Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party and Naftali Bennett’s Bayit
Yehudi (Jewish Home) party deserve to be the dominant forces in Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s next government. Together they hold 31 seats in the new
Israeli parliament – as many seats as Netanyahu’s Likud Beytenu list
More important, they represent the best values of Israeli society
and the clearly-enunciated will of the people.
Alone among Israeli
leaders who ran in this election, Lapid and Bennett ran positive campaigns that
stressed values and principles, not just policies and demands. They spoke of
Zionist commitment, patriotism, honesty in business and politics, a fair
shouldering of the military and national economic burdens, and family values.
They spoke about civic devotion, and evinced great respect for the social
protests of last year. They showed that they understood the pinch felt by the
Neither Lapid nor Bennett engaged in arrant attacks on
their political adversaries. Both refrained from savaging Netanyahu (as Tzipi
Livni did), or ruling out Netanyahu as prime minister (as Shelly Yacimovich
did), or questioning his sanity and scruples (as Zehava Gal-On did). Both
rebuffed the politics of delegitimization and defamation.
BOTH LAPID and
Bennett spoke about rebuilding Israeli society, which is doable and urgent, not
about pie-in-the-sky peace with the Palestinians, which is unlikely and had best
wait until the Arab springs and Islamic winters pass us by and settle down. Both
rejected apocalyptic assertions of a Right-Left diplomatic schism in Israeli
society as well as malevolent accusations of society’s shift to the radical
(Note to Western journalists and wags: Time to break out of your
stale paradigm about Israel being irrevocably split between the “sane” Left and
the “radical” Right. It’s just not true).
Both Lapid and Bennett sought
to bridge the religious-secular divide. In fact, they reject the notion of a
divide. Lapid made a point of including several religious figures on his slate
of candidates for Knesset, including his number two, Rabbi Shai Piron, as
contender for the post of education minister. Bennett defiantly and successfully
worked to place a secular woman, Ayelet Shaked, on his leadership team. Both
leaders speak of religious and secular Israelis alike as “brothers and sisters,”
and they really mean it.
BOTH LAPID and Bennett support a graduated,
nuanced and mature approach to solving the haredi draft conundrum, out of an
understanding that the haredi public must be nurtured forward toward greater
involvement in Israeli civilian and military life. Neither is prepared to sweep
this issue under the carpet any longer, yet both leaders understand that the
haredi community cannot be dragged out of its ghettos by hostile
Together, Lapid and Bennett can help Netanyahu make the right
Both Lapid and Bennett have expressed pleasure, not fear, at
the entry into public life of so many religious politicians and many fresh
(“inexperienced”) faces. One third of MKs in the new Knesset will be religious
(Orthodox), and 40 percent of MKs in the new Knesset will be
Lapid and Bennett have not warned against this changing of the
guard, but embraced it.
NEITHER LAPID nor Bennett is a party
Both established new political frameworks within which to
express their values, breaking the well-worn mold of Labor-Likud rivalry. Of
course, Lapid built himself on the ruins of Kadima, and Bennett on the
shipwrecked National Religious Party. But each of the two leaders clearly
understood the need for new social-political scaffolding. Consequently, neither
is completely beholden to a party bureaucracy.
The dynamic duo – Lapid
and Bennett – are similar in their backgrounds and public skills. Both earned
their way forward in business (if you can call media the “entertainment
business”), and both are independently wealthy. Both excel in appearances in
front of a camera, in English as well as Hebrew, yet they exude authenticity,
not glitz or shallowness. Gee, don’t they seem like younger versions of
Netanyahu? THE RESULT is clear: Israelis have overwhelmingly rewarded Lapid and
Bennett for their seriousness, and their non-sectarian, unifying approach to
Israeli society and politics. Israelis overwhelmingly want them in
Moreover, the polls show, as did many pre-election debates,
that the two flocks – Lapid’s Tel Aviv middle class voters, and Bennett’s
hinterland middle class voters – respect each other a great deal.
leaders and their voters agree on most issues most of the time, even while
recognizing each other’s differences (mainly over the West Bank – but this is
quite a moot issue for now).
So Netanyahu should respect the will of the
electorate, and grab the opportunity to craft a new path together with Lapid’s
Yesh Atid and Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi. There is a future (Atid) to be had, and a
home (Bayit) to protect. Netanyahu of Likud (which means “coalescence”) can be
the glue that binds the new coalition. Together, they can cut some of the
Gordian knots that have bedeviled Israeli society for decades.
just has to be bold enough to keep narrow-minded and radical politicians (like
the leaders of Shas and Livni’s Hatnuah) out of the mix.
The author is
director of public affairs at the Begin- Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and
blogs at www.davidmweinberg.com