Think about it: The new government, full half of the cup

There are quite a few aspects of this government, for someone like myself to feel positive about.

Netanyahu at Knesset swear in 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu at Knesset swear in 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Most liberal and left-wing commentators are not very happy about the new government that is to be sworn in today, pointing out that since the representatives of the settlers in this government are more numerous than in the previous government, and since Uri Ariel from the Bayit Yehudi party will be in charge of the Construction and Housing Ministry, we are likely to see massive building in the settlements at the expense of building inside the Green Line, and at the expense of any meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians.
No doubt the strengthening of the settlers is one of numerous changes in the political reality following the recent elections, but there are many other changes – many of them positive. Furthermore, though Bayit Yehudi is committed to building in the settlements it is also committed to doing something about the housing shortages within the Green Line, and there is no reason to believe that Uri Ariel will serve his constituents only. The future of negotiations with the Palestinians is a more serious problem.
While the new government is not exactly my “cup of tea,” and despite my support for the Labor Party, which has decided to remain in the opposition, I am still inclined to look at the bright side of things. There are quite a few aspects of this government, and the current division between coalition and opposition, for someone like myself to feel positive about.
As to the government, the first piece of good news is that after many years we shall finally have a full-time health minister – former Herzliya mayor Yael German from Yesh Atid – who is known as a hard worker, with progressive views.
Next we have Tzipi Livni, leader of Hatnua, as justice minister and chairwoman of the ministerial committee on legislation. For all those who worry about the status of the rule of law, this is certainly good news. This does not mean that all the anti-liberal and anti-democratic bills which some of the members of the Likud-Beytenu parliamentary group are likely to continue to table, will not get through in the Knesset in one form or another.
However, it does mean that one of the gatekeepers will be no other than the minister in charge, which was not the case in the previous government, when former justice minister Yaakov Neeman himself seemed to support some of the more outrageous bills.
This might make up for the loss of another gatekeeper in this sphere in the 18th Knesset – former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin.
I have fewer hopes for Livni’s chances of leaving a positive imprint on the talks with the Palestinians, and believe that her role in this sphere is meant mainly to be window-dressing for international consumption.
As to the Education Ministry, Rabbi Shai Piron is the right man to head this ministry at the current juncture.
On the one hand, as an open-minded rabbi he is likely to find a good balance between the teaching of Jewish studies in the secular school system, and of ensuring that a core curriculum of non-religious studies is taught in the independent haredi school system.
He can also be expected to strengthen the education for democracy and tolerance, and against racism.
Amram Mitzna, who will apparently be appointed chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, can be depended on to back up Piron’s efforts.
In the economic sphere, though I am not a supporter of the extreme capitalist doctrines advocated by Binyamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, it is certainly good news that the prime minister, finance minister and economics and trade minister are of a single mind regarding the required economic policy to get Israel out of its current financial predicament, and despite the complicated relations that exist between the three personalities, there is a good chance that they will pull the cart in the same direction – which is vital for success. It remains to be seen who will replace Stanley Fischer as the governor of the Bank of Israel.
As to government-Knesset relations, the best news is that after many years we shall have a strong and effective opposition, made up of 52 Knesset Members. The 21 Zionist social-democratic MKs, the 18 haredi MKs, 11 MKs from the Arab parties, and what remains of Kadima promise to put up a good fight on a wide range of socioeconomic issues, and the peace process, as well as on the issue of the “equal bearing of the burden.”
An active opposition will certainly increase its prestige after many years of disrepute. There is nothing dishonorable about being in opposition – it is part of what makes the democratic process work.
Finally we come to the issue of the Knesset Speaker.
I am one of those who are sorry to see Rivlin go – mostly because he was an active and effective defender of the rule of law and of minority rights in the 18th Knesset, despite his strong support of the settlement enterprise, and Greater Israel. However, I am not sure that his replacement, Yuli Edelstein, will prove to be as bad as some fear. Edelstein is soft-spoken man with a pleasant disposition and demeanor (which is more than one can say about Rivlin). He is frank to the extreme. For example, his official biography includes the facts that his father converted to Christianity and serves as an Orthodox priest in Russia, and his own employment as a nude model in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Moscow.
Like most other prisoners of Zion who made aliya, Edelstein turned religious and joined the more extreme right-wing political camp in Israel. However, so far we have no indication that he will not defend the rule of law in the Knesset, or that he will be less than fair toward the Arab MKs.
I just hope that my relative optimism will not come flying back at my face.The writer is a former Knesset employee.