As election results heralded Benjamin Netanyahu’s amazing comeback, Yair Lapid and Naftali’s Bennett’s government of change let out its final breath.
Less than a year and a half after they made history and ended Netanyahu’s 12-year consecutive rule, history ironically struck back: Bennett, who retired after heading the government for 12 months, earned the dubious title of the prime minister with the shortest tenure ever, breaking Ehud Barak’s previous dishonorable record from the beginning of the millennium. Lapid, however, will end up serving for only 4 months, thus replacing his partner Bennett on the top of the short list.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, continues to break his own records, triumphantly approaching his sixth term, accumulating even more years as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, a title he already holds.
Bennett and Lapid formed the most varied and diverse government ever, spanning from the far Left to the far Right, including Jews and Arabs, religious settlers and hard-core secular progressives. The scenic liberal United Colors of Benetton-style poster, starring Mansour Abbas as the poster boy of coexistence, will now be replaced by Netanyahu’s far-right, conservative and ultra-Orthodox billboard, on which the star is Itamar Ben-Gvir, a Jewish ultranationalist who openly dreams of deporting Arabs.
And while the previous government broke feminist records by appointing nine women to a third of the cabinet posts, Netanyahu’s government-in-waiting will be dominated by ultrareligious parties that exclude women from politics altogether. Out of the expected 65 members of the new regime, only eight are women, a stark contrast and backlash to Bennett and Lapid’s short-lived endeavor.
THE FIRST and only “Just not Bibi” experiment boomeranged: Netanyahu’s opponents suffered a severe blow in the election, while he emerged stronger than ever.
Over four election campaigns, the center-left parties successfully blocked Netanyahu’s path to power and to the 61-seat majority that would have granted him political immunity from his trials and criminal troubles.
Last year, the Lapid-Bennett alliance finally succeeded in sending Netanyahu all the way to the opposition, but they failed to complete their mission. The complicated politics of their complicated coalition made them dawdle and linger over legislation they promised, which bans criminal defendants from serving as prime minister. Such a law would have prevented Netanyahu from returning permanently. Now he’s back, and this time, with a band of loyal and enthusiastic radical allies, who are eager, even more than Netanyahu himself, to promote far-reaching judicial reforms, which would also happen to halt or cancel his own legal procedures.
While Netanyahu reached another milestone, more than a third of the members of the Bennett-Lapid government didn’t survive the fifth election – most notably Bennett himself, who cut his losses early and voluntarily brought down his own government by himself.
The election campaign started with Bennett’s surprise retirement, and ended with Ayelet Shaked bidding farewell after a failed independent run that left her far short of the electoral threshold. Bennett and Shaked were the power couple of the Right in the last decade, both tagged as potential successors to Netanyahu. Their current demise is the direct result of the turn they took against him last year, which is likely to serve as a warning to anyone who considers defecting to the other side.
Bennett, at least, enjoyed the red carpets in the White House and the Kremlin and was surrounded by a heavy security detail. Shaked, like other members of his Yamina Party, was much closer to the raging anger and burning disappointment of their supporters, who didn’t forgive or forget the promises they broke.
Bennett fell in love with the high and prestigious profile of the Prime Minister’s Office and started using it to explore a new electoral base in the soft Right and the Center, but he neglected his political backyard. Eventually, it was the fallout from his own team that brought his premiership to an end.
Even when Bennett decided to quit on his own terms and avoid a disgraceful banishment by Netanyahu and the Yamina defectors, he continued to turn his back on his comrades. His relationship with Shaked had turned so sour over the year that he didn’t inform her in advance of his decision, and intentionally announced it while she was on a flight to Morocco. Other loyalists, like Matan Kahana and Abir Kara, were begging him to stay and lead the party for another election. Bennett’s time-out left Shaked on her own, for the first time in her political career, but her four-month mea culpa campaign failed to reconcile her traditional National-Religious base. The tribal National-Religious vote had already filled the void with a new power couple – Smotrich and Ben-Gvir – who doubled their strength from the previous elections, collecting most of Bennett and Shaked’s former supporters.
Not only Shaked but most Yamina refugees didn’t survive the ride without Bennett. Kara, who decided to run on an independent economic platform, was far from the 3.25% threshold, and Shirly Pinto, the first deaf lawmaker, was given an unrealistic courtesy slot on Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party list, which gave shelter to Matan Kahana.
Besides Kahana, the only former members of Bennett’s party who survived and were elected again to the Knesset are those who betrayed him and crossed back to the other side: Amichai Chikli and Idit Silman were secured places on the Likud list and are likely to be part of Netanyahu’s next government.
Shaked, who used to be one of the most popular and promising leaders of the Right stayed loyal to Bennett, and eventually was kicked out for a forced time-out. Bennett’s mistake was his prime ministerial hubris; Shaked’s main misstep was her friendship and devotion to her political partner, which took her through all the wrong turns.
Four months after Bennett’s vanity brought down his government, his partner, Yair Lapid, followed his steps into the premier’s office, with a mirror image of his audacity and negligence.
Prime Minister Lapid, just like Bennett, was starstruck from the perks of the job. He utilized and maximized the power and prestige in his hands for a successful “Rose Garden” campaign which was supposed to win him the elections, or at least prevent Netanyahu’s victory. But while he thrived and flourished, playing the role of the prime minister, he omitted and dismissed the problems in his backyard, and underestimated the importance of the political game.
Unlike Netanyahu, Lapid failed to exert his influence and organize the center-left bloc in an orderly manner that would have prevented over 200,000 lost votes from going down the drain. He failed to unite Meretz and Labor into a joint technical list, stood by when the Arab parties quarreled and split, and was inactive when they gave up signing voter-sharing agreements.
Moreover, he underestimated the heavy “gevalt” cries from his small left-wing partners who warned that his head-to-head battle against Netanyahu and Yesh Atid’s big party campaign were putting them in danger.
Lapid enjoyed being prime minister but forgot he was the leader of the center-left bloc, which ends the elections scattered into pieces, just like Yamina. The “Just not Bibi” camp came close to a tie in the popular vote, but the various electoral threshold calculations affected the final results, and gave Netanyahu and the Right a clear-cut victory and a significant majority in the next Knesset.
After Bennett’s prime ministerial hubris destroyed his party and brought down the coalition, Lapid’s same pride and boastfulness led his camp to what many consider its doomsday.