Israel elections: This gov't succeeded in one thing - normalcy - interview with MKs

The current government's most important achievement has been the return of a sense of normalcy to the government ministries, say Yisrael Beytenu MK Yossi Shain and Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur Paz.

 Political debate on the Knesset channel between Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur Paz and Yisrael Beytenu MK Yossi Shain.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Political debate on the Knesset channel between Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur Paz and Yisrael Beytenu MK Yossi Shain.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

The current government’s most important achievement has been the return of a sense of normalcy to the government ministries, according to Yisrael Beytenu MK Yossi Shein and Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur-Paz.

Both MKs described their experiences in interviews with The Jerusalem Post.

“This was a very important year of transition,” Shein said. “Remember that we had [former prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s expression that something [bad] will happen if another leader [takes over], God forbid... all kinds of glorification of the leader.”

Beginning under former prime minister Naftali Bennett, “Verbosity was lowered,” he said.

How did Bennett's government fare?

 Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur Paz.  (credit: KNESSET SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE) Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur Paz. (credit: KNESSET SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)

[Bennett], I think, brought seriousness to the system, and the system worked very well with him. I’ve witnessed it firsthand that people felt comfortable with him. Sometimes there were debates here or there – on the [security] fence [between Israel and the Palestinians], on the issue of Egypt, on the issue of Jordan, [with whom] the relationship was soured, on the issue of Washington, the consulate in east Jerusalem – we knew how to navigate with [then foreign minister] Yair Lapid, on economic issues with... [Avigdor] Liberman. We did a good job here.”

“I think Bennett’s national security leadership was very good,” Shein said. “I think he grasped the challenges; he acted. I really think he was a good prime minister at that, but he certainly was determined, understood and was able in times of crisis – like when we had the terrorist attacks – to bring stability to the system, to bring direction to the system, to work with the main elements in the system, in the Defense Ministry, the IDF. Everyone was working in concert. The work in concert was quite impressive.”

“The instability of the system was surprisingly not because of the government, which was acting well,” he said. “In fact, as a professor of international politics, we talk of concentration of power versus polarization of power. The polarization of power in fact empowered it much more. Each one of the ministers had a tremendous amount of power. They knew their limits... but in fact they were working in concert.”

Tur-Paz’s conclusion was similar.

“The biggest success is the cooperation between the eight parties, between sectors and also the change of language from ‘me’ to ‘us’ and also something of a return of normalcy, or a matter-of-factness in government ministries,” he said.

“We heard again and again from the professional echelons who said – unrelated to people’s opinions – that the ministers came to work, this government came to work, and this is why it had many achievements,” Tur-Paz said. “When you look at welfare, health, in nearly every topic – at the Foreign Ministry, there were breakthroughs; in the Economy Ministry, the lowering of tariffs; in many things where people came to work, [they had achievements] in a year, which is nothing. In my eyes, this is the large promise of this government.

We heard again and again from the professional echelons who said – unrelated to people's opinions – that the ministers came to work, this government came to work and this is why it had many achievements.

Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur Paz

“I think that many of our processes, such as in conversion, the economy, even in kashrut... most of the results we will not see until 2023, [when] I hope it will still be a government led by Lapid. At the end of the first quarter of 2023, we will see the lowering of real-estate prices, [the effects of lowering] tariffs and more... we will see the results.

“Even in schooling in haredi society, if we see 10,000 to 15,000 people getting into [the national curriculum], this is an achievement. It [makes] a difference for the future of the State of Israel, and by the way is perhaps the most important issue for the future of the State of Israel,” Tur-Paz said.

BOTH SHEIN and Tur-Paz are members of a number of Knesset committees and serve jointly on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Education, Culture and Sports Committee. But while the interview with Shein centered on issues of national security and foreign affairs, the interview with Tur-Paz looked inward, especially at matters connected to religion and state.

Who is Yossi Shain?

Shein, 65, is a professor of political science and international relations. He served as dean of Tel Aviv University’s political science program and as a faculty member at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, before joining Yisrael Beytenu in 2021.

“Israel is in a very bifurcated condition in international affairs, especially in the region, but also internationally,” he said. “On the one hand, we have made tremendous improvements in the Middle East over the years. We have been recognized; we have sidetracked the issue of the Palestinians for the sake of our embellished relations with all of the Arab world. In the last year in particular we have strengthened our ties with Egypt, with Jordan. We have strengthened our ties with the countries that signed the Abraham Accords in incredible fashion, and of course we are moving into a new phase in our relations with Saudi Arabia.”

Shein said he was in touch with people from Pakistan over the past year, and “people from far lands that I will not mention are reaching out also.”

“Secondly, we have managed to strengthen our tie with the United States,” he said. “We are in a crisis that stems from the internal crisis in the United States and the position we took prior to the last election. It was almost a symbiosis between the Trump administration and the Netanyahu administration. In fact, we have gambled strategically on the Trump administration to do our job for us in Iran.”

The bifurcation is therefore that Israel, on the one hand, gained power in the region while on the other remaining dependent on the US for an acute matter of national security, Shein said.

“We did not develop what needs to be developed vis-à-vis Iran,” he said. “We kind of took a different [tack], waiting for Trump. But Trump lost, and the gamble went badly.”

Shein criticized the foreign policy of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Not only did we gamble on Trump, the relationship with the Democrats was soured, and in many ways, when Netanyahu was still in power and [President Joe] Biden was already sworn in... the Biden administration sort of shunned Netanyahu and waited for something else,” he said.

In this vein, Shein said he was “very concerned” about what would happen if Netanyahu returns with a fully right-wing government.

What did Bennett and Lapid do right? 

ONE OF the things the Bennett-Lapid administration got right was to right the ship with the US Democratic Party, Shein said.

“This government under the leadership of Bennett, Lapid and Liberman, was able to close the gap and work both sides of the aisle,” he said, adding that this is important both symbolically and strategically, as it enables a deeper understanding of how the Biden administration will act on issues such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and toward the entire alliance in the Middle East that opposes Tehran’s radical Islamic regime.

“We share this concern with the Emirates, Egyptians, Jordanians, the Americans,” Shein said. “The acuteness is not always felt in the same manner. This is what Bennett talks about – the legs of the octopus versus the head of the octopus” he said, referring to Bennett’s doctrine that Israel needs to go after the terrorist organizations’ sources of support in Iran and not just after the terrorists themselves.

“This is how we acted to strengthen our position and bring us to a point where if [Iran] passes a certain threshold, we can act in a certain fashion,” he said.

One issue that Shein agrees with Netanyahu on is the attitude Israel should take with the Palestinians. Like Netanyahu, Shein believes in the doctrine of bypassing the Palestinian Authority and instead reaching out to other Arab countries in the region.

While Shein focused on the government’s policies on national security, Yesh Atid’s Tur-Paz laid out its actions and policies on religion and state.

Who is Moshe Tur Paz?

Tur-Paz, 50, was born in the US to Israeli parents. He belongs to the religious-Zionist camp and served as a battalion commander in the IDF, head of the Jerusalem Education Directorate and CEO of the religious Kibbutz movement's educational system, before joining the Knesset as a member of Yesh Atid in 2021.

In matters of religion and state, "the easiest option is to leave things the way they are, but this leads to many injustices and problems," Tur-Paz said. The current government fulfilled about a third of what it wanted to do on this front, but he does not know if in the future Israel will have such an opportunity, he said. Tur-Paz has a unique vision about how religion and state in Israel should look like. "I do not support separation of religion and state, but I support choosing religion in the state," he said.

"I do not support separation of religion and state, but I support choosing religion in the state."

Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur Paz

“I do not support separation of religion and state, but I support choosing religion in the state,” he said. “I turn to my haredi friends and try to deeply understand their opposition... but deep down I do not really understand – not their opposition to public transportation on Shabbat, not their opposition to conversion, not their opposition to the Kotel [Western Wall] compromise, and not their opposition to civil marriages. [Former Har Etzion Yeshiva dean] Rabbi Amital supported civil marriage, at least for those who cannot get married in Israel.

“When I think as a religious person on this issue – not as a liberal or a member of Yesh Atid – I think that the more you enable [in religion and state], the more you strengthen the person who decides to fulfill [the commandments]. This is a different approach, which unfortunately, the haredi parties do not express... if we enable civil marriage in Israel, I think that more people will marry according to Halacha, and what is certain is that whoever decides to do so will do it out of choice and not force.”

THIS IS A “paradigm shift” of how Israel’s Jewishness is expressed, Tur-Paz said. The key is allowing people to choose.

“I think that people from lower income brackets in Israel who want to [use public transportation] on Shabbat, it is also justified socially and morally,” he said. “But even if you count the number of Shabbat violations, it also makes more sense. There is a different approach about how to think about religion and state.”

“There is a common denominator between this and the Kashrut reform,” Tur-Paz said. “Let people choose. I do not support separation of religion and state, but I support choosing religion in the state. The State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people should allow any Jew to practice Judaism as he understands it. There should be a number of choices, and people will choose. And if you are set in your ways, you don’t have to be afraid that people will or will not choose like you.”

“I once had a conversation for an hour, me and a haredi MK,” he said. “He said to me, ‘Listen, this is a discussion we do not even know how to begin.’ That is what he said, honestly.”

But Tur-Paz is convinced that Israel can turn a corner in its ability to come to agreements among its different sectors.

“I came to the Knesset for two reasons – education and connecting populations,” he said. “These two things from my perspective are why I came to the Knesset and to Yesh Atid as a religious person. Therefore, I think that this is a message that we need to invest time and resources in.”

“Assuming that we form the next government, I even think that we will see partnerships that we did not see before, both Left-Right and secular-religious, and the sides will arrive at agreements about what we are dealing with and what we are disagreeing on and leaving for after,” he added.

The current government actually tested this model, but on a different population, Tur-Paz said.

“We did this in the government not bad at all with Ra’am [United Arab List], and I think we can do it in the next one with the haredim because ultimately, I don’t want to change the lifestyle of anyone,” he said. “I will not force someone who is sitting in his yeshiva to go to the army. But we both agree that he needs to carry the burden in some way, and I want to make the army and national service available to him should he choose that path... I think that there is huge value that the haredi public makes an effort on its part, and the rest of Israeli society also makes an effort to work together.”

"I think that there is huge value that the haredi public makes an effort on its part, and the rest of Israeli society also makes an effort to work together."

Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur Paz

The haredi parties do not have to be wed to the Likud, Tur-Paz said.

“I hear from my haredi friends,” he said. “We knew how to work with Mapai, and we should know how to work with the current parties.”

According to Tur-Paz, religious Zionism may have a role in the middle.

I grew up as a religious Zionist and was taught that we are not at our best when we withdraw into our own sector,” he said. “Once Yosef Burg, the classic [political] leader of religious Zionism, was asked, ‘What takes precedence – religion or Zionism?’ His answer was that he was the hyphen in the middle. That is the historic role of religious Zionism.”

“The partnership between Left and Right, religious and secular, is the future of the state of Israel,” Tur-Paz said. “We said all along that we want a haredi party with us in the coalition. It is possible that every person in Israel will wake up and see someone in government who is similar to them... that is how the [next] government should be, with a large Yesh Atid in the middle.”