The Bennett government has a character problem - opinion

Forming a coalition was a win for this government. But that win means little if it’s not followed up by good sportsmanship, commitment to integrity and maintaining their core values.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman during a vote on the state budget in the Knesset last month. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman during a vote on the state budget in the Knesset last month.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

When the new government came into power, they had a very clear message – they came to do the work. There would be no distractions, no tricks, nothing untoward. This unity-“change” government was going to overcome their differences by being there for the right reasons and by focusing on the issues they had in common. They were going to change how things in government get done. But we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. While I’m not sure that where we’re at now is “hell”, the coalition certainly has not established that their new alternative government is heaven.

It is true that this coalition is up against a very determined, angry and combative opposition. No one expects for the relationship between the two sides to be easy and smooth. However, we should be able to expect a certain standard of protocol and respect to govern the halls and rooms of Knesset. Unfortunately, the past few months have seen these standards be pushed aside in favor of political gain and at the expense of something more important – integrity and character.

The most jarring example of this has been the Knesset committee distributions. We, as citizens, should expect to have our votes be represented fairly in Knesset and that should apply to representation in Knesset committees. When the coalition decided on the distribution of committee spots, they gave themselves an overwhelming majority in all crucial Knesset committees. Though, of course, it makes sense for the coalition to have a majority, it should be reflective of the makeup of the Knesset itself. When the Likud with 29 seats has two spots on a committee and a party with six seats has the same amount, it is no longer representative of the Knesset makeup or of the will of the citizens.

ONE OF the biggest challenges for this government is passing the budget in November. A large bulk of the legislative work that goes into approving the budget takes place in the Knesset Finance Committee and the Finance Ministry. The finance minister is Yisrael Beytenu Party head Avigdor Liberman. The head of the finance committee is MK Yisrael Beytenu Alex Kushner. Three of the permanent subs for this committee are from Yisrael Beytenu. This is an unprecedented move that seems to have been made solely for the benefit of the coalition having an easier time with a difficult task.

Additionally, all members of Knesset work on various bills and pieces of legislation that are important to them and that they feel will benefit the citizens of Israel. Not every piece of proposed legislation will pass and that’s acceptable. But we should expect that each proposed bill should be evaluated based on its merits and not based on the bloc affiliation of the MK presenting it. When opposition MK Michal Woldiger presented a bill that would help addicts receive proper support and treatment, the bill was unanimously voted down by the coalition.

 Foreign Minister Yair Lapid seen during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid seen during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Just two months after being voted down, coalition chair and Yamina MK Idit Silman presented the exact same bill for Knesset approval, this time under her name. The protocol calls for a six month freeze before a failed bill can be presented for a vote again, giving the MK who authored the bill time to obtain more support or make necessary changes. In this case, it seems clear that the bill was solid and the initiative worthy and important, but only if the coalition would receive the credit for passing it.

It’s one thing for the coalition to make it more difficult for the opposition to accomplish their goal of toppling the government. But what happens when the members of the government actually say or even don’t say things that conflict with their core values and the stated values of the government?

Last week, Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern stated that in his role as IDF head of manpower he would shred or ignore anonymous sexual harassment claims and then was accused of doing exactly that by two different women. Where was the criticism and outrage against this behavior?

Where was Labor head Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, who built her career on promoting women’s rights? Where was Stern’s party leader Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who claims to have a zero tolerance policy for harassing and silencing women? When all of this information was coming out and Elazar Stern realized that he would not win the Jewish Agency chairman position for which the government recommended him, he withdrew himself from consideration – and at the request of those who recommended him for the position.

DESPITE ALL of this, Stern is still holding his position as Intelligence Minister. The coalition was and remains eerily silent and – in what was a debate between core values and political gain – political gain clearly won.

Speaking of Yair Lapid, his speech during the Knesset ceremony marking former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s death was anything but unifying. Lapid is Alternate Prime Minister in a government that claims to be for all of Israel and to represent all of Israel. Yet, on a day that for so many Israelis marks a time of hatred and division, Lapid chose to divide further.

Instead of using the moment to unify the nation, Lapid chose to single out and mark the right wing and religious Zionists as illegitimate and as ideological heirs of a murderer. Did he forget that his coalition partners are themselves religious Zionists in all but party name? Did he forget that at least half of Israel voted for right wing or religious parties to represent them? Perhaps he just forgot that incitement is still incitement no matter where it comes from or to whom it is directed.

It would be wrong to say that this government isn’t accomplishing anything good just as it would be wrong to say that it’s all good. But the policies being implemented are not the only measure of what makes a “good” government. Right and left, religious and secular – they will always be at odds over the “goodness” and successfulness of a government. The one thing that should be unanimous is whether the government has integrity and character.

When we played sports as kids, we were taught that winning or losing is much less important than having good sportsmanship. Why is that? The win, the loss – these are fleeting moments of joy or sadness. They ultimately will mean little once the moment passes. But good sportsmanship; that’s the mark of good character. That’s a lesson and a habit that will follow a person throughout their lives.

So yes, forming a coalition was a win for this government and its members and MKs. But that win means little if it’s not followed up by good sportsmanship, commitment to integrity and maintaining their core values.

It means nothing if their idea of “winning” is sticking it to the opposition. It means nothing if when faced with a political crisis, they buckle in the face of their own values. And it means nothing when during a chance to unify a broken nation, they delve further into the division.

This coalition still has much that they want to accomplish and some of it may very well be for the betterment of the country. I just hope that their good intentions won’t lead to a hell from which we can’t get back.

The writer is the founder of Israeli Politics Simplified – a Facebook page dedicated to simplifying and informing Anglos about politics in Israel.