There's been another resignation associated with the appointment of Avigdor Liberman as Minister of Defense.


This one comes from the Minister of Environment, who associated his resignation not only with the appointment of Liberman, but with the government's loss of Moshe Ya'alon, and with the approval of the gas deal. The Environment Minister had opposed the deal, lost in several governmental votes, and made it one of the reasons for his resignation.


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He added an emotional, quasi-religious element to his resignation, saying that he saw the establishment of Israel as the equivalent of having built the Third Temple, and that present extremism is bringing the country's Jews to the brink of the civil war they suffered under the Romans, which led to widespread destruction, expulsion, and the end of the Second Temple.


Ya'alon has responded with praise for the Enviroment Minister, while Herzog has said that the country has lost another brake against a government moving to the extreme.


In practical terms, this resignation will not mean anything for the approval of Liberman's appointment. The Environment Minister was not a Member of Knesset, and so his leaving office will not take a vote from what must be Knesset approval of the appointment. 


Nonetheless, his resignation leaves a lot on the table of the Finance Minister, Moshe Kahlon. The Environment Ministry was part of Kahlon's deal for joining Bibi's government, and Kahlon has been one of those going along with Liberman's appointment, but with less than enthusiastic support. He opposed one of Liberman's demands, i.e., special pensions for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In negotiations, Kahlon greatly reduced the money provided for the deal,  spread the allocation over several years, and expanded the program to many more individuals without adequate pensions. Kahlon's party has 10 of the 66 Knesset votes ostensibly controlled by the expanded government, so without them, there will be no expended government, or maybe no government at all!


We're not there yet. Kahlon may distinguish himself from his angry colleague and show a politician's more typical capacity to swallow a frog and vote to keep the government going of which he is a part, and without which his own political future is doubtful.


However, there is another upset member of the government who has proclaimed time and again that something else needs to be done.


Naftali Bennett heads Jewish Home with 8 votes in the Knesset, without which Liberman will not be Defense Minister and Bibi might not be able to continue as Prime Minister.


Bennett has climbed on a horse and charged toward his fate and Bibi's with a demand that the Inner Cabinet be given more of an opportunity to decide things about national defense. Bennett (Minister of Education) is one of the government members that Bibi appointed as a member of the Cabinet, which is an inner group having a legal role in the most important decisions, including when to unleash the IDF in response to threat, and how loose should be the leash holding back the IDF. In particular, Bennett wants a senior military adviser appointed to the Cabinet, to help its members through the difficult problems associated with such decisions.


The issue isn't as simple as it may sound. Israel has developed an informal rule of the game whereby the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Chief of the IDF General Staff are the key three who make crucial military decisions. They have access to the full range of intelligence estimates, and rely on the Chief of Staff and and his colleagues in the General Staff to carry out what they decide. 


Opponents to Bennett's proposal see it as adding more debate and likely delay to decisions that must be made quickly. Bennett has portrayed his demand as essential for saving unnecessary casualties of IDF soldiers.


The Prime Minister has appointed a committee to investigate Bennett's demand, but Bennett and party colleagues call the step one-sided, and insufficient.


Bennett and his colleagues are closer to the right tilt of Bibi's government than is Kahlon, which suggests that he won't bolt and lead a rebellion that topples Liberman and Netanyahu. However, Bennett and some of his party MKs have criticized Netanyahu for not being sufficiently far to the right on matters of security and settlements. That may be enough for them to think that they can do better with some other government, that would come after an election.


Associated with the arguments of those who oppose Liberman are claims that Israel's leadership is undermining the country's democracy. Those resigning claim that there has been limited opportunity for criticism within the inner circle of government, or sharing key problems with the population, as well as a movement of politicians and population in the direction of religious extremism and racism..


Most extreme, but not alone, is Ehud Barak's perception of a society on the edge, or over the edge of fascism.


One must concede that there may be 1001 reasons for criticizing actions taken or not taken, and words said or not said by Benyamin Netanyahu over a long career, and perhaps 1002 reasons for criticizing Avigdor Lieberman and his accession to the government as Defense Minister.


But fascism, a lack of democracy, or a lack of opportunity for public discussion?


Those charges suggest the madness of politicians and political activists, and political columnists who do not know how to criticize without falling off the borders or political ignorance.


The very criticism of Bibi, Avigdor, the replacement of Ayalon, and the gas deal are signs of Israel's democracy. 


There has been no hint of jailing journalists or other critics of government actions, as has happened recently in Turkey and Russia. There critics would be wise to consider the quality of government and the presence of anything close to democracy, even though it would be dangerous to do so in print or out loud . But the loudness, and freedom of political criticism in Israel are the most prominent sign of democracy's health.


Our American friends are no better off, pondering HIllary or Donald, with an anti-Israel Jew remaining in what seems his hopeless race in the hope of causing trouble for a party colleague.


None of the above assures the approval of Liberman's approval, or the continuation of Bibi's government.


Moshe Kahlon and Naftali Bennett will decide, and either move Israel's noisy democracy along its current path, or cause it to choose something else.


Comments welcome




-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
 
 
 
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