A Cabinet Expanded But Not Filled

Earlier this month, the world was introduced to Israel’s 34th government, an arrangement of alliances and deals that hangs from the thread of a slim 61-member majority.  The cabinet at the head of this government, mostly composed of Likud members and their coalition compatriots from Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi, has been designed to prevent any one party from pulling apart the government before it gets off the ground.  Certain appointments from the smaller parties in the coalition, like incoming Economy Minister and Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Aryeh Deri of Shas, have shown that the primary interest guiding the design of the coalition appears to be self-preservation rather than the implementation of sound policy.

With this cabinet, Netanyahu has attempted to appease his coalition-mates for the sake of maintaining a Likud-dominated Knesset.  But the coalition requires more than the support of party leaders to continue to stand, and dissent may be coming from someone other than his appointed ministers in the near future.  While Netanyahu has lavishly offered plum positions to members of other parties, he also must manage his relationships with members of his own party, some of whose advancement has been put on hold for the sake of protecting the coalition, and who are not happy about that arrangement.

One person from whom this dissent against Netanyahu’s cabinet has come is Ayoub Kara, a Likud MK, tied for most senior Arab member of Knesset with Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List, and the only Arab MK in the coalition. As the coalition was in the final hours of its formation a few weeks ago, Kara expressed dismay at the lack of representation for non-Jews, and Druze in particular, in Netanyahu’s contentiously expanding cabinet.  Threatening to vote against expanding the number of cabinet seats should one of them not belong to him, Kara was able to raise flags about Netanyahu’s ability to build a government around his fragile coalition.

While Kara was eventually given the position of Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation, the appointment appears half-hearted.  Netanyahu reserved the full portfolio for himself as he continues to reshuffle his appointments to strengthen the coalition’s cohesion.  Considering that the actual position remains available and was not given to Kara, it is curious whether Netanyahu’s decision was meant to leave room for possible new members of the coalition or fully as a slight to a fellow member of the Likud.

Kara may be a senior member of the party, but he also represents a degree of opposition to Netanyahu within its ideological structure.  Harsh on foreign policy, Kara has aligned himself in the past with Moshe Feiglin’s Manhigut Yehudit faction, which poses an ideological threat to more moderate Likudniks closer to the top of the party chain.  Still, Kara’s potential appointment to a more significant ministerial position would not pose any real threat to the status quo of internal Likud power dynamics.  The party’s leadership is too caught up in its relationships with the other members of the coalition to focus on fighting off ideological dissent from within.

Despite the latent complications surrounding Kara’s place within the party’s ideological structure, it remains clear that he carries a significant number of votes for the Likud amongst Israel’s Druze population.  These votes were possibly instrumental in the Likud victory in this past set of elections and the Druze show no signs of waning as an important constituency in the future.  Kara should take this, as well as his slight in the formation of the cabinet, into account when plotting his moves in the inevitable next set of elections.

Because Kara’s politics might be considered slightly different from those belonging to the central Likud decision-makers, he might consider taking his seat in the Knesset, along with the constituents that support him, to Moshe Kahlon and Kulanu.  Kulanu has repeatedly tried to position itself as more dedicated to a “traditional Likud” ideology and platform both in policy decisions as well as overtly in its rhetoric leading up to the last set of elections.  Despite Kara’s hawkish foreign policy stance, his reputation as a Likud stalwart might make him an excellent addition to their slate if and when the current government inevitably falls apart.

Of course, this depends on whether Kahlon would be willing to receive Kara as a member.  That said, my understanding is that he is more than willing to attract senior Likudniks whose potential for advancement in the current party structure is limited by egos, coalition-related spats, and perhaps prejudice.  A large portion of Druze vote wouldn’t hurt Kahlon’s chances or bargaining power in the next election cycle either.

Though Netanyahu’s cabinet has expanded, it seems that it continues to have a glass ceiling for non-Jewish members, no matter what their ideology.  Kara has identified this lack of realistic opportunities for greater influence on important decisions for himself as well as for his constituents, but has yet to formally act upon them. The possibilities for Kara’s ministerial career under these circumstances are clear, but what is more interesting are the possible implications that such a move might have for the internal dynamics of the Likud.  The exit of a high-profile non-Jewish MK from the party just may demonstrate that the Likud no longer represents its Druze supporters, an element of its constituency that cannot be overlooked.  Should Kara carry their support to Kulanu, the competition between the main-line right-wing parties in the next election cycle may change the balance of power that allowed for such an unstable coalition this time around.

About the Author
Max grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and Raanana and studies American History and Jewish Thought at Columbia University and The Jewish Theological Seminary. A Grinspoon-Morningstar Fellow of the Israel on Campus Coalition, Max works on Israel issues with Hillel leaders. He shares his thoughts here and on Twitter at @2Fast2Finkel
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