Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman’s interview with KAN Bet on Wednesday, the day after Moody’s and other international financial institutions issued warnings about investing in Israel, exemplified much of what is currently plaguing the country.
Liberman spent nine minutes talking about how bad everything was, how the government had “disengaged” from the people, and how an economic tsunami had washed up on Israel’s shores.
After spelling out the ills troubling the country, he was asked whether he would heed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call Monday night after the Knesset passed the Law to Cancel the Reasonableness Standard and enter into negotiations over the remaining elements of the judicial reform plan.
Nope, Liberman said, Netanyahu can’t be trusted. In other words, the country – by his admission – is going to the dogs, everything is turning sour, and there may be a path out of the mess, but it is not worth taking that path because the lead guide down that path has been misleading and deceptive in the past.
But there is only one path out of the mess, and if you don’t take that path, you are stuck. So what else is there to do?
Israel: Lots of problems, not many practical solutions
THAT DILEMMA encapsulates Israel’s problem in this summer of discontent and anger. There is much talk about how bad everything is and how much worse it will all get, but little talk about practical solutions to extricate Israel from the morass.
We are bombarded with talk about how active pilots in the reserves are already starting not to show up and how this could very soon impact the combat readiness of the air force.
We are told how many start-ups have registered their companies abroad and how this will only worsen. We are told about how the country’s doctors fear the part of the reform that passed this week will harm the medical system and how so many doctors are considering relocation, a laundered term for what used to be looked down upon as “yerida.”
We are told about how the fear and anger by both sides of this debate are intensifying and could spill into violence. Some are saying Israel is already in the midst of a “cold civil war,” a hyperbolic term referring to some sporadic acts of low-level violence, not a “hot” civil war like they had in America in the 1860s and in Lebanon in the 1980s.
On one side of the battle lines are those who support the judicial overhaul, fed up and angry with the Supreme Court for what they feel has been the court’s role in disenfranchising them for years.
And on the other side are the anti-reform forces, people who see the way the country is going politically and religiously and are fearful that without a strong Supreme Court, their values will be undermined and their lifestyles threatened.
With a good portion of the country truly angry and another part of the nation genuinely fearful, a toxic combination of emotions is wafting over the land.
There is no dearth of politicians and pundits who can tell us the damage this explosive mix is already causing, how bad things are, and how horrible they are yet to become.
There is, however, a dearth of solutions and politicians offering a constructive road map out of the current mess. It is easy to warn of the apocalypse; it is much more difficult to propose a way to avoid it, and those proposals – at least by the politicians – have been few and far between.
Bridging proposals are out there. Academics and jurists have come up with various plans to steer the country out of the crisis. On Monday, as the crisis peaked with the vote on the reasonableness law in the Knesset, furious efforts were made to reach a compromise proposal, but they were all rejected.
Predictably, each side blames the other. Netanyahu said the opposition was unwilling to compromise, and the opposition claimed the exact opposite. Each side screams and shouts that the other side is leading the country to destruction, but then it ends there: they proffer no realistic, constructive solutions.
When Liberman says there should be no negotiations with this government because no one should give it legitimacy, that is a path to nowhere.
When Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir tweets mockingly that what happened on Monday was only the appetizer – a “salad bar” – to more judicial reform soon to come, that leads to the brink. This country’s leading politicians offer nothing constructive beyond a vague call for negotiations not followed up by anything practical.
President Isaac Herzog alluded to this in a letter to the nation published on Wednesday, shortly before the start of the Tisha Be’av fast. In his view, the bulk of the burden for coming up with a solution to the problem rests with Netanyahu and the government, since they hold the power.
“As I emphasized before, greater responsibility, even if not exclusive, for finding solutions that will benefit the state and society as a whole, will always be with those who have the power and the reins of power in their hands. This is how democracy works,” he wrote.
Herzog said he expected to see Netanyahu turn his words of reassurance into actions, and he wanted to see the premier’s messages of reaching out “reflected in an actual and binding work plan. We must all understand the challenge and the fateful consequences.”
In other words, come up with a plan. Enough of apportioning blame, enough with the dire descriptions of the country’s state and where it is going. Everyone knows that by now, everyone is well aware. What is needed are practical solutions and for the leaders of both sides to have the courage to stand up to the maximalists and extremists in their camps – the Ben-Gvirs and Yariv Levins on one side, and the Ehud Baraks and Shikma Bresslers on the other – and grasp those solutions.
One of the national traits that has left Israel in good stead for so long has been an ability to find solutions to short-term problems. Not all short-term problems, especially not those dependent on flexibility from the other side: think here the Palestinians. But many short-term problems. If there is a problem, the country historically has not just thrown up its hands and said the problems were too difficult to deal with, but rather has found a solution because it had to.
Examples abound and include developing a three-tiered anti-missile defense system to defend the country’s airspace once war in the Mideast transitioned from tank battles in the Sinai Desert and on the Golan Heights to missiles and rockets fired on civilian population centers; coming up with a series of steps to significantly bring terrorism down from a high of 457 people killed in 2002; developing an anti-tunnel detection system to keep terrorists from boring underground and popping up in the middle of Israeli communities. If there is a problem, Israelis have proven very good historically at finding short-term solutions.
What is exceptional about the current crisis is that no one has come up with a way out, a solution that will put the country back on track. Finding a solution to this – finding a compromise to the reasonableness standard or figuring out a balanced formula for appointing Supreme Court judges – is considerably less challenging than knocking down a ballistic missile in the stratosphere. That Israel has proven unable to do so has friends and foes abroad looking on with mouths agape.
The only solution, Liberman said in his interview, was to bring down the government. But this government – even with all the protests and the problems – is not going anywhere anytime soon. All the parties who comprise the coalition read the polls and see that, were elections held today, they would be out of the government tomorrow. Those polls serve as great glue to mend any coalition cracks.
Saying, as Liberman did, that the only solution is to bring down this government is not a solution. Because how about if the government does not fall, then what?
The average tenure for the 36 Israeli governments that have preceded the current one is 749 days. The current government has served for 212 days. That means that if the past is a rough guide, this government is likely to survive for at least another year and a half.
Imagine the shape the country will be in if the contention and strife we are experiencing now continues for that long. Liberman wants to bring down the government. Ok, but what if he can’t? Then do you just let the situation deteriorate endlessly, or do you work with the factors and circumstances that exist at the moment to find a way out?•