After a searing, polarizing seven months, this wrecking-ball coalition has united Israel – in fear and disgust. A Hebrew University survey estimates that 72.9% of Israelis blame the government for worsening economic conditions. Two-thirds say the government weakened security and society. Fifty-eight percent called the government irresponsible and incompetent, while a Lazar Research poll found 58% fearing civil war. Fortunately, seven Likudniks expressed doubts about imposing more judicial reforms without consensus. So far, they’re still too little, too laters rather than rebels, but let’s hope.
Perhaps Israeli public opinion can do what Moody’s and S&P and the IDF security establishment and the Biden administration and American Jewry and common sense failed to do – convince enough Likudnikim to halt this mad rush to national fragmentation and regime-maiming. Perhaps enough supporters are finally ready to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu start leading again – last week he looked more like dictated-to than dictator.
I’m not predicting, only hoping. This country will calm down if Netanyahu unilaterally announces a yearlong freeze on the judicial reform, unless a grand compromise emerges first. So the negotiations must continue, while Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid should consider entering a national-unity government with Gantz’s 12 seats or their combined 36 seats.
Lapid fumbled by dismissing the idea as “the death of decency”; we realists have to prioritize saving Israeli democracy. If, in 1967, Menachem Begin and Moshe Dayan could overcome resentments and rivalries to join Levi Eshkol’s government, with Eshkol elegantly yielding the Defense Ministry to Dayan, we need leaders ready to stretch and solve this national emergency, too.
Negotiate many scenarios, including pardoning Netanyahu. Even better, how about a law freezing his trial, which would lapse if the new partners feel compelled to leave the coalition. The need for a hostage rescue to free Bibi from the clutches of Yariv Levin, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Simcha Rothman is so pressing that if anyone quits the coalition to protest a lightening or freezing of the reform, Gantz should promise that his party will not support a no-confidence motion, keeping Netanyahu in power.
Stop toying with Israel's future and make this government functional
Clearly, this government must become functional as soon as possible. Netanyahu cares about staying in power and staying out of prison, so saner Israeli leaders should figure out how to make that happen – until his tenure ends or his coalition collapses. I didn’t vote for him, but I respect the democratic process that granted him power; I’m no election denier. Similarly, I trust the courts to rule fairly. But like most Israelis, I am more desperate to see a return to constructive leadership, consensus building, and some, ahem, reasonableness at the top. It’s more important to see Bibi jump back into effective nation-building than to see Bibi in a prison jumpsuit.
While playing the most pragmatic politics, let’s think high-mindedly, too. We must start emphasizing every Israeli leader’s responsibility to foster consensus, represent all Israelis, and build society. Israeli political culture – including coalition negotiations – must mature, evolving from always asking “what’s in it for me, my party and my voters?” to asking “what’s best for our country?” For too long, Israeli parties have perpetuated the Diaspora mentality of looking to milk the government, as if the government isn’t us, we the people. We need parties taking a broader, more sovereignty-oriented approach.
A GREAT Zionist thinker – whom I included in my Zionist Ideas anthology – explained just how high the stakes are. He understood every Israeli leader’s sacred duty to preserve and expand Israel’s achievements. We must, he wrote, continue to “build an astonishing scientific and technological capability; develop the most thriving economy in the Middle East, and one of the most advanced in the world; create a vibrant cultural life...; and maintain a staunchly democratic ethos amidst a sea of despotic regimes.” Nothing should threaten those missions.
Taking a sweeping historical view, he wrote: “I am convinced of one thing: The Jewish people will not get another chance. There are only so many miracles that history can provide a people, and the Jews have had more than their share. After unparalleled adversity the Jews came back to life in the modern State of Israel. For better or worse, the Jewish future is centered on the future of that state. Therefore we must be extra careful not to toy with Israel’s security or jeopardize its defenses, even as we pursue peace with our neighbors, for what is at stake is the destiny of an entire people.”
In 1993, in A Durable Peace: Israel and its Place Among the Nations, that writer – Benjamin Netanyahu – vowed not to “toy” with Israel’s security or stability or economy or collective sanity. He seems to have forgotten that constructive nation-building vision over the last seven months of revenge politics, while being held hostage by piggish politicians, wallowing in filth and slinging mud, sticking their snouts in the public trough, snorting and charging at anyone who didn’t vote for them, spreading their hate-germs throughout Israeli society.
Some Likudnikim might be extending a lifeline to him, for us. Even some rivals might be open – just as Begin and Dayan were. Let’s hope our image of Bibi diminished, impotently watching Yoav Gallant and Yariv Levin talk past him in the Knesset, or of Bibi cowering, avoiding an IDF briefing warning of weakened security due to all the chaos, fades soon. Israel needs real leaders, seizing the reins, compromising, cooperating, uniting us constructively, while changing the agenda so Israel can flourish.
The writer is the editor of the new three-volume set Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People (www.theljp.org).