A tale is told of two neighbors, one in favor of the government’s judicial reform plan and the other opposed. The one opposed to the plan wanted to attend a protest in Tel Aviv but did not have an Israeli flag to take with him. He asked his neighbor, who had just come back from a pro-reform rally, who readily lent him his own.
One of the striking elements of the anti-reform demonstrations, as well as the few demonstrations that have been held to back the plan, is that both sides are waving and wrapping themselves in the national flag.
Each side says they love the country, and that their actions are meant to benefit the state. The reservists refusing to serve, the doctors talking about emigrating, and the hi-tech entrepreneurs moving operations abroad and harming the economy are all saying they are doing it out of an enduring love for the state – to save the state.
So, too, are the pro-reform zealots, determined to continue with their legislative overhaul no matter what, no matter the opposition, and no matter how much collateral damage this reform causes the country. They have the ball and are going to run with it – all for the benefit of the state.
This is like a father who smacks his kid silly for doing something and tells the child the punishment is for his own good. Then the next day, the unfortunate kid’s mother turns around and smacks him silly for not doing the same action, using the same rationale: for the child’s own benefit. And in the meantime, all that corporal punishment actually endangers the child.
So, too, the current debate surrounding concerns about the IDF’s combat readiness. That the refusal of reservists to show up for duty is hurting the army is no great secret. But who is to blame: the reservists for not showing up, or the government for pushing ahead a policy, even though it is fully aware that as a result of that policy, the reservists won’t show up?
In this case, moreover, does it matter anymore who is to blame? What matters is the damage being done. And then the question arises, How do you stop it? How do you prevent it?
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern floated an interesting idea at the tail end of an Army Radio interview on Monday. He was challenged with the notion that the country’s current turmoil, as well as the government’s vulnerability to extremists, is due to his party’s decision to boycott Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This decision left Netanyahu with no coalition options and forced him to be dependent on Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir and the Religious Zionist Party’s Bezalel Smotrich.
Surprisingly, Stern bucked his party’s orthodoxy – Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid tweeted only two weeks ago that he would never join a government with Netanyahu – and said if Netanyahu would say he was willing to break up his coalition with Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and move Yariv Levin from the Justice Ministry to another portfolio, “I would be very happy if there was a proposal like that on the table,” and that it would be worth discussing.
Such a government could potentially resolve several immediate issues.
First of all, it would ensure that any judicial reform initiatives in progress would be agreed upon by a broader public than is currently the case. Second, it would allow Netanyahu to free himself of dependence on Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, whose far-right statements and policies are causing significant damage to Israel’s standing in the world.
Why an Israeli unity government would be bad
But let’s not romanticize: Such a government – one that includes Likud, Lapid’s Yesh Atid, and Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party – would be a government of paralysis headed by three men who don’t trust, like, or respect one another. It would be a government with one purpose: to steer Israel out of the current crisis so that it could buy some quiet to stabilize the situation in the army and the economy.
Once the ship is righted, the government would collapse – as the last Bennett-Lapid government collapsed – because differences could only be swept under the rug for so long. Then new elections would be held. But by then, perhaps Netanyahu would step aside or be shown the door by the Likud, and perhaps the political map would look different with the emergence of a new party for moderate voters in the National-Religious camp and another one made up of the anti-judicial reform protest leaders.
All of the above may be a pipe dream, but currently, there are few alternatives to getting Israel out of its impasse as it sails straight into its constitutional crisis next month, regarding who has the final say in this country, the Supreme Court or the Knesset?
The opposition, the protest movement leaders, the refusing reservists, and the emigrating doctors may believe that if they keep the pressure on long enough, the government might collapse and new elections would be held. But what if that doesn’t happen? Then will they hold weekly protests for another 32 weeks and continue to weaken the army, the society, and the economy?
And the coalition may think that it has every right in the world to continue with its legislative program and won’t be deterred because half of the country is up in arms. But at what cost? At the cost of eroding Israel’s essential solidarity and sense of common purpose.
No sooner had Stern made his suggestion about being willing to consider a national-unity government than a senior official in the party said Stern was speaking only for himself, and his colleague Ram Ben Barak said it was inconceivable to sit with Netanyahu. “There is nothing to talk about,” he said.
This, even though Ben Barak said a group of “extreme, messianic mafiosas” had taken over the government and were leading Netanyahu by the nose to “a delusional place,” resulting in the “dismantling of the country’s army, society, and economy.”
Yesh Atid and National Unity could prevent all that by expressing a willingness to sit in a government with Netanyahu, but to that, Ben Barak says no. By his way of thinking, it is better to destroy the country than to sit with Netanyahu.
Over the last few months there has been much talk about finding those five rebels in the Likud who would go against the party’s grain and vote against the reform legislation or take some kind of action to stop it. Less has been said about finding those rebels in the opposition who would be willing to begin talking about joining forces with Netanyahu so that he would no longer have to rely on extremists in his party or coalition.
Nevertheless, a few of those voices are emerging. Last month, it was National Unity’s Matan Kahana, who said he would not rule out the possibility of a national-unity government. On Monday, it was Stern.
Might there be others?