The buzz in Israel this week continues to revolve around the prime minister’s new governing coalition which includes just 61 members — the bare minimum required for a coalition in the Knesset. Both politicians and journalists are focused on the government’s challenge to insure that all 61 members are present for crucial votes, to deter the 59-member opposition from defeating any government measures or, perhaps, even toppling the government.
What we have not heard about, so far, are the laws and policies which specific Knesset representatives in the 61-member coalition will be forced to support. This razor-thin coalition includes MK’s who will have to vote against values which are not just core to who they are, but, at times, at the root of what brought them to politics in the first place. Thus, the story of this troublesome coalition should not be limited to the issue of the number 61 itself, but should also focus on specific individuals whose presence makes up that crucial number.
For example, this coalition includes MK Yoav Galant (Kulanu), a man who served in the IDF for decades and worked his way up to the rank of major-general and commander of the Southern Command. When Galant was a candidate for IDF chief of staff several years ago, his associates revealed that among his primary goals was an effort to bring more ultra-Orthodox into IDF service. They reported that he saw this change as “key to Israel’s future” that would “benefit society at large and the economy.”
MK Yoav Kish (Likud) led the civilian battle to demand that the ultra-Orthodox community serve in the IDF. His “Camp Sucker” movement brought the issue to the forefront of the political agenda in Israel, and spurred a massive demonstration of tens of thousands in Tel Aviv.
Either Galant or Kish can halt the rescinding of the draft law as demanded by the United Torah Judaism party in their coalition agreement with the Likud. If they vote against, the measure will fall. Will these two men — who believe with passion that the ultra-Orthodox should be serving in the army — turn their backs on the very value which brought them into politics and actually vote to rescind the draft law?
The coalition also includes MK Rachel Azaria. She served as the director of Mavoi Satum, an organization that works on behalf of agunot, women whose husbands refuse to give them a religious bill of divorce. Azaria has become synonymous with the battle for a more moderate, open, and embracing Judaism in Jerusalem and has emerged as an international advocate for feminism. Her vote will be a deciding vote when the Knesset approves the proposed new government, a move which will put the ultra-Orthodox Shas party in control of religious services in Israel. An extremist party like Shas in control of the religion ministry forebodes no progress for agunot, no attempt to make religious services more accessible and appealing to the broader public, and perhaps even taking steps backwards when it comes to women’s issues. If Azaria votes against the proposed government, it won’t be established. If laws favorable to the less religious come to the Knesset floor, her vote will determine whether the law passes or not.
What will Azaria do? Will she turn against the ideology which brought her into politics, and vote to put Shas in control of the religion ministry? Will she vote with the coalition and defeat all measures aimed at changing the extremist status quo with regards to religion and state, or will she be the deciding vote, albeit with the opposition, to enable those laws to pass? The same questions apply to MK Ayelet Shaked and MK Yinon Magal of the Jewish Home party. They identify themselves as secular Jews in a party which branded itself as the political address for more moderate religious policies.
There are many other examples of coalition MK’s who do not agree with the values of this government as expressed in the coalition agreements, especially regarding turning back the clock on all progress that was made on religion and state and in stopping the progress made to facilitate the entry of the ultra-Orthodox community into Israeli society.
Every single Monday, Knesset members of the coalition must vote in favor of the government in order to defeat the no-confidence motions submitted by the opposition. This means that every single week, they will be asked to express their support for the measures of this coalition. This sets up incredible drama. (The votes take place around 6:00 p.m. every Monday, for those who want to view it live or tune in on the Knesset channel.) Therefore, every single week, if any one MK musters the courage to follow his or her values and say “no” to the policies of this government, the government can fall.
Values. Principles. Morals. These will be tested weekly, if not daily, and represent the deeper question and conflict in this tenuous coalition of 61.