We, the loyal opposition

Democracy always bears with it the challenge of governing people with differing policy perspectives and values.

April 27, 2019 22:11
4 minute read.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks after the first elections exit polls

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks after the first elections exit polls. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

As the clock struck three the result was clear – Benjamin Netanyahu would be leading the government for a fifth term as prime minister. Like in 2015, the exit polls initially predicted a left-wing triumph, but as the night dragged on Benny Gantz’s Tel Aviv victory speech began to ring hollow as Netanyahu’s motorcade raced down the highway to his own declaration of victory in the nation’s capital. 

For many Israelis this felt like more than an average election, and therefore the result seemed all the more stinging when it came to pass. A five-term prime minister under indictment for corruption does not leave room for much optimism. To be frank, nor does a coalition with Kahanists and other religious extremists whose democratic nature are suspect, to say the least.

It is in this pivotal moment that the opposition must decide how it will interact with the incoming government and how it will use its voice in the next Knesset. Yair Lapid, for his part, promised to turn the Knesset into a “battlefield,” but war leaves both sides bloodied, and civilians are always its greatest victims.

While it is true that the opposition has a duty to voice its objections loudly and with the immense power that it was granted by the electorate, debate must continue to be based on mutual respect and civility. If the opposition abandons these sacred principles and decides to go war with the ruling parties it is doomed to drown out its own voice in the crossfire. To view fellow lawmakers as enemies eliminates any chance for compromise which is the hallmark of good government.

The only reason to violate these guiding values would be if the sitting government intends to pass any legislation that undermines the democracy it is sworn to serve by hampering the independence of the judiciary or the rights of any of its citizens. In that case, the opposition has every right to use whatever legal means are at its disposal to ensure the integrity of Israeli democracy. Any other use of “nuclear” debate tactics would be irresponsible, naive and counterproductive.

If the opposition were to make the horrendous mistake of turning the Knesset into a battlefield over every piece of legislation it opposes, it would invite the governing coalition to make the same grave error. The Knesset would become an uncompromising legislative body that sees its fellow lawmakers as enemies rather than partners who swear allegiance to the same land and people. Moreover, this sort of behavior could ignite civil war, which has historically been a mistake the Jewish people cannot afford to make.

AT GANTZ’S “victory rally” he promised to be a prime minister for all Israeli citizens. While his assertion that he would form the next government was premature, its principle
still applies. While Gantz will not be prime minister as a result of this election, as head of the loyal opposition he has the opportunity to prove he is the inclusive leader he claims to be by representing the interests of all Israelis.

That means being a responsible opposition that bites its tongue and supports good legislation even if it comes from Netanyahu’s government. It means that in spite of the temptation to sink down to the mudslinging and name-calling that were hallmarks of this election cycle, the opposition must avoid this path. Most importantly, though, it means opposing ideas rather than personalities. 

Democracy always bears with it the challenge of governing people with differing policy perspectives and values. However, the greatest trial is to maintain unity while remaining in defiant opposition under the same flag because, while the government may be tilted to one end of the political spectrum, the country is for every citizen.

The results of this election have been called and Netanyahu will be Israel’s next prime minister. Admitting this truth is not surrender, on the contrary, it is vital to being the powerful and worthy opposition that this country elected. If we, the loyal opposition, as in the United States, make the mistake of refusing to accept the result of this election, Netanyahu will have already won. The answer instead is to remain focused, policy-driven and reasonable in order to make our case to lead in the next election.

This will not be easy. Netanyahu is a brilliant politician who has turned this nation into a global powerhouse, and the people’s decision reflects the outstanding job he has done. Still, no one is invincible, and while Netanyahu may have won this round, Gantz has proven himself a viable and electable alternative by matching Likud’s 35 seats in the Knesset.

This country finds itself at a fork in the political road which threatens Jewish unity that has animated, not only the government, but Israel’s people as well. We cannot allow our country to devolve into a place where who we voted for divides our families and dinner tables. With the election over, it is time to stop banging the drums of war and in unity, agree to disagree.

The road ahead is unclear, and I concede that the fragile flower that is Israel’s democracy may need defending, but the people have spoken. In fact, they have spoken loudly, to the tune of 35 seats for a Netanyahu-led Likud coalition, and it is my obligation and the obligation of everyone who did not vote for Netanyahu to demonstrate a mature response. Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s prime minister, and in spite of my vote against him, he is my prime minister as well.

The writer is an author of the Eshel Pledge who has written in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and a blog for the Times of Israel. He recently immigrated to Israel and lives in Modi’in, where he prepares to enlist as a lone soldier in the IDF.

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