No to early elections

The dynamics of the coalition crisis are clear. Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman is leading an uncompromising line on the issue of the Haredi draft law.

March 5, 2018 20:20
3 minute read.

An Israeli soldier chooses a ballot from behind a voting booth at an army base near the southern city of Ofakim March 15. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Before boarding a plane to the US to meet with President Donald Trump and participate in AIPAC’s annual conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed hope that early elections would be avoided.

“We’re not going to early elections... there is no reason for this to happen, and with goodwill it won’t. I have goodwill and I hope our [coalition] partners do as well.”

We agree with the prime minister. There is no good reason to topple the government. Generally speaking, except in extreme cases, shortening the lives of governments is bad on a number of levels. Stable governance is undermined because government decisions end up not being implemented and ministries’ multi-year plans are disrupted. Throwing the nation into election mode also diverts attention away from the real issues and focuses the nation’s attention on cheap campaign slogans. Doing is replaced by talking.

Under the present political circumstances, early elections make even less sense. New elections would not likely lead to a different government from the one in place today. The Right in Israel continues to enjoy a majority. According to a Channel 10 poll by Camille Fuchs, the Likud would win 29 seats, just one seat less than its present size. The investigations against Netanyahu have not hurt him politically.

Likud’s natural coalition parties – Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, Kulanu and the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties – would remain more or less the same size. So the disruption in governance would be futile since it would not lead to change.

Early elections would also be expensive. Besides the direct cost, postponing the passage of the 2019 budget increases the chances for wheeling and dealing.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon sagaciously pushed for an early passage of the budget well ahead of October, the month in which the budget is normally passed, so the coalition could remain stable as the November 2019 elections approached.

Although technically, passage of the budget could be postponed until March of next year – three months after the budget was supposed to go into effect – passing a budget too close to elections encourages parties to make fiscally irresponsible demands so they are remembered by their constituents at the polls.

The dynamics of the coalition crisis are clear. Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman is leading an uncompromising line on the issue of the Haredi draft law under the direction of his patron, Rabbi Ya’akov Aryeh Alter, the rebbe of the Ger hassidic dynasty.

The uncompromising position taken by Litzman might be an attempt by the Ger dynasty to fill the vacuum created by the recent death of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach. It was Auerbach more than any other Haredi leader who embodied the traditional Haredi opposition to any form of cooperation with the IDF, which is rooted in rejection of the entire Zionist political project.

The other Haredi parliamentarians, both in Shas and in Litzman’s own United Torah Judaism party, do not share Litzman’s zeal on the issue. But they have no intention of opposing him because doing so would paint them as “moderates,” hardly an appellation that would endear them to their devout political constituency.

But with all due respect to Litzman and the other politicians from Shas and UTJ, the fate of the entire nation should not hinge on these narrow political calculations taking place within the Haredi community.

Major challenges face the State of Israel: Iran is entrenching itself in Syria and continues to arm Hezbollah in the North and Hamas in the South, while the Sinai remains a hotbed of activity for groups affiliated with al-Qaida and Islamic State.

Domestically, there is an urgent need to improve Israel’s economic strength by boosting productivity, which has remained nearly static for years. Better education, improved transportation and the introduction of more innovative production methods are all ways to increase productivity. But the guiding hand of a stable government is needed to ensure that all these challenges and others can be tackled.

Before leaving for the US, Netanyahu said he expected his government to remain intact through November 2019. That remains to be seen, with police recommendations to indict him and more former aides turning state’s witness against him. However, any decision to prosecute Netanyahu could take months or even until the election date. There is no good reason to have early elections.

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