When Yair Lapid woke up the morning after winning 19 seats in the 19th Knesset and decided the best thing he could do was drag Yesh Atid into a fraternal alliance with Habayit Hayehudi, he immediately consigned the next government to discord and dysfunctionality. When he hitched his broad, secular and centrist party – heir to Kadima, Shinui, and Dash – to a right-wing, national-religious faction representing the interests a few thousand fanatics living in isolated mitzpim in Samaria, Lapid with one move betrayed the very people who voted for him.
Lapid was terrifically naïve during coalition negotiations, stupid even. He wasted political capital he could have used to better shape the government on trifling matters like the number of ministerial posts. He allowed Habayit Hayehudi to carry over into the coalition agreement a clause demanding consensus from all parties on matters pertaining to religion and state – something the ultra-Orthodox factions had previously demanded. He acquiesced to their control of the Housing Ministry and the Ministry of Religious Services.
Only now is Lapid witnessing the sour fruits of his winter sowing. A Housing Minister (extreme even within Habayit Hayehudi) gone rogue, announcing tenders for thousands of new settlement units in the middle of negotiations, in so doing almost destroying the peace process. Yesh Atid’s liberal legislation on LGBT rights – employment rights, tax benefits, surrogacy access – stymied in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. The status of the universal draft up in the air. Nothing accomplished on civil unions, housing, and other issues of immediate concern to Lapid’s constituency.
But that’s not even the half of it. The Lapid-Bennett alliance, after all, turned out not to be much of an alliance in the end. It was merely a marriage of convenience established to get its leaders ministerial seats and propagate the myth of the ‘new politics’. But in supporting Bennett’s entry into government, Lapid has allowed a genuine ideological axis between Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beitienu to form, one that is proving and will prove destructive.
After all, it is not only Habayit Hayehudi that are blocking the advancement of Yesh Atid’s essential civil rights legalisation. Yisrael Beiteinu is also opposed to such things as MK Adi Kol’s bill that would give equal tax benefits to same-sex couples with children, and they voted against MK Ofer Shelah’s bill in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation that would proscribe discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Yisrael Beiteinu, like Habayit Hayehudi, also opposes same-sex civil unions, in spite of the fact that civil unions are a priority for its primarily Russian voter base excluded from religious marriage.
Together, they are authoring and advancing anti-democratic pieces of legislation. MKs Ayelet Shaked and Robert Ilatov’s bill – blocked by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni Sunday and opposed by Lapid among others – seeks to restrict funding to left-wing NGOs by imposing a 45 percent tax on donations from individuals or groups who work for or call on others to boycott Israel, stop investing in Israel, or impose sanctions on the state or its citizens. Ha’aretz reports that Israel’s Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, has already made clear that the bill violates a series of constitutional rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of association.
On the peace process, Yisrael Beiteinu broke with the Likud to vote with Habayit Hayehudi on a failed bill that intended to block further releases of Palestinian prisoners, gestures (albeit ugly ones) integral to the structure of the current round of negotiations. Yisrael Beiteinu also backed UTJ MK Ya’akov Litzman’s bill in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation mandating the authorisation of two-thirds of the Knesset before the matter of dividing or giving up part of Jerusalem is discussed with the Palestinians.
“Members of the coalition are ruining the ability of Israel to make diplomatic decisions and saying the government shouldn’t deal with security concerns out of some kind of populism,” Livni stated after the vote. “Do they want the government to defend our interests, including Jerusalem, or do they want to lead us all to chaos?” The latter, evidently. Together, these parties work from within to undermine a peace process to which their government is ostensibly committed.
For Lapid and Bennett, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, the brotherhood such as it was is over. Having read the polling data which shows his voters turning towards Labor and Meretz, Lapid has begun to speak openly about the life of the current government and the place of Habayit Hayehudi within it. “I plan to do everything in my power – everything – to prevent the failure of these negotiations,” he said with reference to the diplomatic issue. “I will not let anyone destroy the chances for an agreement.” That means you, bro.
But his words – as with most of Lapid’s words – have a slightly hollow ring to them, considering the damage this brief partnership has done and continues the cause. Even in this briefest of civil unions, there was time to bring into the world a child: the Habayit Hayehudi-Yisrael Beiteinu partnership. With one-state religious Zionists on the one end, and racists, chauvinists, and ultra-nationalists on the other, it is an axis that threatens to prevent advances in civil and religious rights, weaken and destabilise the peace process, and threaten Israel’s precious status as a Jewish and democratic state.
Yair Lapid: What have you done?