This government increasingly seems to be losing the plot.
And what’s the plot? Israel needs a stable government that can last for more than a year to steer it through a pandemic, trying economic times, deep domestic divisions and massive security challenges endemic to this region.
That was the very reason for the establishment of this diverse government, one that includes representatives from the Right and the Left, from the religious and the secular, from Jews and Muslims.
And that diversity was this government’s main attraction, as well as a reason it earned applause from various leaders around the world. The establishment of this government was proof and an example during very polarized times that it is possible for people to put their ideological differences aside, at least for a short period, and work for the common good.
As US Ambassador Tom Nides said Sunday at a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, “This coalition is a beautiful thing. This is what Israel is all about. We should be proud as Jews to see this going on.”
Except that over the last few days things have gotten ugly for this “beautiful thing.”
The commitment that the heads of the eight factions comprising the coalition made when the government was established in June – to look at the “big picture” and put smaller issues to the side for the good of the country – is beginning to fray. Now the various factions are looking for what is good for their narrow constituencies, and the collective good can wait.
That explains why Blue and White leader Benny Gantz boycotted Knesset votes this week because of spats inside the coalition over pensions for IDF career officers and efforts to reform IDF and national service. That’s why Ra’am did the same thing last week over tax breaks for Bedouin communities. That’s why Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked pushed through the citizenship bill, even though it upsets some of her coalition partners, and why Meretz won’t enable the legalization of Evyatar, even though that upsets some of its coalition partners.
The coalition parties are increasingly looking at what the other parties are getting at their expense, rather than what the country gains by having a government in which the parties put to the side for a few years the 30% of what they disagree on, and focus on the 70% of the things that they do agree upon.
On Tuesday, the coalition forecast got gloomier when Eli Avidar, once a Yisrael Beytenu MK turned strategic planning minister, left his ministerial post to return to the Knesset. On his way out of the government he slammed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, essentially serving notice that he – as the coalition’s 61st hand in the Knesset – will from now on be making Bennett’s life difficult.
That the coalition parties are now constantly quibbling is an indication that they are all suffering from collective amnesia. Just a few short months ago, Israel was on the verge of going to an unprecedented fifth election in just over two years, a move that would have continued to divide and paralyze the country.
If the parts of the coalition don’t now again rise above their narrow political interests, they could send us all hurtling back to yet another election campaign. But nothing has changed so dramatically on the ground to think that if elections were held today, they would be any more decisive than the last time in March 2021, or the three times previous to that going back to 2019.
Avidar’s resignation from the government – and the way he took a swipe at Bennett going out – is a bad omen. But it is not the only one. Consider these: Gantz calling Meretz and Labor MKS “post–Zionists,” Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman referring to those in the coalition critical of his economic policies as “populists,” and sources close to the prime minister calling Gantz “childish.”
This is not the stuff that makes for an effective and stable government. Yet an effective and stable government is precisely what this country needs and deserves – at least for a few short years. That should not be too much to ask. But, sadly, it just might be.