Let's hope for the best from Israel's new government in 2023 - Opinion

How the year 2023 will play out at least on the national level will depend on how the new government will actually perform.

 AMIR OHANA presides as Knesset speaker after his election by MKs, on Thursday. The sight of MKs Moshe Gafni and Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism turning away while Ohana delivered his speech was nauseating, says the writer.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
AMIR OHANA presides as Knesset speaker after his election by MKs, on Thursday. The sight of MKs Moshe Gafni and Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism turning away while Ohana delivered his speech was nauseating, says the writer.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

I have not tried to hide the fact that I am apprehensive about the new government and how the year 2023 will play out at least on the national level will depend on how the new government will actually perform.

First of all, on a few nightmare scenarios I had about the makeup of the government and position holders in the Knesset on behalf of the Likud, I have been proven wrong: first and foremost, over the identity of the Knesset speaker. The fact that Amir Ohana was finally selected for the job by Benjamin Netanyahu was undoubtedly a relief.

The alternative was David Amsalem, who was so insulting in his expressions towards the former government in the previous Knesset and aggressive in his promises of what he personally would do to it, its members, and its supporters once the Likud returned to power, that his selection as Speaker would have been an outrageous act.

There is no doubt that Ohana received the job at least partially in order to reassure the gay community in Israel that despite the fact that large sections of the religious half of the new Government are made up of homophobes, none of the gay achievements of recent years would be taken away from them. Ohana’s inauguration speech emphasized his being part of the gay community and was received with enthusiastic applause by a majority of the MKs.

However, the sight of veteran MKs Moshe Gafni and Meir Porush from United Torah Judaism hiding their faces and turning away while Ohana delivered his speech was a nauseating sight, even though it should be noted that both complied with coalition discipline and voted in favor of his selection, and neither left the plenary hall when Ohana delivered his speech, as they had done back at the end of December 2015, when he delivered his maiden speech.

I have no doubt that Ohana will honor the Knesset as its speaker and sincerely hope he will act fairly towards the new opposition and ensure that it is given a fair say in the excruciating process of approving the government legislation towards changing the balance between the executive branch and the judiciary, to the detriment of the latter and Israel’s current liberal democratic regime.

Another appointment that I am glad was foiled was that of Miri Regev as education minister. I am not sure that Netanyahu’s choice for the job, Yoav Kisch, is ideal but in terms of temperament and style, he is certainly preferable to Regev, who proved what she is capable of as Culture and Sports Minister when she didn’t miss an opportunity to insult and try to degrade Ashkenazi cultural preferences.

However, I doubt whether Kisch – a past fighter and commercial pilot – has ever given any serious thought to educational preferences and will succeed in blocking efforts by the religious parties to weaken the independence of the secular national education system or the efforts of Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Avi Maoz, the Noam party leader, responsible for external education courses, to do away with all government-financed progressive programs in secular schools.

I also feel comfortable with Yoav Galant as defense minister and hope he will put up a fight against moving Border Police out of the Defense Ministry and into the hands of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, and control over the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria into the hands of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Since Mickey Zohar consciously stopped behaving like a firebrand in the course of the last Knesset, I also feel comfortable with him as culture and sports minister.

The Likud minister I am most ambivalent about is Yariv Levin in the Justice Ministry. He is a gentleman, capable of holding a serious intellectual conversation, but who for over a decade has advocated for the systematic weakening of our legal system in general and the High Court of Justice in particular, under the excuse that they are excessively liberal and prevent right-wing governments from implementing their policies.

I still hope that Levin will implement his plans with moderation and will not lead to the total destruction of our legal system, which due to the respect it still enjoys in international legal circles, helps us ward off attacks on our conduct vis-a-vis the Palestinians, such as the most recent United Nations General Assembly referral to the International Court of Justice with a request to express its opinion about the status of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and eastern Jerusalem.

Above, I mentioned the fact that, thankfully, Regev was not appointed as education minister. She was appointed transportation minister, a position she has held in the past. Another four Likud women have been appointed to ministerial positions: Idit Silman, who was given the Environment Ministry in return for helping to bring down the previous government; Gila Gamliel was appointed intelligence minister for which she has none of the necessary qualifications; Galit Distal Atbaryan was appointed minister for nothing in particular in the Prime Minister’s Office; and May Golan was appointed deputy minister for national tasks, whatever that may mean, and Orit Strock from the Religious Zionist Party has also been appointed as a minister. The three last positions are rather meaningless and are apparently designed to keep the three appointed MKs out of the list of potential troublemakers.

MKs Yair Lapid and Merav Michaeli skip inauguration

I MUST admit that I was displeased with the decision of the new leader of the opposition, former prime minister Yair Lapid, and of Labor leader Merav Michaeli to stay away from the inauguration of the new government. I believe that Benny Gantz’s decision to remain in the chamber and reportedly even shake hands with Netanyahu (there is no photographic evidence that this actually took place) was more respectable. Lapid’s and Michaeli’s conduct played into the hands of Netanyahu, who accuses the opposition of refusing to accept the democratic outcome of the elections while mocking it for moaning that Israel’s democratic system is under threat.

But as usual, Netanyahu is twisting the facts. First of all, Lapid announced that he accepts the election results but added, exactly as Netanyahu had done after the inauguration of the Bennett-Lapid government a year and a half ago, that within no time he would be back in power. I doubt it.

As usual, Netanyahu keeps referring to the majoritarian aspect of democracy, ignoring all the elements that distinguish essential democracy from formal democracy, such as the protection of the human and civil rights of all of the state’s citizens and residents; checks and balances among the three branches of government – the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judiciary – freedom of expression; pluralism, etc. In many of these spheres, there is a reason for concern, and Netanyahu’s assurances to the contrary (usually in English, to foreign media outlets) are not convincing.

In fact, there is no agreement among political commentators whether deep down in his heart Netanyahu is a committed progressive liberal trying to survive in an illiberal environment; whether he is really an authoritarian leader seeking to turn Israel into an illiberal democracy or worse; or whether he is a complete cynic, whose sole concerns are to wriggle out of his current legal travails and to leave behind a glorious legacy, no matter what.

Let us hope for the best for the new year and for the new government.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has extensively published journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.