The serious business of governing – choices!

In a nutshell, though, this is what the election is all about: a Shakespearean choice, “to Bibi or not to be.”

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett
X. is a mature career woman and excellent mother. Z. is her doting father. X. was conflicted about the coronavirus vaccinations. Unlike her parents and her male partner, who had sought out the welcome injections early, she dillied and dallied.
The parents, on the other hand, hurried and harried. Finally, X. clearly found the fullest test of her father’s devotion and care for his daughter’s wellbeing.
He had always voted for Bibi. She was a determined opposite vote and hated Bibi with a passion. He saw Bibi’s strengths. She saw his weaknesses.
X. offered a deal: She would be inoculated, if her father would solemnly promise not to vote for Bibi.
She has duly been vaccinated. Z. has duly promised not to vote for Bibi.
At first, I found this funny.  Then, as I often do, I reflected in Yiddish, “a bitere gelekhter” literally “a bitter laughter,”  that hatred should run so deeply that health itself becomes a wampum for barter.
In a nutshell, though, this is what the election is all about: a Shakespearean choice, “to Bibi or not to be.” The rift is deep, and cuts across families and age groups, friends and neighbors.
This is the fourth election in two years. Enough parties – at least according to all the pollsters – can combine to withhold the prized crown from the man who sees himself as the sovereign lord and monarch of Israel: HM Benjamin Netanyahu.
Now, on the possibility that these disparate groups, running from far left to far right  can unite long enough to form a government and maintain it, a new question arises.  Not who will get the most anti-Bibi votes, but who can best serve as prime minister.
There are two main functions for which the PM must take ultimate responsibility: foreign affairs, defense and internal governance.
Most people look upon the external and defense Siamese-twins as primary. Actually, all is intertwined.  Without internal strength, the nation’s entire defense and foreign affairs structure rests on false foundations.  Netanyahu’s cheap governing tactics (the strategy is to stay in power forever) and expensive hand-outs have measurably weakened our economy, school system, hospital services and personal security.
Good governance means that the cabinet should, in effect, be  an executive board of managers for a corporation that supplies services to its clients, the citizens, in exchange for their taxes.
As we scan the list of party leaders, looking at who could be the best CEO. all the while maintaining Israel’s external standing and military stance, three possibilities appear.  All three poll in the two-figure category. Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) hovers around 19-20 seats; Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope), 12-13 and Naftali Bennett (Yamina) 11-13.
Lapid has had little executive experience; he was a very short-term minister of finance. His military background is limited to communications, a world in which he excelled as a television star.
Sa’ar also has no great military experience, but was a non-commissioned officer in intelligence.  Further, as a former cabinet secretary and minister (education, interior) he has had exposure and involvement to some extent in strategic and defense decision-making. Lapid served only 21 months as minister of finance, too short a period to judge his accomplishments.  He too served in the security cabinet.
The fact of no great observable record of achievement by Lapid or Sa’ar does not automatically disqualify them from high office. However, Bennett’s track record is more impressive.  Not having been born into politics like Lapid, or been weaned on it as was Sa’ar, Bennett has two proven track records. One is in hi-tech and business. The other is in government.
Let it be clear: I do not suggest that success in one field is  automatically transferable to the second.  I have seen  many business people who were not only failures in public life, but were actually detrimental to the public purpose they claim to serve.
Unusually, Naftali Bennett, who brings command and battlefield distinguished service, has succeeded in both.
My readers may ask, how is it that this writer, born and bred into the religious socialist movement, was led to study this very rightwing politician’s platform and views in such depth? The reason is four-fold:  
- Social democracy has given way to cheap populism or vain slogans.  Building a state and a running economy needs private enterprise;
- Israel is bogged down by state-subsidized fake capitalism, cronyism and levels-upon-unnecessary-levels of bureaucracy, often smoke-screened by an opaque system and corrupt lies.  (It functions well in high-tech which is not fettered and competes internationally.)
- Bennett obviously is a leader of a relatively more open and welcoming orthodoxy who has enlisted non-orthodox Jews in his ranks.
- The settlement of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is a fact, whatever my starting position was in earlier decades.  The Palestinian corrupt leadership has not ever shown the ability to admit that they have lost wars and that their recalcitrance and hostile acts gained them not land for peace but settlement for hostility.  
I had a chat with Bennett recently and found two points that worried me and others. The first is the “politician’s slogan” he incanted: “We do not boycott anyone.”  
We must look behind the political slogan carefully.  If he does not boycott Netanyahu, why should one vote for Bennett and thus enable Bibi to remain in office? The second sticking point is his sharp criticism of the legal system. Granted, it needs repair, and as he said to me in effect, some rebalance of  the separation of powers. This is a more moderate line than his number two, Ayelet Shaked, who thought that the judiciary is “under” the justice minister when she held that position.  
Again, she showed common sense and success in her management of the non-judicial role of that ministry, but spoke and acted with a lack of restraint and even petulance when her extreme tactics were blocked when she tried to hijack the appointment process. Bennett expressed himself more carefully and future coalition negotiations should further constrain him.
In spite of trying to play the politician, or maybe because of it, Bennett did not really convince me about “boycotting” people. I have the feeling – and it comes from the gut and head – that Bennett will not sit in a Netanyahu government. So too, he will not sit in a cabinet or coalition that includes the fascist axis of Drukman-Ben-Gvir-Smotrich.  As a former member of Bnei Akiva, he knows what is at stake with Drukmanism.
Now one may very well ask, what does this have to do with the real world? Likud can garner more Knesset seats (27-29) than Lapid, Sa’ar or Bennett.
Unless Netanyahu pulls another rabbit out of his hat, as he may, such as a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, a “secret” deal with Syria, carefully  leaked by the Bibi machine, or the like, the Netanyahu-ultra-Orthodox bloc right now does not poll the 61-majority needed in the Knesset to support a government.  
But the Lapid-Sa’ar-Bennett bloc (about 42-45) plus Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu (7) and Labor (5-6) can bring it close enough to power to convince some Likud members to cross the floor. If that does not work, then some or all of Joint List might be the scale-tipper. That might balance the totally unnecessary Nation-State Law.
My own instinct tells me that Bennett is not just talking about becoming PM. If all falls into place, and Bennett and Sa’ar form a united bloc after the elections, the united rightwing will be bigger than Lapid’s list. Whether either Bennett or Sa’ar gain more votes will determine who leads that bloc.
Even if  Bennet does not gain the prime minister’s slot, he would be an outstanding minister of defense  as he already demonstrated when  in that role. Failing that, his team could really cut  the bureaucracy, for example, he as minister of finance and Ayelet Shaked as minister of the interior.
In addition, Bennett is ultimately a realistic person and his American parentage is a plus in both understanding where President Biden comes from as well as the plural American Jewish world.  He has already stated  that the change in the US administration has put annexation of the West Bank on the back-burner. He certainly showed that unlike the madness recently expressed by the ultra-Orthodox and Smotrich gangs – he very well understands that world Jewry also includes the non-Orthodox. He is pragmatic about the ultra-Orthodox.  It is not military service, he believes, but employment that will bring about an internal change in that so-far separatist complex .  
People who work should be well compensated, he said, and in the transit to a more competitive society, a “compassionate conservatism” would ensure decent conditions for the weak. (The latter is not a formulation I admire but I trust his basic decency and loyalty to the prophets’ standards of justice.)
Before writing this article I was leaning toward Bennett.  I may just have convinced myself. Closer to voting I’ll decide finally.  Anyway, all our dear ones here are vaccinated or post-corona, so I cannot make deals about how to vote.
The writer both holds a PhD degree in ‘government’ and had practical experience in both Israel and Jewish Agency governance. Dr. Avi-hai cautions that Israel elections are decided several weeks after the votes are in and coalitions formed. Predictions by politicians, polls and pundits – Avi-hai included – have often been wrong.