The political crisis continues with Bennett's precarious position - opinion

The current political condition will be very difficult to put right in the eyes of those who are truly concerned about Israel’s fragile social balance.

 Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a rally in Jerusalem last week.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a rally in Jerusalem last week.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

As I go over the final proofs of my book: Israel’s Knesset Members: A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, I have been pondering whether to update the Epilogue: a chapter added to the English version of the book, which deals with the political crisis that began in December 2018. One more episode was added last week by the sole instigator of the crisis, Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, for his own insatiable political ambition and attempts to wriggle out of the legal mess he got himself into, for which he blames everybody except himself.

This crisis has caused havoc in our political system in general, and in the work of members of the Knesset (MK) in particular.  This situation will be very difficult to put right again, at least in the eyes of those, like myself, who are truly concerned about Israel’s fragile social balance and liberal democratic system, and about the attempt to define the State’s Jewishness exclusively in halachic terms, rather than its being the state of all the Jews.

I decided not to change the epilogue, which ends with the words: “All one can say as the Knesset enters the year 2022 is that only the future will tell if, how or when the political crisis in Israel will come to an end, and the MKs will return to their normal functions and activities.” This is but one more stepping stone on the long road to this future, whatever it may turn out to be.

Since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government was sworn in on June 13, 2021, the opposition, led by Netanyahu, has spent most of its time trying to delegitimize it and bring it down. The delegitimization has taken the form of badmouthing Bennett and the government as a whole as scoundrels, liars, deceivers and good-for-nothings, who will lead Israel to ruin and doom, even though at least some of the same adjectives may be used in describing Netanyahu since he entered politics some 35 years ago.

When one asks Likud representatives what exactly they would do differently than the current government, one never gets a coherent or realistic answer and it doesn’t matter whether the issue is health, security or any other pertinent topic. The truth is the Likud hasn’t had a platform since 2009. Instead of a platform, the Likud has Netanyahu and Netanyahu is an opportunist, so that even if he does profess an ideology – such as neo-liberal economics – it vanishes into thin air when it comes to the haredim, who are the largest consumers of social welfare benefits. It also disappears when it comes to benefiting his tycoon friends, whether we are talking of the media, natural gas, or any other issue they might be interested in.

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett handles his mask at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 10, 2022.  (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett handles his mask at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 10, 2022. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Since bringing down a government and forming an alternative government requires the support of at least 61 MKs, it is no wonder that Netanyahu has spent a good deal of time and energy talking with potential defectors from the opposite political camp. Though Netanyahu didn’t invent this form of political activity, he has perfected it.

Of the three right-wing parties that are members of the current government – Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and Bennett’s Yamina – only the latter constitutes a potential source for defectors. This is mainly because Yamina’s make-up is the least coherent. It is not clear on what basis Bennett handpicked certain candidates for his list and he hasn’t acted systematically since forming his government, to keep all the odd bedfellows together and happy.

When it was revealed that MK Idit Silman, the chairperson of the coalition, was the first defector last week, many were surprised. In fact, at the time of writing, her status is unclear. Officially, she is still a member of Yamina, but has resigned from the coalition. That places her in the same status as that held by MK Amichai Chikli (Yamina) from the formation of the government (which he refused to join) until last week, when Bennett decided to declare him a poresh (deserter).

Silman stated that she had decided to leave the coalition because she refuses to “give a hand to a blow to the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” against the background of Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz’s insistence that the hospitals in Israel abide by a Supreme Court ruling about bringing hametz into hospitals during Passover.

It has been reported that Silman has received a promise from the Likud that she will be placed in 10th place on the Likud list for the next Knesset and will receive the ministry of Health, should Netanyahu form the next government. Since Netanyahu’s political promises are frequently worthless (ask Nir Barkat, who was promised the ministry of Finance in 2020), unless there will be additional defectors, Silman might well remain in limbo. Even if additional defectors will be found, it is not at all certain that Netanyahu will manage to form an alternative government in the current Knesset or actually manage to achieve what he failed to achieve in the elections to the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th Knessets: a majority to form a purely rightwing-religious government.

Of course, if at long last Netanyahu will manage to form the government he covets, even if only by the skin of his teeth, it is unlikely to be a stable government and the victory might turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. Around half the citizens of the country will undoubtedly be joyous, but the other half, to which I belong, will view it as a tragic development, which will simply prolong the political crisis and instability.

I am not saying that the current government is my dream government – far from it. However, from my perspective it is a far more effective and clean government than Netanyahu’s fourth government (2015-2019), and the transition governments he led from 2019 to 2021, irrespective of the hundreds or possibly thousands of speeches to the contrary, delivered by the opposition since June 2021.

Since the 21st Knesset elections (the first round of four in the last three years, with a fifth round looming around the corner), I have repeatedly written that what Israel needs most urgently, in order to promote the recovery of its torn-apart society and wacky politics, is not another narrow government, but an authentic national unity government: the fruit of sincere good intentions rather than sheer opportunism. Netanyahu proved in his short lived fifth government (which he formed with Benny Gantz from Blue and White) that he is not a partner for such a government and certainly cannot lead it.

The current faltering government is a unity government of sorts – including representatives of the Right, Center, Left and Arabs – but from the very start was too narrow to offer stability, and with an opposition that included the largest parliamentary group in the Knesset – the Likud – and the haredim, both of which refused to give the new coalition a chance or take stock of their own failure.

So here we are: alas, still in deadlock.