The Israeli Left has an obsessive compulsion to shriek constantly about the sanctity of “Israeli Democracy.” And yet no institution has done more to shame, tarnish, and cheapen Israeli democracy than Israel’s left, including its latest deceit. A party that literally — literally — called itself “Right Wing” (“Yamina”) now has formed a government dominated by left parties: (i) Yesh Atid, (ii) even more left-wing socialist Labor, (iii) even more extreme-left Meretz, and (iv) off-the-wall Islamist and anti-Zionist Ra’am.
There are different philosophies of democracy and how it works. Edmund Burke, the conservative 18th Century thinker and Member of British Parliament, believed that democracy is about the people — the demos — electing wise leaders in whom they trust so that the wise leaders can proceed to make good decisions for their supporting constituents. Others believe more directly that the people themselves should make the policy decisions by electing those who promise to follow such policies. Yet, no matter how one cooks it, bakes it, fries it, or slices it, there is something deeply dishonest and perfidious allowed in Israeli democracy.
I happen to believe in democracy. I see no other choice. A monarchy could be wonderful under a righteous Philosopher King, but eventually there comes the next king. And the next. No one knows this better than do Jews who have studied Tanakh (the Bible). Under monarchy we had King David, King Solomon, King Chizkiyah (Hezekiah), King Yoshiyah (Josiah), and some other gloriously righteous leaders. But that governmental system also resulted in cruel, evil, murderous kings like Yorovam (Jeroboam), Achav and Queen Izevel (Ahab and Jezebel), and Menashe who led the Jewish nation to destruction. At least in Biblical times, the kings of the Southern Kingdom, Judea, ruled by G-d’s order. However, nowadays we do not enjoy that direct Divine political guidance, nor do we have Divinely ordained holy prophets today like Shmuel (Samuel), Natan (Nathan), Yeshaya (Isaiah), and Eliyahu (Elijah) to countermand kings when necessary. That leaves democracy as modernity’s only viable option.
But the democracy of Israel all-too-often proves to be a pernicious, dishonest democracy. And it keeps being so. Not that America’s democracy is all that better. And maybe that is the point: if people of all stripes and countries are dishonest and deceitful — because they are human beings — then a government of the Deceitful, by the Deceitful, and for the Deceitful is to be expected everywhere. Or, as H.L. Mencken said, Democracy is the philosophy of government that says The People know what they want, and they deserve to get it — good and hard.
Perhaps the most vile form of Deceit Democracy in Israel’s history was in 1992 when the majority of Israelis voted for a right-wing government, but technicalities put Socialist Yitzhak Rabin in as prime minister. Rabin was no Abraham Lincoln. He was no John Kennedy. He was no James Garfield. And he was no William McKinley. His hands were drenched with the blood of Jewish Israeli patriots aboard the “Altalena,” Jews whom he helped murder as part of the Labor Party’s vicious internal politics at the time of Israel’s founding.
When Rabin squeaked in as Prime Minister nearly half century later in 1992 by virtue of quirks in Israel’s democracy and the foolish hubris of too many right-wing political figures who managed to splinter each other’s votes so that so many fell short of the threshold needed to get into the Knesset, he still was unable to craft a Knesset majority to adopt the Oslo accords that gave Yasser Arafat sovereignty over a polity until Rabin successfully bribed two right-wing novice Knesset members from Raful Eitan’s Tzomet party to go along with him.
One, Goldfarb, was bought off with a Mitsubishi, and the other, Gonen Segev — never forget either’s name — later was imprisoned for spying against Israel for Iran and ended up sentenced to eleven years’ in prison. (He also was convicted of forgery, credit card fraud, and attempting to smuggle drugs. That is the man who gave Rabin and Arafat their Oslo.)
Thus did Israeli democracy unfold to give Yasser Arafat control of television, radio, and print media with which to direct the education of future generations of Arab children in Judea and Samaria; an armed police force, and a polity that now sits in the United Nations and initiates ICC investigations into Israel.
The people of Israel did not vote for that, just as they did not vote for Gush Katif to be evacuated and 8,600 Jews to be displaced, along with all they had built — homes, gardens, industry, agriculture, synagogues, yeshivot — when Ariel Sharon on the Likud ticket leveraged his landslide election over Ehud Barak to destroy Israel’s security in the south, planting the seeds for Hamas to rise and to do all it has done since.
And now once again. Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Nir Orbach, and the others in “Yamina.” The word “yamin” is a directional term, meaning “right.” “Yamina” means “rightward.” There could not be a more straightforward representation to an electorate that a party, if elected, will proceed politically as a right-wing party. Let us be more clear:
In recent Israeli elections, there already are other right-wing parties contending: the Likud, the two main Orthodox parties of Haredi (“Old World” Lithuanian, Hasidic, and North African “Edot Mizrach”) Jews, and the “Religious Zionism” party that amalgamated theologically Centrist Orthodox and political right-wing Jews. In such an election, with so many right-wing choices, why would 273,836 voters have cast ballots for Bennett’s Yamina party? Simple:
Yamina’s voters wanted a government more right wing than what they believed Binyamin Netanyahu and Likud would provide. From twelve years’ experience with Netanyahu, many right-wing Israelis know that his campaign promises, like so many other of his private behind-closed-curtain promises, are not reliable. If it should be said that Rabin participated in the murder of “Altalena” passengers, then it should be said that Netanyahu showed that his word cannot be trusted. Throughout a decade, while accomplishing a great deal for the right (roads in Judea and Samaria, for example) he promises to change the court system so that it no longer will continue as a left-wing arm of legislative government but instead will be the judiciary it is supposed to be, and he does not come through. He promises to annex whole sections of Judea and Samaria, such as Area C, and he not only fails to fulfill his promise but even ignores illegal Arab building in that area that comprises 60 percent of Judea and Samaria and whose population has been more than two-thirds Jewish. He promises at least to annex the Jordan Valley, and he flakes there, too.
One can fill a book with a list of his broken promises to his right-wing voters: to crush Hamas, to respond immediately and overwhelmingly even if an incendiary balloon is floated into Sderot, to obtain the hostages from Hamas without paying an “arm and a leg” in return. But he never turned left like Sharon, or gave the left control, he just did not deliver on some of his rightist promises. And there were pressures on him of which we are not fully aware.
The reason 273,836 Israelis voted for Yamina is that they wanted to keep Netanyahu and Likud honest by attaching a right-wing pressure point that would prevent Likud from selling out again on core right-wing promises. Whereas Gideon Sa’ar and Avigdor Liberman made clear that their parties never would sit with Netanyahu, Bennett always made clear that he would sit under Netanyahu.
That assured his voters that, if they gave Yamina enough seats, Bennett would enter post-election negotiations so strongly that he could demand the Defense ministry, where he proved excellent and tough, perhaps also get the Justice ministry for Shaked or someone else equally effective, and — most importantly — if at any time after the elections Likud and Netanyahu would pull their notorious “tricks and shticks,” back-tracking on their promises to the right wing, then Yamina promptly would bring down the government and force fifth elections. Yamina’s 273,836 voters knew that the mere threat of bringing down the government would force Netanyahu, even against his will, to honor his campaign promises this time to the right-wing electorate.
For right-wingers who blindly hate Netanyahu, with a rage like bulls in the arena that blinds them to the matador waiting with the sword, there was Gideon Sa’ar. For haters among Israel’s Russian population, who hate the Judaic religion just a notch less than they do Israel’s Arabs, there was Avigdor Liberman. But that was not Bennett-Shaked, nor was it other proven and dependable right-wing Centrist Orthodox candidates on the Yamina slate. They appealed to voters whose focus simply was that they wanted to keep Likud honest and as right-wing as promised.
That is what makes Bennett’s deal with Yair Lapid so odious and despicable. Bennett was elected with his team to coalesce with the Likud, UTJ, Shas, and Religious Zionism to form a grand religious-right government that would fix the courts, secure the south, and refocus on issues like the Judaic character of Area C and preserve the Jewish character of the country.
He was not elected to create a government that would give cabinet ministries to a socialist Labor party of seven seats, a similarly sized Liberman party, a radically extreme-left Meretz of six seats, and a Muslim Brotherhood-associated party of four seats. Bennett made an explicit promise to Israel’s voters: under no circumstances would he ever sign a deal to form a government with Yair Lapid, not even to alternate as prime ministers. Nor with the Arab parties. And yet he just did. And all of his team - chosen by him, owing him their place on the list, and not through party primaries as there are in the Likud - except for one brave man of honor, capitulated to follow along.
As such, Naftali Bennett has stolen the votes of more than 200,000 Israeli voters by Deceit Democracy. Polls show that, if new elections were held today, Yamina would lose one third of its voters and would struggle to remain above the minimum threshold. One is reminded of the blatant campaign lie when the first George Bush promised: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” He got elected on that promise, then imposed new taxes, and he never was forgiven. The voters crushed him at their first opportunity.
Bennett is going to try to succeed in changing his voter base, otherwise he and Shaked will be crushed electorally, too, next time. That is, unless they now join the political school of which Netanyahu is headmaster. Bennett’s only remaining option — and who can doubt that a deceiver will deceive again? — is to do to Lapid what Netanyahu just did to Benny Gantz and to assure that, somehow, the new 60-seat non-majority government fully collapses sometime in the next two years after Bennett has had his amusement-park ride in the king’s throne.
Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer is adjunct professor of law at two prominent Southern California law schools, Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, congregational rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California, and has held prominent leadership roles in several national rabbinic and other Jewish organizations. He was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and served for most of the past decade on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His writings have appeared in The Weekly Standard, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, and Israel National News. Other writings are collected at www.rabbidov.com .