“Don’t be intoxicated by polls,” former president Shimon Peres was known to say, “the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.”
Peres, who on numerous occasions did very well in polls before elections only to go on to lose the actual election itself, knew of what he spoke.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid should take Peres’s advice to heart, but in his case substitute the word “protest” for “polls” in the first clause of the former president’s statement: “Don’t be intoxicated by protests.”
For it seems that Lapid, by his adamant refusal so far to negotiate with the coalition over the fiercely contentious judicial reform, is becoming drunk on the success of the protests. Otherwise, he would have taken up Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s offer Monday to meet that evening at the President’s Residence to begin what the vast majority of the county wants to see: negotiations and compromise over the reforms.
But instead of going to the President’s Residence, Lapid doubled down on his demand that negotiations not begin until the process to enshrine the judicial reform into law is halted.
We believe this is a mistake.
We also believe that Levin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman should have formally paused the legislative process and not have voted in the committee Monday on two elements of the proposal in preparation for a first reading of the bill in the Knesset.
Pausing would have shown goodwill, and Levin and Rothman could have created a healthier atmosphere by hitting the pause button.
But they didn’t, at least not formally. Nevertheless, for all intents and purposes, the legislative process is on hold until next Monday. The coalition could have brought the bill for its first Knesset reading this week but did not do so, in an apparent attempt to give Lapid and the other heads of the opposition a chance to negotiate based on the parameters President Isaac Herzog laid out earlier this week.
Lapid, however, did not take advantage of the opportunity.
Lapid wants to use anti-reform protests to bring down the government
Fresh off of addressing the massive rally in Jerusalem on Monday that brought out some 100,000 people in the middle of a work day, Lapid obviously feels that the momentum is in his favor.
Although the sheer size, passion and longevity the protests are impressive, they are not an end to themselves – they are a tool for getting the coalition to step back from the scope of the proposed judicial reform.
That the coalition is saying it is willing to negotiate is a positive development that should be seized.
The problem, however, seems to be that Lapid is interpreting the protests differently and trying to seize the moment not only to alter the reform, but also to bring down the government.
This makes perfect sense. After all, Lapid is the leader of the opposition, whose job, as traditionally perceived in this country, is to hasten the government’s end.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did this last year when he was opposition leader. But he was able to bring down the government through parliamentary moves inside the Knesset because the Bennett-Lapid government had such a slim majority. Netanyahu’s own coalition is broader – and Lapid, unlike then-opposition leader Netanyahu, cannot bring down the government through the defection of one or two disgruntled MKs.
But Lapid can possibly bring down the government by harnessing the protests and current atmosphere of domestic crisis for his own political needs. Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi said honestly in Rothman’s committee on Monday that negotiations would take the wind out of the demonstrations.
Lapid understands this and, as a result, is in no great hurry to enter into those negotiations. The demonstrations serve his purposes: not only to alter the judicial reform, but also to bring down the government.
The problem is that in the process, the country is on a collision course and leaders – including those in the opposition – need to do what they can to prevent a head-on crash. That is what Israel needs right now.