MK Merav Michaeli's refreshing wedding dance - analysis

There was Michaeli, an ardent feminist and secularist, kicking up her heels to the song “Tzama lecha nafshi” at MK Moshe Gafni’s granddaughter's wedding.

 A conversation between Labor head Merav Michaeli and UTJ head Moshe Gafni on October 4, 2021. (photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVICH)
A conversation between Labor head Merav Michaeli and UTJ head Moshe Gafni on October 4, 2021.
(photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVICH)

Many in the country undoubtedly found heartwarming the 33-second video clip that went viral of Labor Party head Merav Michaeli dancing hand-in-hand with UTJ MK Moshe Gafni’s granddaughter at the latter’s wedding in Bnei Brak on Sunday.

Like a shared beer after a fight

There was Michaeli, an ardent feminist and secularist, kicking up her heels to the freilich sound of the song “Tzama lecha nafshi” (“My soul thirsts for you”) at the wedding of a bitter ideological rival.

There was something lovely about that image. Something human, something that said, “We may disagree on just about everything, but at a personal level we are anything but enemies.” It was like two prizefighters who just tried to knock each other in the ring getting together for french fries and a beer after the fight.

@meravmichaeli באתי לחגוג בחתונה המהממת של נכדתו של יו״ר מפלגת יהדות התורה, ח״כ משה גפני. #אמתבפוליטיקה #حقيقة_ف_السياسة ♬ צליל מקורי - מרב מיכאלי MERAV MICHAELI

Yes, some found the scene heartwarming. But not everyone.

“It is a bit strange that Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, who advocates active feminism, goes to a wedding and dances where there is a separation between men and women”

Avigdor Liberman

For instance, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman was not exactly moved. Liberman, who is stridently opposed to the ultra-Orthodox establishment, had this to say about Michaeli taking part in the wedding: “It is a bit strange that Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, who advocates active feminism, goes to a wedding and dances where there is a separation between men and women.”

In other words, how dare Michaeli go to an Orthodox wedding in a private hall and – following the customs of the family and the place – dance behind a partition? It’s like saying how dare visitors go into a mosque and, out of respect for the faithful there, take off their shoes.

But the brickbats were not flying only from the secular side of the political fence. Shas politicians were flummoxed that Michaeli was invited to the wedding. (She was not the only politician there).

former deputy interior minister Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas) had this to say about Michaeli: “Someone who without humanity starves our children and harms what is most important to us is someone we will wage an uncompromising and unequivocal war against.”

That type of person, it is clear from these words, is not exactly a welcome guest at a family simcha.

Shas faction chairman Michael Malkieli was also not exactly won over by Michaeli’s moves on the dance floor.

“The Bennett government had a social event to consolidate the government after the [last] elections on the Golan Heights,” he said sarcastically. “[Yair] Lapid has just been chosen [as prime minister] and the government had an event to consolidate it in Beni Brak to the sound of hassidic music.”

Even within Gafni’s United Torah Judaism Party, some party operatives denounced the veteran MK for inviting Michaeli. And those who actually backed Gafni, Like MK Yitzhak Pindros, didn’t want to give anyone the wrong impression.

“Yes, we invite political colleagues to happy occasions and we don’t call security if, heaven forbid, they start dancing.” But, he added, the haredim “will never forget and never forgive Michaeli... even if she joins the coalition with Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu], and even if she quits politics.”

Stop the party

SO MUCH FOR relishing what could have been a warm and fuzzy Jewish moment that radiated, “Sure, we’re ideological rivals, but we’re still Jews who can all celebrate a simcha together.”

Michaeli alluded to as much on her Facebook page in a post she wrote after the video caused a brouhaha and forced her to defend her decision to dance at the wedding.

“Haven’t you heard that the biggest mitzvah is to rejoice a bride at her huppah,” she wrote.

Michaeli is a cabinet minister in the soon-to-be outgoing “change” government of many diverse parties that had as its slogan, “We agree on more than we disagree on, and can focus on that for the time being for the common good.”

 Members of Knesset in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament during a vote on expanding the number of ministers in the new forming Israeli government on May 13, 2015. (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90) Members of Knesset in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament during a vote on expanding the number of ministers in the new forming Israeli government on May 13, 2015. (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

Though that philosophy of governance was only able to last a year, Michaeli’s celebrating at the Gafni wedding shows that she has internalized the basic message. And there is something refreshing in that.

Ah, how naive, the cynics will say. This isn’t about internalizing messages. This is pure politics. Other politicians were at the wedding as well. Even Lapid, who rode an anti-haredi message into politics in 2013, called Gafni to wish him “mazal tov.” There is nothing nice or heartwarming about this, it’s all just calculated politics.

This might partly be true. Michaeli’s act might be more political than genuine. After all, of all the parties in Netanyahu’s camp, Gafni’s wing of the UTJ is considered the weakest link, the most likely to join a government with the “other side” if the opportunity affords itself after the next election.

The bright side of pragmatism

So it is good politics, if you are a leader of a party in that “other camp” who might need Gafni in a few months, to attend his daughter’s wedding, even if the lifestyle is not one you chose nor the type of wedding you would wish for your own daughter.

But there is something positive in that, as well. There is something positive – necessary, actually – in an approach that recognizes that continued political boycotts by one party of various other parties is a recipe for continued political stagnation and instability.

Much has already been written and discussed about the reason for the failure of the Bennett government, the reason the “government of change” fell just after a year.

The reason? Because it simply had too slim a majority. Governments of 61 seats – a majority of one – do not last for long in this country. For the next government to be stable – be it led by Netanyahu or someone in the current coalition – it will need to have 66, 67 or 68 seats and be able to survive even if one party, unhappy with the government’s direction, bolts.

For that to happen, ideologically diverse parties – even more ideologically diverse than the ones in the last coalition that did not include any haredi parties – will need to sit together to form wider governments. Haredim saying they can never sit with Labor, and the Likud saying it will never cooperate with Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am Party, simply handcuff everybody and make forming a wide coalition that can actually survive much more difficult.

By dancing at Gafni’s granddaughter’s wedding, Michaeli was signaling that she, at least, was not ruling out sitting with anybody, or at least not the haredim.

Would she dance at the wedding of one of the Religious Zionist Party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir’s children? Doubtful. Even fuzziness stops somewhere.