Even with 80 seats, the Right will be stuck on 'Yes, Bibi,' 'No, Bibi'

It’s not ideology that divides these politicians. It’s Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen speaking at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Sderot, on January 27, 2021. (photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen speaking at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Sderot, on January 27, 2021.
(photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/POOL)
 If polls are to be believed, Israel’s right wing is on way to its greatest victory in the country’s history.
Based on current polls, there could be around 80 members of Knesset after the March 23 election who belong to right-wing parties: Likud, New Hope, Yamina, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and United Torah Judaism.
This is astonishing, and volumes could and no doubt will be written about how this happened – how Israel turned right-wing, and what that means for the country and the wider region looking at future challenges.
The question is, what will the Right camp do with it?
This is a massive movement with a massive following. If it came together, the sky’s the limit on what it could achieve, from the conflict with the Palestinians to legal reforms and settlement construction. A bona fide right-wing government could change the face of Israel for decades to come.
The problem is that these 80-something seats will never coalesce into a single government to advance the Right’s agenda. Why? Because a third of them – seats belonging to Gideon Sa’ar and Avigdor Liberman – refuses to sit with Netanyahu. In other words, it’s not ideology that divides these politicians. It’s Netanyahu.
This is an absurd situation. When a new parliament is elected, its character is determined by the members who fill its pews. In the United States, for example, all eyes were on Georgia last month to see who would win the two seats up for grabs there, and by consequence, which party – Democrat or Republican – would gain control of the Senate. The party that would emerge victorious, it was clear, would determine the US legislative agenda for at least the next two years.
But that is not the case in Israel. There is no single movement even if 80 MKs share a similar ideology. Instead, we are focused on who will sit with Bibi and who won’t sit with him, who will join his coalition and who will boycott. Not a debate over policy, nor a discussion over what legislative agenda such a powerful bloc of right-wing MKs could and should advance.
Instead, this election for the 36th government is focused on a simplistic count – over and over again – of how many people will sit with the indicted prime minister and how many will not.
WHAT MAKES this situation even more absurd is that this discussion – Yes, Bibi/No, Bibi – has corrupted what it means to be a right-winger in Israel today. For many of Netanyahu’s devoted followers, any criticism of their leader turns the critic into a “Lefty,” a term that sadly has become derogatory in many parts of this country.
These Netanyahu supporters fail to distinguish between the man and policy. They are blinded by some form of political idolatry that stops them from being able to even discuss belief or ideology. Instead, it is all about the leader and whether you stand with him or against him.
I know all too well. As many readers have noticed in recent years, this paper has been critical of our prime minister. Our editorials have criticized his divisive politics, his manipulation of facts, his support of racist politicians, his surrender to the haredim, and of course, his alleged corruption.
We are critical of him just like we would be of any prime minister, because that is our role: to hold our leaders accountable, to ensure that they are transparent in their actions and decisions, and to do our part – albeit small – in upholding the rule of law in our fragile constitution-less democracy.
Many readers have pushed back against this editorial line, accusing us of being leftists, of instigating rifts in society, and more. Such accusations are like the claims made after Sa’ar left Likud and established New Hope. Sa’ar, Netanyahu’s party proclaimed that day, had “joined the Left” – a prima facie absurd claim. Sa’ar is a genuine right-winger, a proponent of “Greater Israel,” and a known opponent of an independent Palestinian state, something Netanyahu has repeatedly endorsed since he was first prime minister in the 1990s. 
While Netanyahu voted in favor of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Sa’ar voted against; when Netanyahu refused to build in Judea and Samaria, Sa’ar went to the hilltops to protest. To accuse Sa’ar of being left-wing has no basis in reality. Except that in today’s Israel it does. If you are critical of Netanyahu or in any way against him, it means – to some people – that you are by definition from the Left.
This is an idea pushed by Netanyahu and the Likud as a way to undermine political adversaries, to make it seem as if opposing Netanyahu means you are not right-wing. In addition to corrupting politics, this is also damaging for the right-wing camp itself, because it ultimately undermines the movement’s goals.
With around 80 MKs in the Knesset, the Right in Israel – if it had its act together – would be able to advance a clear policy agenda. It would be able to move forward some sort of solution to the Palestinian conflict; could implement reforms in the judicial system it has long complained about; might settle contentious matters of religion and state; and would impose the changes it seeks in the education system.
We might not agree with all of their ideas, but at least they would provide Israel with some clarity – as opposed to the ongoing indecisiveness now of coalition after coalition. Think of it: such a government could decide whether Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods beyond the security barrier would remain part of Jerusalem or be relinquished to the Palestinian Authority; would be able, potentially, to annex settlements in the West Bank; and would finally settle the status of Israelis who live over the Green Line. A government so strong would be able, if it wanted, to initiate a real plan to solve society’s divide with the haredim, and address the violence in the Arab sector.
These are critical and important issues for Israel and its future. Will they get solved? Probably not, because the Knesset will never get to the point that it will be able to debate or formulate policy. Instead, it will remain stuck on where politicians stand on the political map – the “Yes, Bibi/No, Bibi” dilemma.
So to all the right-wingers out there I ask a simple question: are you right wing to advance critical policy and a legislative agenda, or are your right wing only to support a single individual? From what I’ve seen until now, many don’t yet know how to answer that question.
***
I have, thank God, four children. One is in 12th grade, one in eighth, one in fifth and one in second, and like hundreds of thousands of families across this country with school-age children, the past year has been extremely hard, mostly for the kids but also on us, their parents.
In some ways, my wife, Chaya, and I are lucky. We have relatively good Internet at home (my kids would say it could be better), we have enough machines and screens for all the kids to be on zoom at the same time, and we have enough room at home for everyone to find a quiet place to sit when they are supposed to be in virtual class.
Of our four children, only the second grader has really seen the inside of a classroom since September. Fifth grade and eighth grade never met this year and almost all of last year as well, since the pandemic hit in March. Our 12th-grader is anyhow busy studying for her bagrut matriculation exams, so going to class is not much of an issue.
Like the experience of other families, schooling at home was new, interesting and at times even fun – in the beginning. After a while though, we began to see that for some of our kids Zoom works and for others it doesn’t. Some can follow along and pay attention and some cannot, requiring Chaya or I to sit nearby to make sure they remain in class and get to the next one. And this is without even mentioning the schoolwork, which almost always requires a parent’s involvement.
Last week, for example, my son’s teacher decided to have the kids cut a fruit salad in honor of Tu B’shvat. Thankfully, I was home because otherwise I’m not sure how the activity would have ended. 
Working on the couch, I saw my eight-year-old go into the kitchen, grab an orange, apple and banana, and then take out a large sharp knife from the silverware drawer. When I asked what he was doing, he said that his teacher told him to cut a salad. In the end, the salad came out pretty good. It was, of course, cut by me.
This learn-at-home situation has been going on for a year now, and there is no real light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, I am frustrated, but I am also concerned. Our children, like many others, are falling behind. They are developing bad study habits, they are on their screens way too much, and they are missing out on essential social interactions that all kids their ages require.
Where is the education system in this country? Where is the innovation? Why are we still conducting 40-minute zoom classes instead of sending the kids to study outdoors? Why can’t schools come up with a proper and responsible capsule system?
My kids are not oblivious to what is happening: they know that haredi kids have never stopped going to school despite government orders, and they wonder why those kids get to go to school and they cannot. Sadly, there is no good answer.
As I write this on Thursday afternoon, the lockdown is scheduled to end on Friday morning unless it is extended when the cabinet meets. Will the schools open as well? If so, in which cities? Which grades? And which classes?
I know that COVID-19 is first and foremost a health crisis, and sending all kids back to school would be irresponsible and reckless. But is there no middle ground? Is there no way for this country – which succeeded in independently launching a satellite into space, and developing a missile that can intercept another – to come up with a real and serious plan to educate our children throughout this pandemic? The overall corona crises could go on for a long time. We need to figure this out sooner than later.