The government won't fall over question of legitimacy - opinion

The survival of the government's survival is at question since Idit Silman resigned from the coalition, leaving the government in a precarious place.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the opening of the Knesset summer session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the opening of the Knesset summer session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Until a week or two ago, I believed that elections would be taking place by the middle of September. I am no longer sure of that, though I doubt whether the current government will survive until the end of its term in 2025.

The reason I believe that this government will not survive its term is that the moment it lost its formal majority, when MK Idit Silman left the coalition (even though she has not officially joined the opposition), the government’s status became even more precarious than it had been before and the juggling acts it must perform in order to continue to function effectively have become increasingly tricky – especially since the Likud keeps stating or insinuating that very soon there will be a few more defectors from it. Seeking potential defectors seems to have been the Likud’s main political activity for over 11 months, besides badmouthing the prime minister and the government, and trying to sabotage the Knesset’s work.

The government is doing an admirable effort to confront the Likud’s destructive policy, as occurred with the sudden resignation of Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana. At first, I couldn’t understand the move, since not long before the resignation was announced on Friday, Kahana appeared on the Ofira and Berko show on channel 12 and spoke in defense of the government, expressing careful optimism about its chances for survival.

It finally transpired that the last of the Yamina MKs to have entered the Knesset on the basis of the Norwegian Law, MK Yomtob Kalfon, was believed to be considering defecting from the coalition and a decision was taken to preempt his move by Kahana – who had resigned from the Knesset within the framework of the Norwegian Law last June – resigning from the government and returning to the Knesset, thus forcing Kalfon out. Incidentally, as an MK, Kahana can serve as deputy minister of religious services and might even be able to be reappointed as minister.

Of course, there is a limit to which such political maneuvers can be performed, even though they are perfectly legal. Under the circumstances, they may even be considered legitimate.

 RELIGIOUS SERVICES Minister Matan Kahana arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem earlier this month. He is resigning from the cabinet in order to return to the Knesset.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) RELIGIOUS SERVICES Minister Matan Kahana arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem earlier this month. He is resigning from the cabinet in order to return to the Knesset. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Since the government of change was formed just over 11 months ago, the Likud has made extensive use of the claim that though the government is legal, it is illegitimate. I have tried to discover whether there is a definition of illegitimate in this context and have been unable to find one. A government may be considered illegitimate by international law – but that is not what the Likud and its partners are talking about.

If you look at what the Likud considers illegitimate in the current government you will find the following: the fact that Yamina kept stating that it preferred a right-wing government, if such was possible, and ended up forming a government including right-center-and left-wing parties, plus an Islamic party; the fact that Yamina emerged from the elections for the 24th Knesset with seven Knesset seats, which are now effectively down to five, and that it is outrageous that its leader – Naftali Bennett – is prime minister; and the allegation that Bennett is a liar, a cheat and a crook and that his government is fraudulent, incompetent and dangerous.

Last week, MK Miri Regev added that it is also ugly – apparently, in the sense of being hideous - because physically, the current government is probably the best looking government Israel has ever had.

I do not think one should doubt that after the last elections Yamina preferred a right-wing government to the headache it finally opted for, but the cold fact is that even if Yamina had joined Netanyahu after the last elections, Netanyahu did not have the necessary number of votes to form a government, thanks to the refusal of religious Zionism to enable Ra’am be part of the coalition or even a supporter of the government from the outside. Therefore, Yamina did not have an option of joining a government led by Netanyahu.

THE LIKUD, and its natural partners have the right to believe that the Arab parties should not be part of a government in the Jewish state, that MK Mansour Abbas has the power to manipulate the government, that left-wingers are traitors by definition, and even that Reform Rabbi MK Gilad Kariv (Labor), who was appointed as chairperson of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, is unacceptable for religious reasons. They have the right to believe whatever they wish, but that does not make these beliefs true or the basis for declaring the government to be illegitimate, or change the fact that they represent racist and reactionary positions.

The Israeli system of government does not require the prime minister’s party to be the largest party in the Knesset, it does not even require that the prime minister’s party should have a minimal number of Knesset seats. All it requires is that when it enters office a majority of the MKs supports it, or that a majority does not reject it, which enables the current situation.

On several occasions, Netanyahu considered passing a law that would require the prime minister to be the leader of the largest party in the Knesset. However, such a law was never adopted and in the third government Netanyahu lead (formed in 2013) the Likud had only 27 seats compared the Kadima’s 28. Kadima remained in opposition.

As to all the compliments that the opposition bestows on Bennett and his government, most of the attributes attached to them are equally applicable to Netanyahu himself, who constantly lies (or is grossly inaccurate in his facts, makes promises he fails to keep, breaks written agreements, and so on).

As to whether the current government is less competent than Netanyahu’s various governments, history will judge. Netanyahu has a deeper voice than Bennett, he has more experience (that is what happens when you block out potential contenders for the throne), and he has much more self-confidence and gall. The fact that he and his partners say that he has better solutions for all of Israel’s problems, in all spheres, doesn’t turn what they say into fact – not even on the issue of Iran. In fact, every time a Likudnik is asked what the Likud would do differently from the current government, the answer is Netanyahu.

So, it is really not a question of legitimacy and illegitimacy. What counts is Knesset seats, and though according to opinion polls the Likud is certainly growing in strength, in the current Knesset, Netanyahu does not have the political strength to bring the government down by means of a constructive vote of no-confidence and forming an alternative government. Since Ra’am has opted for giving the current government another chance, at the moment Netanyahu does not have sufficient support to get the Knesset to dissolve itself and call for new elections.

These data might (or might not) change within a few weeks or months, but this government will not fall over the false questioning of its legitimacy – it is not only legal, but also legitimate. If it falls, it will be because the opposition has managed to muster a majority.

What will happen after the elections to the 25th Knesset whenever they take place, nobody really knows.

The writer, born in Haifa in 1943, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her book Israel’s Knesset Members: A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, will be published by Routledge in July.