PM Netanyahu surrounded by coalition party leaders Moshe Kahlon, Avigdor Liberman, Aryeh Deri and Naftali Bennett.
(photo credit: GPO ARCHIVES)
When news of the coalition crisis first broke over a week ago, we argued against the logic of an early election. Disrupting a government mid-term is damaging on a number of levels: It hurts governance by preventing our elected officials from following through on their policy decisions; it is expensive economically because it postpones passage of the state budget and uses taxpayers’ money for campaign expenses; it distracts political leaders from the real issues facing Israel – defense, the economy, foreign affairs – and focuses instead on election season hype.
We are thankful, therefore, that politicians in the government coalition and in the opposition ultimately made the responsible decision not to throw the nation into an early election cycle. Reason won out over narrow political considerations; the interest of the nation trumped factious political jockeying.
Of course, it would be naive to believe that rejection of an early election was the result of politicians’ responsible behavior. Though we would like to believe that our political leadership is sincerely ready to advance the interests of the nation as a whole, even if doing so clashes with its own narrow interests, the reality is that this is not the case – not in Israel and not in any democracy.
This is not because politicians are a corrupt or dishonest bunch of characters. Rather, it is a very human trait to believe that one’s own interests are identical with those of the nation. Politicians – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers included – truly believe that it is in the nation’s interest for them to remain in power. They really think that they are the best at what they do and that anyone who replaces them will do a worse job.
So while we were spared an early election, which is good for the nation, the reasons we were spared it had little to do with the national interest and everything to do with narrow political calculations.
Besides Netanyahu and the Likud and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, every other party in the Knesset was opposed to an election. Most were opposed because opinion polls showed them doing worse than in the previous vote. This was true of Shas and the Joint List as well as the Zionist Union. United Torah Judaism feared an early election would benefit Yesh Atid and had no intention of risking switching a very pro-haredi government with one that included Yesh Atid, a party that worked against haredi interests in the previous government.
The only politicians who really wanted an election were Netanyahu and Lapid, each for very different reasons. Netanyahu, who is at the height of his popularity, would have liked to have seen a vote take place in June, right after the US Embassy is moved to Jerusalem and before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit makes a decision on whether or not to indict him in one of the criminal investigations pending against the prime minister. This would have allowed him to take advantage of his popularity and avoid risking a situation in which an election takes place after an indictment. The Likud, particularly up-and-coming candidates for the Knesset, also supported the idea of being boosted by Netanyahu before his potential discrediting.
For Yair Lapid, in contrast, it would have been a godsend to hold an early election that was precipitated by ultra-Orthodox demands for army service exemptions while the prime minister is under criminal investigation. It was Yesh Atid that in the previous government between 2013 and 2015 pushed legislation obligating steadily larger quotas of haredi enlistment and punishing draft dodgers with sanctions. This legislation was overturned under a haredi pressure by the present government and a new bill was passed that was rejected by the High Court of Justice as discriminatory against non-haredim. In his campaign, Lapid would have taken full advantage of haredi draft dodging, which a majority of Israelis see as unfair.
Though their motivations were not pure, politicians did the right thing in resolving the current crisis. They prevented the untimely demise of the government and the holding of a superfluous election at a time when Israel faces major challenges on a number of fronts.
Now that the distraction of a coalition crisis has subsided our government can get back to doing its job: running the nation.