During a heated parliamentary session on Wednesday, when Israeli lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the initial bill to dissolve the Knesset, acting coalition whip MK Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid) made a speech that undoubtedly did his party leader, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, proud. But Lapid, who will serve as head of the interim government until the next one is formed, may be too obtuse to realize how terrible Toporovsky’s sentiments came across.
His colleagues in the plenum probably didn’t notice. They’re used to the mutual mud-slinging that causes much of the public to cringe while providing fodder for the Twittersphere.
In this case, the legislators were too busy shouting over one another’s words to listen to the likes of Toporovsky. But his message unwittingly exposed the cause of both the birth and ultimate demise of the outgoing government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
It’s old news and no secret that hostility to former prime minister and Likud Party leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu was the magnet that drew disparate factions to join forces just over a year ago. The same animosity, both to him and the opposition he chairs, has been the glue holding the motley crew together since then.
SO, WHEN Toporovsky referred to the collapse of the coalition as a “sad day for democracy,” the whole country yawned. If we Israelis had a shekel for every abuse of that term, we wouldn’t be setting up tent camps to protest the exorbitant cost of housing.
“And I say to you, citizens of Israel, even if we’re headed for elections, don’t think for a moment that we’re taking our foot off the gas pedal."MK Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid)
What wasn’t missed in his tirade, however, was the self-congratulatory piety that has characterized the Bennett-Lapid gang from the get-go. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t coupled with an overarching arrogance towards the general electorate.
“We are [stepping down] with a heavy heart, but without regrets, because the good of the country has always been and will always be our top priority,” he said. “Israel is more important than the games we play [in the Knesset]. The coalition assured the citizens of Israel that we will always put their good before our own in the face of an opposition that repeatedly opted for small political achievements while harming the citizens of Israel, and was willing to hurt its own voters, all for some headline to embarrass the coalition.”
He went on: “And I say to you, citizens of Israel, even if we’re headed for elections, don’t think for a moment that we’re taking our foot off the gas pedal. We are continuing on this journey to unify Israeli society in all its hues. We will continue on this journey toward connection and love. We will not give up, because Israel is more important to us than this or that [government] role or this or that [Knesset] seat.
I remember, and we all remember, that the place to which we were elected doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the citizens of Israel, and we got it on loan,” he said. “This is why we are ready to return the mandate to the voter and to tell the voter, yet again: ‘What do you prefer – love, light and unity, or fear, hatred and loathing?’”
What did Toporovsky mean?
TOPOROVSKY MUST have meant that he and his fellow anti-Netanyahu fanatics would “ask,” rather than dictate, this false dichotomy to the citizens he was addressing from his cherished perch in moral-superiority land. If so, the slip was beautifully Freudian. It certainly revealed the “anybody but Bibi” crowd’s thought process that is its underlying campaign slogan.
According to this disclosure, which has always been at the heart of the holier-than-thou attitude of the Israeli Left – and was adopted by all those members of the coalition who abandoned their ideology in order to obtain positions of power – most Israelis are not sufficiently enlightened. The logic goes that if they were better educated and more sophisticated, they would shun their primitive adherence to old-fangled Zionist tenets that no longer apply.
Israel's conservative majority
This is a convoluted view. The majority in Israel has grown increasingly conservative as a result of reality, not in spite of it. A very short while ago, Bennett would have been the first person to acknowledge this truism.
In fact, it was a key reason that his party, Yamina, passed the electoral threshold. His supporters were fed up with Netanyahu from the Right. And up until he pulled the maneuver that ushered him into the premiership with a measly number of mandates, the media treated him with disdain similar to that which they display for the likes of Religious Zionism Party chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich and No. 3 on his list, MK Itamar Ben-Gvir.
LAPID’S IS a different story. He was never a right-winger. Furthermore, his party garnered far more seats in the last election than Yamina. But Bennett’s condition for signing a rotation agreement with him was first dibs at the helm. Hindsight is pointless, but had Lapid nixed the deal, that whole odd constellation could possibly have been dead in the water.
Assessments at the time were that Lapid wasn’t simply being magnanimous or – as he likes to reiterate ad nauseam – putting the country’s interests above his own. On the contrary – he was playing the hand that he thought would be more beneficial to his career in the long run.
His calculation seems to have been correct. For one thing, he’s going to become prime minister well before the September 2023 date specified in the agreement.
For another, Bennett is taking the flak for the failed kumbaya experiment. That he still touts it as a success is irrelevant.
Behind the microphones and photo-ops, he’s actually trying to figure out whether his next move is to take a break from politics, to crawl to Bibi with his tail between his legs or to create an alliance with other small parties, such as Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, which are on the fast track to extinction.
THIS BRINGS us to the latest polls, which don’t bode well for either side of the aisle. With variations, each survey indicates that if the election were held today, neither the Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc nor that of Lapid-Bennett would have the necessary 61-mandate majority in the 120-strong Knesset to establish a government.
They show, as well, that Netanyahu’s popularity has increased considerably since last year, while the Left is taking a beating, with the Meretz Party in danger of disappearing. To put it simply, whichever way you slice the proverbial pie chart, the Right is dominant.
Setting aside the complicated “inside baseball” of Israel’s coalition system and the musical chairs of its politicians, there is a simple constant in the bigger picture: Israelis are not swayed by lip service to ideals that don’t exist.
With prices soaring, rockets flying and Jews targeted at home and abroad for our very existence, talk of peace and harmony from the halls of a war-torn parliament is worse than cheap. Even more off-putting are admonitions about the nation’s soul.
The good news is that when Toporovsky suggested that anybody who doesn’t embrace the anti-Bibi contingent prefers “fear, hatred and loathing” to “love, light and unity,” he was sending out a rallying cry to the troops he’s desperate to quash.