Seven weeks have passed since Benny Gantz decided to establish a unity government and wait for his rotation as Prime Minister. The Israeli press has been unfailingly brutal in the associated political coverage: The entire Blue and White party has been demonized as deceitful, spineless, opportunistic or at best, naive. Yet, for those of us who supported the party, it seems that every day reveals another reason why a vote for Blue and White was a good idea. Indeed, it is promises to save the State of Israel as a country worthy of our devotion. Consider the following:
Since 2014, Israel’s courts, the attorney general, along with the state attorney and his staff were under a relentless attack by the very ministers who were supposed to be their champion. Less than two months into his tenure as Justice Minister, Avi Nissenkorn has closed this shameful chapter in Israel’s legal history, leaving it as just a bad memory from the past. The nightly news no longer opens up with description of a Justice Minister condemning the dedicated public servants who prosecute criminals (or the indicted Prime Minister). It seems like lunacy today to think that the brilliant judges who run our judicial branch of government were not long ago singled out for denunciation.
Since his first day on the job, Nissenkorn speaks out openly and frequently, not only behalf of the Supreme Court and the civil servants who fight every day to maintain Israel as a robust democracy, but substantively, for the human rights they protect. For the first time in six years, those who care about preserving an independent judiciary and an apolitical, professional prosecution system, can enjoy a moment of respite.
It is ironic that Meirav Cohen, at 37 years old the youngest of Israel’s Ministers, has taken on the enormous challenges facing Israel’s oldest citizens. But she came to the job prepared: this has always been her professional calling and passion. As Minister of Social Equality, Cohen immediately established an all-purposes hotline (*8840) to provide “one stop shopping” for problems facing the senior population — from health and Corona-related issues to welfare payments, food delivery and pharmaceutical supplies. More importantly, she got representatives from other government ministers appointed to provide real-time responses to hotline complaints. In light of the economic crisis, Cohen managed to cancel the cut in the allowances to the elderly, indigent population. And she successfully pressured immigration authorities to allow an additional 2500 foreign workers to come lend a hand in light of the dire situation facing many Israel’s assisted living and old age homes.
Foreign Minister Gaby Ashkenazi took over a Ministry that for years suffered systematic neglect, reflecting the lack of a full-time minister who could focus on operations and the quality of Israel’s foreign relations. One need only speak with senior diplomats at the ministry to hear the enormity of their relief. Not only did Ashkenazi managed to garner the funds to shore up the Ministry’s shrinking capacities, but unlike his predecessors, he put an end to the politicization of diplomatic posts. By selecting a Director General from the ministry’s professional staff and filling his office with career diplomats, the Ministry can begin to repair Israel’s tattered image and provide better services to the hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens abroad.
In the Knesset, Israeli journalist Miki Haimovich has brought her passion for climate change, animals and environmental protection to her work as chair of the Interior and Environment Committee Chair. It has been 46-years since vaunted environmentalist, Yosef Tamir, stepped down as chair of this critical committee. Since then, the remarkable influence of this central parliamentary institution has been wasted by politicians who environmentally were largely illiterate . Under Haimovich – it now serves as a platform for addressing the full range of Israeli environmental problems.
Non-stop parliamentary hearings take place now about radioactive phosphate mining near Arad, inadequate infrastructure in new construction projects, climate change and Israel’s litter epidemic in open spaces — just to name a few. Haimovich’s innumerable initiatives, from a ban on the horrendous import of live cattle to mandatory monitoring of biodiversity to transforming remote work to a normative and legal alternative in Israel, are gaining traction. She is keeping her campaign promises.
And then there is also the energy and passion of young Ram Shefah, the 35-year old, former chair of Union of Israeli Students who is leading the charge to finally legalize cannabis for personal use in Israel. Working with Likud parliamentarian, Sharan Haskel, Shefah has used his position as chair of the Education Committee to bring Israeli policies in line with enlightened approaches adopted in the Netherlands, California and another eleven American states. It is high time that Israel dedicate its limited resources to fighting addictive, destructive drug abuse rather than turning occasional marijuana smokers into criminals.
The list goes on: Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata has put together a five-year, holistic program for immigration, as well as a responsible strategy for bringing over the last of the Jews in Ethiopia, waiting to be redeemed. And of course there is Culture Minister Chili Trooper embracing Israel’s talented performers and artistic community in their hour of need after five years of their being pummeled by Miri Regev’s insufferable abuse. Or Assaf Zamir, at long last a voice of reason, intelligence and a sense of humor around the cabinet table.
None of this would have happened of course without our new Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister, Benny Gantz. Gantz made the wrenching, but necessary decision to do the right thing and end the eighteen months of anarchy, finally providing the Israeli people with an elected-government. Having his calm hand on the steering wheel has already changed history and Bibi Netanyahu’s ill-advised desire of to rush into unilateral annexation.
Sadly, Israel’s press is more interested in heaping criticism on Gantz then actually listening to what he says. Yet, in his civil, thoughtful unflappable way, Benny unfailingly speaks out on behalf of the Attorney General, the rights of demonstrators, Israel’s artists and the many enlightened values that need to inform our country’s policies. How uplifting it is to have a senior politician consistently display a modicum of dignity and decency!
So if you voted Blue and White, there is no reason to second guess your choice. Of course the decision to form a government was painful and required unhappy compromises. But in the balance, the good things generated by Blue and White’s young, honest, talented and idealistic team of leaders are starting to manifest themselves in a healthier country. I remain grateful that we had an alternative to vote for in the past elections. Israel is already a better place as a result.