Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stands at the head of what appears to be one
of the strongest and most stable Israeli coalition governments in recent memory.
Faced against a diminutive and divided opposition, Netanyahu would seem to be
able to sit back and relax.
But Netanyahu’s coalition is far less secure
than meets the eye.
Two of his putative “natural partners,” the
pro-settler bloc and the haredim, either already are or are about to become
“high maintenance” partners.
Ever since the Migron crisis came to a head
last winter with the ruling by the High Court of Justice that the outpost had to
be removed, the Netanyahu government has been hard at work trying to appease the
right-wing bloc. In an attempt to avoid clashes between the government, the army
and the police, on the one hand, and recalcitrant settler activists, on the
other, it has done everything in its power to appease the settlers and their
The government has offered the squatters who set up residence
on privately-owned property in Beit El and Migron alternative housing, and has
paid off the broader right wing by promising massive construction in the
The threat of alienating his haredi partners is going to be
far more difficult for Netanyahu to avoid.
At some point next week the
Keshev Committee, headed by MK Yohanan Plesner from Kadima, will be submitting
its recommendations for significantly increasing the haredi draft.
recent reports in the Hebrew media are correct, the recommendations will mandate
a substantive change in the way Israeli haredi men commonly lead their lives,
forcing most to serve. As a rally that was held in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim
neighborhood earlier this week showed, those recommendations most certainly will
be met with the staunch opposition of the haredi political parties, UTJ and
Shas, Netanyahu’s second set of “natural partners,” and are liable to lead to a
severe and perhaps irreconcilable coalition crisis.
With so much energy
being spent on his two primary coalition partners, the last thing Netanyahu will
be able to afford is alienating the more mainstream middle class, a significant
portion of which traditionally has voted for the Likud. That is why Netanyahu
has good reason to be worried about the prospect of the social protest movement
sweeping the streets of Israel once again this summer.
Heading into a
budget that is almost certain to contain increased VAT and other taxes, and
after spending millions to appease the right-wing bloc, Netanyahu will have
little resources left to placate an energized and angry mainstream middle class,
if the social protest movement gains momentum.
Moreover, as opposed to
last year, in which the main opposition parties, Kadima and the Labor Party,
remained aloof from the street protesters, the situation in the summer of 2012
is likely to be very different.
Yair Lapid has been working to position
himself as the man who will look out for middle-of-theroad Israel, for the
people who work, serve and pay their taxes, but who have no lobby working on
their behalf the way the settlers and haredim do. If Lapid taps into the
disgruntlement felt by the underrepresented Israelis over the high cost of
living and the burdens they are forced to bear, he is primed to gain a great
deal of support from people who voted in 2009 for the Likud and other coalition
Kadima’s leadership has also changed since last summer. The
lackluster and standoffish Livni has been replaced by Shaul Mofaz, who said upon
his election as party chairman he would champion issues of social justice. While
Mofaz has proven that his promises can often be taken with a grain of salt, he
might nevertheless try to gain political traction by supporting a renewed social
protest movement this summer.
Mofaz might even go so far as to lead his
party out of the coalition over that issue, particularly if the haredim have
left as a result of legislation sponsored by the Kadima-led Keshev Committee, and
force early elections.
Netanyahu’s concerns about the political impact of
a renewed social protest movement this summer notwithstanding, it is imperative
that he and his ministers make it absolutely clear that demonstrators must be
allowed their democratic right to protest.
Policemen and officers who
were excessively brutal toward demonstrators in Tel Aviv last weekend must be
brought up on disciplinary charges, and clear statements need to be made about
the need to allow demonstrations to be held, even if they are politically
inconvenient for the government.
It is unconscionable that in recent
weeks the police summoned key activists from the protest movement to the station
houses for “conversations” about their political plans this summer, a course of
action that is accepted only in benighted countries.
It is also
unconscionable that the police last weekend made mass and indiscriminate arrests
of protestors, the overwhelming majority of whom were clearly innocent of any
real wrongdoing, and that the police allegedly then prevented the injured from
receiving medical attention for hours and even barred some from meeting with
The public security minister, the prime minister, the attorney
general and the police commissioner all need to make it emphatically clear to
the police troops that that behavior is insufferable in a democracy.
goes without saying that vandalism by demonstrators should not be tolerated and
the offenders certainly ought to be prosecuted.
Ultimately, however, the
intimidation tactics and the use of excessive force by officers of the law pose
a far greater risk to Israel.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and