What progress has Bennett's government made after 6 months?

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: At the government’s half-year mark, its progress and achievements are in dispute.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett sits in pandemic-mandated isolation in the Knesset this week, after returning from the UAE. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett sits in pandemic-mandated isolation in the Knesset this week, after returning from the UAE.

There were two legislators who were filmed running as fast as they could to vote in the Knesset plenum this week, amid massive manufactured drama.

The first was opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who posted a video of himself on social media on his way to vote at 10:30 p.m. late Monday night that was set to the song “Eye of the Tiger.” Netanyahu, 72, was trying to prove the opposition’s determination to defeat the coalition at a time when its majority had fallen to a razor thin 60-59, due to Yamina MK Shirley Pinto giving birth.

The second was Pinto, who raced to the Knesset plenum with her six-day-old daughter in tow on Wednesday afternoon to vote and to give the opposition a guilt trip for not pairing off with her to let her stay home. Pinto, 32, was trying to prevent the coalition from losing, despite rebellions of independently minded MKs Abir Kara and Waleed Taha.

What the sprints of the Knesset’s youngest MK and its third oldest (behind Bennie Begin and Ya’acov Litzman) had in common besides their drama was that they were completely and utterly unnecessary. Neither vote was for a controversial bill in its final readings that would come even close to changing Israel irrevocably.

The bill Netanyahu ran to stop would set new safety precautions for the Defense Ministry’s monitoring of the manufacturing of explosives. The bill Pinto hurried to halt would require contractors to install solar panels in urban rebuilding (pinui-binui) projects.

 Yamina MK Shirly Pinto arrives at the Knesset plenum with her baby six days after giving birth, December 15, 2021. (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET) Yamina MK Shirly Pinto arrives at the Knesset plenum with her baby six days after giving birth, December 15, 2021. (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

Both bills were in their preliminary readings before they will be legislated in Knesset committees, and both would have likely enjoyed unanimous support if the coalition and opposition were actually thinking about the public’s needs, instead of playing politics and automatically opposing each other’s bills.

The final thing the scurrying of Netanyahu and Pinto had in common was that they both lost, embarrassingly. The coalition passed the bill Netanyahu opposed, and it fell on the legislation Pinto supported, each by a vote of 60 to 59.

The obvious message of the mutual failures of the coalition’s and opposition’s superfluous sprints was that when they run to score political points instead of serving the public, all they have to show for it is that they are out of breath.

PERHAPS IT was fitting that there were no celebrations marking Monday’s six-month anniversary of the government’s formation, because what really mattered on that day was that after four elections in two years, and with no more races immediately in sight, none of the MKs in the coalition or opposition were running for anything anymore.

The only one who made a point of marking the day was the architect of the government, Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who came to his Yesh Atid faction meeting ready with a laundry list of accomplishments.

The first, of course, was the government’s survival.

“Half a year ago, everyone explained to me that the government wouldn’t be formed, but then it was,” Lapid said. “They they said it wouldn’t make it through the first month. We made it. Then they said we wouldn’t pass a budget. It passed. This government is here to stay.”

Besides the budget and its reforms, Lapid listed lowering unemployment and the national debt, not locking down for the coronavirus, and becoming the world’s first country to administer COVID-19 booster shots.

He said his government persuaded dozens of countries to boycott the antisemitic Durban conference, “dramatically” improved ties with the US, Europe, Egypt and Jordan, and opened diplomatic installations in Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Lapid added the government’s plan for fighting violence in the Arab sector, and its funding for Holocaust survivors and integrating the disabled into the workforce.

“What we did in six months had not been done here in six years,” Lapid said.

The opposition has its own list, which also starts with survival. There were those who said Netanyahu would quit politics and go make millions once the government was formed or after it proved its staying power by passing the budget.

The more cynical Netanyahu critics circled this Monday as the date he’d quit, because his wife and children had their cars, chauffeurs and bodyguards that the state funded for the past 12 years taken away. But that same night he was burning the midnight oil in the Knesset plenum.

The Likudniks note that their government was criticized for wasting taxpayer funds on the Norwegian Law, which allows ministers to quit the Knesset in favor of the next candidates on their party lists. After the leaders of the current coalition criticized them, they expanded the bill, and enabled 21 ministers and deputy ministers to be replaced so far, at an enormous cost.

After the Likud was panned for making too many political appointments, neither New Hope nor Yesh Atid has done anything different. Former Yesh Atid MKs are ambassadors around the world, and New Hope’s candidates that aren’t in the Knesset received plum posts in the party’s ministries.

Two Likud governments are the largest in Israel’s history. But the current one, with 28 ministers and six deputies, is not far behind.

Bennett built himself up politically by criticizing the previous government’s zigzagging on the coronavirus. But he is just as guilty recently. He did not close down the economy, but he closed down Israel to tourists for Christmas, paralyzing the tourism industry, which is one of Israel’s top sources of income. The tour guides who heard about the compensation package he proposed after they protested against the government’s policies said they did not know whether to laugh or cry.

Gilat Bennett humiliated her husband by going abroad with his kids against his will and his advice to the public. Netanyahu’s character on the Eretz Nehederet satire show mocked him by saying that there is no real change if the prime minister’s wife is still in charge. Bennett’s character responded that when Netanyahu was in power, both his wife and his son overruled him.

On matters related to the Diaspora, there is still no Western Wall agreement or Jewish Agency chairman, which is the coalition’s fault. There is no Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, which is the opposition’s fault.

With six months done in a term of nearly four-and-a-half years, both coalition and opposition officials admit privately that there is plenty of time for them to correct their mistakes.

Perhaps this week, when they both sprinted to no avail, will be a wake-up call that will make them realize that they can both make more of an effort to serve the public better.•