If anyone had any hopes that the opening of the first winter session of the 24th Knesset would bring with it change from the first summer session, he/she is certainly disappointed.
The reason for this is primarily the conduct of the opposition, which apparently still hopes that before the end of 2021, Israel’s 36th government, headed by Naftali Bennett, will vanish from the face of the earth just as rapidly as it emerged.
In the meantime, the opposition is behaving, and talking, as if this government is not only a short-lived mistake, but illegitimate. The opposition refers to it as a government of malice, a dangerous government, the worst government Israel ever had. In fact, its worst “crime” in the eyes of the opposition is that it ousted Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud from power.
Just as occurred on June 13, when the government was sworn in, so during the opening of the winter session on October 4, Bennett’s speech was constantly interrupted.
Ten of the 30 Likud MKs kept heckling, six of them were among the seven MKs from the opposition who were removed from the plenum by the speaker, not so much because they heckled, but more because of what they said.
For example, MK Galit Distal Atbaryan yelled out to Bennett as he spoke, “You are a crook, you are a liar, you are the worst thing that happened to this country.”
What makes Bennett a crook and a liar, according to them? The fact that even though he constantly expressed his preferences for a right-wing government under Netanyahu before the new government was actually formed, he left the door open for a government with the Center/Left, since the level of trust he had in Netanyahu was very low, due to past experience, which he shares with Gideon Sa’ar, Benny Gantz, Avigdor Liberman and numerous other past and present MKs and ministers. To the great delight of those of us who wanted to see Netanyahu ousted from Balfour Street, and the chagrin of those who believe that Netanyahu is irreplaceable, Bennett finally chose the latter option.
If Bennett is a liar and a crook, so was Menachem Begin, who opposed any withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula before the 1977 elections; so was Yitzhak Rabin, who opposed negotiations with Fatah before the 1992 elections; and so is Netanyahu, who broke political promises to dozens of political partners from various parties, and changed his positions on numerous occasions, to suit his own personal interests, such as on the two-state solution, and the number of terms a prime minister can serve.
As I pointed out in numerous articles about Netanyahu since 1988, he both deliberately lies and is flimsy with facts when it suits him. Before the opposition accuses Bennett of being a liar and a crook, they ought to take a good look at their own leader.
Back to Atbaryan’s portrayal of Bennett as the “worst thing that happened to this country” – this is a matter of opinion.
I would certainly not declare him the best thing that happened to this country, even though at this juncture, given the political constellation, no other politician could have ousted Netanyahu from office.
Despite all of Bennett’s shortcomings (which are numerous), his assumption of the premiership is a blessing to those of us who believe that in the last few years Netanyahu, under indictment, turned into a liability and danger to the welfare and democracy of the State of Israel.
Of course, the final balance of Bennett’s successes and failures during his period in office will be determined after he leaves office in two years’ time, unless unexpectedly the budget will fail to pass next month, and early elections will be held.
THE OPPOSITION attacks Bennett and his government also on issues of policy. It argues that they are guilty of the deaths of 1,300 new victims of COVID-19, because they were slow in introducing the third booster vaccination.
It should be noted that a large proportion of those who died of COVID-19 since the “government of change” came to power either refused to be vaccinated or refused to receive the third shot, and if Netanyahu were still in power, there is no reason to believe that they would have been willing to be vaccinated. In fact, in March 2021 (around the time of the last elections) it was reported that in February, 935 persons had died of corona, of whom 78% had not been vaccinated at all, and the rest had either received only one shot, or the second one not long before falling ill.
So even if the number of fatalities fell steeply between March and June, accusing Bennett of the deaths of 1,300 (or more) is sheer nastiness, not least of all because after 6,000 had died last year, and the then-opposition tried to get Netanyahu to say something on the issue, he remained silent.
Netanyahu also accuses Bennett of not doing anything about the Iranian problem, even though he himself got US president Trump to depart from the nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018, which basically enabled the Iranian leaders to take major steps toward a nuclear device – something that they would have probably refrained from doing had the US remained a party to the agreement.
Bennett’s understanding of what Israel can and cannot do with regard to Iran differs from Netanyahu’s, and he is not necessarily wrong.
Another issue that the opposition raises against Bennett, which in its opinion justifies considering his position and that of his government to be illegitimate, is the fact that his party holds only seven Knesset seats.
However, there is nothing in the law that says that the president of the state should assign to the leader of the largest party the job of forming a government after elections. All that the law says is that the job should be assigned to the leader of a party who proves that he is able to present a government that commands the support of a majority in the Knesset.
One may conclude from the fact that the opposition does not seem to be perturbed by Netanyahu’s efforts to get Benny Gantz to desert the current government and join Netanyahu in a government in which he (Gantz) would serve as prime minister until the end of the term of the 24th Knesset, even though his party includes only eight MKs, that it is not the fact that there are only seven MKs in Yamina that leads the opposition to state that Bennett and his government are illegitimate, but the fact that the current government does not include the Likud, the haredi parties and extremist National-Religious parties, and is not led by Netanyahu.
The problem with the conduct of the opposition, which will apparently continue at least until the budget is (or is not) passed in the coming months, is not only the nature of the words that are constantly being spewed out by its members, but the fact that most of the time most of them refrain from attending the meetings of the Knesset committees, or from relating to bills on their merits, rather than on the basis of attempts to shame the coalition.
History will judge the opposition for its current destructive conduct. Hopefully, whatever needs to happen in order to bring the opposition back to its senses will happen before irreversible damage will be inflicted on Israel’s social cohesion and its democracy.
The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, soon to be published in English by Routledge.