The proposed government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid reminds one of a schmorgasbord table that is filled with food – kosher and non-kosher, meat and milk, and not quite separate and distinct. You don’t know where to start eating or whether or not to start eating. It looks tempting but the probability of eating treif is as likely as that of eating kosher. Without a mashgiach it is impossible and even with a mashgiach it is inadvisable. It is thus best to walk away.
The motivation for such a government is certainly understandable. A society cannot forever endure political instability. Four elections in a parliamentary system in a divided country have produced gridlock and the likelihood of further elections ending this morass in a decisive way is quite remote. As long as PM Netanyahu leads Likud, the result will be electoral paralysis. He will always win the largest number of mandates but so far, it seems that never quite enough to form a government.
Let’s face it. Netanyahu has many achievements to his credit. He has served longer in office than did Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the United States. Millions of people cannot imagine another individual as prime minister. He kept the country relatively safe and presided over unprecedented peace and prosperity. His relations with world leaders is unparalleled, as is his ability to exploit opportunities in the Arab world, Russia, China and with friendly Western countries such as the United States, as well as knowing how to survive hostile administrations. All this should be acknowledged, but is not, by those people whose hatred for him blinds and cripples them.
Nevertheless, it must be conceded that he is a flawed individual. At the top of his list of defects is that Netanyahu is a bad breaker-upper. Too many people who have worked for him and closely with him despise him and that has created the current gridlock.
If there is a villain in this muddle, it is Gideon Saar whose refusal to join a Netanyahu government precludes the establishment of a right-wing government that reflects the overwhelming majority of the population. But Saar is just one of many politicians and personalities whose relationship with Netanyahu has collapsed. If Likud polls in the 30’s as the largest party, it is never going to matter if tens of other Knesset members refuse to work with him. He, of course, is further hampered by the ongoing criminal trials against him that may not end for years. The wheels of (in)justice do grind slowly.
Truth be told, the PM’s record is not unblemished. He has always been coy towards the right wing, fully embracing their ideology only during elections. He was for the Expulsion in Gaza before he was against it. He endorsed the two-state delusion before he (sort of) walked away from it. His record on settlement building is decidedly mixed, always talking bombastically but without the deeds to match the rhetoric. No one campaigns from the right better than he does but campaigning is not governing. He has allowed Jewish outposts to be brutally destroyed but has turned a blind eye to illegal building in the Arab sector.
He did a lot for Israel – but he could have expanded Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria even more, could have reined in the Supreme Court with limiting legislation, could have cracked down on the illegal weapons and crime among Israeli Arabs, could have expanded the Israeli housing market so there is availability other than luxury homes, etc. The latter could have been accomplished by building more homes in Judea and Samaria, and that is a missed opportunity and remains an unsolved problem.
Netanyahu also has the habit of attacking his opponents with his own flaws. He has accused Bennett and Saar of enabling a left-wing government – but didn’t he do that in the past with less radical leftists Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and Benny Gantz? He accused Bennett of wanting to form a government with Yair Lapid – but didn’t he do that in 2013? He accuses the new team of seeking to rely on Arab votes for its viability – but didn’t he just to do the same thing? He accused Bennett of being obsessed with becoming prime minister at all costs – but isn’t he obsessed with being prime minister at all costs?
All politicians should occasionally look in the mirror so they know whom they are really addressing when they become the most passionate. What Netanyahu must hate most about Bennett is that Bennett reminds him, too much, of himself.
That being said, the dangers and opportunities of this hybrid government are enormous. There are lines a Netanyahu led government would never cross, which they can easily do. Their only common denominator is hatred of Netanyahu, which might help form a government but certainly not guide or sustain it.
If a Minister of Transport Michaeli decides to destroy Shabbat by having public transportation and commerce or if a Minister of Finance Liberman squeezes Torah education by freezing money to Yeshivot, then Bennett will rightly suffer lifelong ignominy. If a left wing government legalizes same sex marriage or imports some other madness from the Western world, then he will be to blame.
Recall that the very first item on Yamina’s original platform, is to strengthen Jewish identity and the Jewish religious heritage in the land of Israel. If a Bennett led government weakens Torah and Jewish identity – indeed, heads a government that lacks Sefardic and religious Jews – that too would be shameful, and the price paid to him in future elections pales before the contempt Jewish history will have for him.
Yet, there are advantages to such a government as well, assuming religious life is not devastated by it, and they bear some reflection. A cult of personality is damaging in any environment, religious or political. No politician should ever think he is indispensable. Democracy is reinvigorated, even safeguarded, by the presence of new blood.
A Netanyahu forced out of office is unlikely to return and a new era in Israeli politics begins. Due credit, on balance, will be accorded him for his long and mostly successful tenure. A Bennett-Lapid government will have the benefit of dealing with a Biden administration that does not know them, that has been gearing up to pressure Netanyahu and will not quite know how to handle a right-winger and centrist, both on record as opposing the two-state delusion. Such an inherently unstable government may not be able to make any concessions at all, and will be bolstered by its right-wing opposition. But, if allowed by its leftist members, such a government may be able to deal forcefully with Arab terror and threats to the security of Jews both foreign and domestic.
There is a way forward out of this discordant daze in which we live. Obviously, if Netanyahu stepped down as head of Likud, and a new leader – say, for argument’s sake, Nir Barkat – was appointed, a right-wing government would be formed in 30 minutes. But as that won’t happen in the short term, here is what might (should?) happen.
Assume that the Bennett- Lapid government is sworn in with the support of four Arab mandates. Imagine this scenario: Ten members of Likud can then break away, form their own faction, join the government, and there is already a sizable Jewish majority. Then, one or two of the religious parties can join the government as well, which obviates the need for Labor and/or Meretz to control any portfolios (but means they will leave). The end result is a right-wing government, respectful of Torah and tradition, strong and resolute, but including Lapid and Liberman who, like it or not, do represent a sizable part of the Israel electorate. In two years we can worry about what will happen in two years, which is an eternity in Israeli politics (or, recently, the equivalent of four election cycles).
That being said, it will be shocking if Bennett, after his public promises, and Lapid are able to form a new government this week, and if they do, doubly shocking if it lasts even six months. But they will have achieved their real primary goal, for better or for worse, of ousting Netanyahu from power.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the Israel Region Vice President for the Coalition for Jewish Values, served as pulpit rabbi in America for 35 years, an author and former attorney, and resides in Israel.