Israel went to the polls on Tuesday and in rather uncharacteristic fashion rendered a clear decision: Benjamin Netanyahu.
No hung jury this time, no tie, no waffling: The country wants Netanyahu back as the head of a very right-wing and religious government. The nation has spoken, and now it is time to honor its decision.
What does that mean? It means letting Netanyahu form a right-wing, very religious coalition. That is what the people want, that is what they voted for.
Israel voted for Netanyahu. Let him govern
And this is not meant to say to the country, as a parent might to a misbehaving child: “You made your bed, now lie in it.” Rather, this is just acknowledging that in a democracy, the will of the people should be respected, and the election results have made this country’s wishes known unequivocally.
When the coalition building begins, there will be calls to bring other parties – such as Benny Gantz’s National Unity or even Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid – into the coalition to form a national unity government. And although there is always something comforting in calls for unity – and some will say this is needed to “moderate” what is shaping up to be the most right-wing government in the country’s history – that is not what the nation voted for.
It did not vote for Gantz to be defense minister or Lapid to be foreign minister. It voted for Netanyahu, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Bezalel Smotrich, and Arye Deri and Yitzhak Goldknopf. They have received a clear mandate; they should be given the reins. If, down the line, Gantz or Lapid or some from their parties opt to join the government, then so be it. But it’s time honor the people’s choice and give them what they voted for.
When you don’t give the people what they vote for, when you give them something they didn’t bargain for, you are inviting problems. Just ask former prime minister Naftali Bennett and the outgoing “government of change.”
Whatever it is that the country said at the ballot box in the March 2021 elections, it did not say that it wanted to see Bennett, leader of a party that won just seven seats, as prime minister. Yet that is what the country got, and that is why Bennett was dogged throughout his short tenure by questions of legitimacy.
What right do you have, he was asked repeatedly, to lead the country when so few people actually voted for you?
That is not a question that can be asked of an incoming Netanyahu government, which received a clear mandate to govern.
With that decisive mandate, however, comes responsibility – and part of that responsibility is the need to quickly reassure voters who woke up on Wednesday morning feeling that their country was slipping through their fingers.
Netanyahu’s first order of business, as well as that of his potential partners, needs to be to recognize the fears and concerns among many of the country’s Arabs, women, members of the LGBTQ community and secular citizens, and to assuage those fears.
The coalition partners – led by a man who is returning for an unprecedented third round to lead the country (Ben-Gurion, Shamir and Peres each returned once) – need to make it clear to them that they have nothing to fear, that this is their country too, and that their way of life will be respected and their rights protected.
Some may argue that this is a given, and there is no reason to state it. Wrong. Whether justifiably or not, there is a fear among many that the country is about to perform a U-turn on everything that has to do with democratic and minority rights. Netanyahu must broadcast clearly – and as soon as possible – that this is not going to happen.
He started to do so already, saying in his victory speech early Wednesday morning that while he will lead a right-wing government, he intends to be prime minister of all Israelis: “Right and Left, Jews and non-Jews alike.”
A similar reassuring message needs to be sent to Israel’s friends around the world, some of whom are concerned about the rise of the far Right. This, too, he addressed briefly during his speech, saying he will “not embark on unnecessary adventures.”
Netanyahu’s words signal that he understands the enormous domestic and foreign challenges that await as a direct result of Tuesday’s vote outcome. We earnestly hope that his deeds will reflect the reassuring message of his early words.