, I am still not convinced the intended government will pass muster in Knesset. Netanyahu is certain to do everything to peel away one or two MKs over the next week, keeping him in office as caretaker prime minister for the rest of the year, and making another election in the fall necessary.

Netanyahu will then be sure to pour all his energies into another election campaign, while major decision-making on critical issues remains frozen. And all sides will revert to the venomous mudslinging Israelis have suffered through for too long. In fact, if I were a betting man, this would be my wager.

But for today, it is not too much to hope for a government that will be neither radical left nor radical right, neither anti-religious nor obnoxiously religious-coercive, neither feeble nor fierce – except when dealing with Israel’s real enemies outside the country, towards whom Israel must remain uncompromising.

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David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker
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