Israel Elections: Yoaz Hendel, Chili Tropper and the failed 'mountain miracle'

“The government fell apart because there was no shul where Chili and I could talk in Ness Harim.”

UNITED BLUE and White: Chili Tropper (top left) and Yoaz Hendel (bottom right) talk with fellow incoming MKs (from left: Zvi Hauser, Miki Haimovich, Yorai Lahav Hertzanu) ahead of 21st Knesset opening session, April 2019 (photo credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)
UNITED BLUE and White: Chili Tropper (top left) and Yoaz Hendel (bottom right) talk with fellow incoming MKs (from left: Zvi Hauser, Miki Haimovich, Yorai Lahav Hertzanu) ahead of 21st Knesset opening session, April 2019
(photo credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)
The pristine village of Ness Harim is nestled inside the Jerusalem Forest with breathtaking views and cool mountain air.
It is located in the Judean Hills, eight kilometers west of Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood, on the road to Beit Shemesh.

The Hebrew “Ness Harim” can be translated as “Miracle of the Mountains,” but its actual meaning, taken from a verse in the Book of Isaiah, is “banner of the mountains,” a reference to a clear message from God that would be obvious to all the inhabitants of the world.
The serenity of the quiet village makes it an unlikely location for political dealmaking. But the foundations for the outgoing government were negotiated on the back benches of Ness Harim’s synagogue, across the street from the village’s small grocery store.
It was on those benches that two future cabinet ministers, Chili Tropper and Yoaz Hendel, often talked during services. Tropper was and remains the closest adviser to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. Hendel was close to Telem Party leader Moshe Ya’alon at the time.
Tropper and Hendel are neighbors, who have in common that they both come from strong religious-Zionist homes. Hendel was raised in the Orthodox settlement Elkana and now does not wear a kippah during the week. Tropper remains fully Orthodox, but his Center-Left views are far from those of his father, former Bayit Yehudi elections committee head Rabbi Daniel Tropper.
The two friends brokered the agreement that enabled Gantz and Ya’alon to run together, which led to the formation of Blue and White with Yair Lapid. Ya’alon did not enter the government, but Hendel did, and thereby initially prevented a fourth election.
When they were sworn in as ministers, both Tropper and Hendel had high hopes that the new government would be a unifying force for the country during the coronavirus pandemic and could help heal rifts inside Israeli society.
The “reconciliation cabinet” that Tropper was supposed to head could have fit in well in Ness Harim, which prides itself on its mixed religious-secular, Ashkenazi-Sephardi, Right-Center-Left population.
But the reconciliation cabinet was never formed, and the government ended up being far from a unifying force. In the first meeting of the cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already started taking steps to show Gantz who was boss.
The bickering between the Likud and Blue and White that ensued the day the government was formed has not subsided to this day. Virtually nothing passed easily, and the election campaigns that went on for three elections never really ended.
There was no “miracle of the mountains” to keep the government together, and even the most obvious messages were left unheard and unseen.
When Hendel left Blue and White for prime ministerial hopeful Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, shortly after the government fell apart in December, Gantz fired him from his post as communications minister. Tropper remains in the cabinet, but he shares Hauser’s determination to end Netanyahu’s political career.
They are now both looking forward to the next government, when the plans they discussed on the back benches of the synagogue may finally come to fruition. Just last week, they sat together over coffee and reminisced about the days when they were in the same party.
“I respect Yoaz and still see him as a close friend,” Tropper said. “I am sorry he didn’t stick with a centrist party, but I have nothing but compliments for him. Today his party is strong and mine appears weaker, but that could change easily. Holding a new election returns Israel to the imaginary fights between Right and Left that don’t matter at a time of the coronavirus.”
Hendel said that if Blue and White crosses the threshold, the party would be a good coalition partner in the government he believes will be formed by Sa’ar. He joked that the pandemic that forced the synagogue to be closed resulted in there being no back benches for dialogue that could have kept the coalition together.
“The government fell apart because there was no shul where Chili and I could talk in Ness Harim,” he said.