Yoaz Hendel

A national Zionist emergency government can save Israel

Govern according to the majority of Israelis who vote right-wing on security and want liberal social policies; leave the extremists out
For the 32nd week in a row, demonstrators rally against the government's judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv, August 12, 2023. (Gilad Furst)
For the 32nd week in a row, demonstrators rally against the government's judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv, August 12, 2023. (Gilad Furst)

We are in a grave crisis. The time for a unity government to deal with this emergency is now.

Israel is in a crisis that we have not experienced since the Yom Kippur War. There is a sense of deep disillusion that things are falling apart. Add to that the possibility of a constitutional crisis, depending on how the High Court of Justice rules, as early as September. We are living in a dangerous reality.

Two-thousand years ago, during the eighth decade of the previous Jewish eras of sovereignty in the land of Israel, everything collapsed. The Jews in Israel of that time too thought they would make it through — but they were wrong.

Last month, just before Tisha B’Av, you might have expected our country’s leadership to bear the gravity of the situation on mind. Instead, we got the parade of folly — an amendment to the “reasonableness” law that put the country deeper into crisis.

But with all due respect to fighting over “reasonableness,” what is important is the future of the country. Nobody will remember reasonableness; they will remember Israel falling apart. I tried hard to persuade all parties that we should stop everything and compromise. Without a constitution, everything is so delicate that any radical shifts will cause a break.

There is no Israel if we cannot keep together the delicate equilibrium within Israeli society. And this parade of folly has brought everything to the fore: the unequal burden of military service, the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on religion and state, the lack of governance by this government and Ben Gvir’s “Jewish Weakness” party, the pettiness and in-fighting among government ministers who refuse to realize that they are responsible for Israel right now.

I continue to call on my Zionist comrades to show up for reserve duty and to leave the army out of the debate. But the audacity of a government — half of which evaded service — to shame and insult those same people whom they are calling on to continue to serve is unacceptable and hypocritical.

The most popular approach now is to fight to the end. I understand the call to fight to the end because many people feel their collective back is against the wall. But how does that solve anything? If you are against the judicial reform, fighting will not get you further than the next demonstration. If you are the government, fighting to have your way prevail will make you increasingly unpopular and isolated, especially the Zionist, patriotic parts of your constituency.

There are those who think that we should split into two countries. We must prevent this at all costs. Our strength is in our unity — and in our diversity.

And for those who think in the next election the center-left will command a stable majority — they are in for a surprise: the same surprise that has repeated itself in the last 10 elections. The majority of the public is right-wing in its security positions, while liberal in its social values, religion and state. While a third of the coalition’s voters are ashamed of the government’s statements and actions, they will not necessarily change their political identity.

So what is there to do? The answer is a Zionist alliance.

It could be done immediately — a government for a limited time, to save Israel. Netanyahu would have to give up on Ben Gvir and inform the ultra-Orthodox that their monopoly on Judaism is over. Gantz and Lapid would have to take a huge political risk, and defy their constituencies. Both sides would have to agree on a mechanism for an emergency government.

Otherwise, the extremists will take over — on the left, just as on the right. How do I know? Because I’m in the line of fire and extremists from both sides are taking control of the rhetoric.

Anyone who dares to say that it is necessary to sit down and compromise will be crushed. He or she will be branded as cowardly, undermining democracy. Anyone who opposes the calls for civil disobedience advocated by Ehud Barak and Yair Golan is branded a Bibist. Anyone who claims that the IDF should not be brought into the fight and calls for a halt to reserves is called a collaborator of the government. Among government supporters, criticism of the judicial reform is “treason,” the million citizens demonstrating in streets are branded as the extremists.

The only chance for a solution is to build a Zionist emergency government now that will reach judicial reform through consensus, encourage the integration of the ultra-Orthodox, return the rule of law in the Arab sector, and, perhaps, even write a constitution. A government of Zionist parties, without the extremists who have taken over. Everyone would win from such an arrangement.

Emergency mediation is needed now to tackle these issues. Netanyahu is no longer the main issue — our problems are bigger than any one person.

We need to get past this danger that may be our demise. We need a national Zionist emergency government.

About the Author
Dr. Yoaz Hendel is a military historian and journalist who served as minister of communications from 2020 until the end of 2022. Hendel has a PhD in history from Tel Aviv University and is the former head of the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS).
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