Steve Kramer

Finally, a Government 

A friend in the US recently asked me what I thought about Israel’s new government. My replay: It’s a government! Finally, after four elections in two years, the victory of a wide-ranging coalition government last spring meant that there was a good chance the election frenzy would end. The prerequisite for the government’s survival was to pass a budget before mid-November. If not, new elections would be scheduled and the government would be reduced to “caretaker” status only.

Now, after the Knesset successfully passed the first budgets (’21and ’22) in more than three years, the present government is somewhat assured of being in power at least half of its four year term. Currently, Naftali Bennett, who headed one of the smaller parties in the winning coalition, heads the current government as Prime Minister. Foreign Minister (and also Alternate Prime Minister) Ya’ir Lapid, who heads the coalition’s largest party, is slated to switch places with Bennett in 2023, unless the government implodes before then. 

I voted for Bennett, who heads a right wing party, in each of the past four elections. My reason was that he would exert right wing pressure on Bibi Netanyahu, who was Israel’s longest serving premier, but one who is more dovish – contrary to media descriptions – than his party, the Knesset’s largest. But Bibi failed to build a majority coalition of 61 Knesset members in all four elections, leading to the success of the hodgepodge, “change” coalition of eight disparate parties.

So, if the government is far from a rightist government, why am I OK with it? First, Israel now has a budget until 2023. Second, the Haredi (ultra Orthodox) parties aren’t in the coalition, and even if they deign to join it they won’t wield much power. When Bibi was prime minister, the Haredi parties had much influence and were able to achieve nearly all their demands, often to the detriment of non-Orthodox Israelis, especially in increased stipends for Yeshiva students and large child allowances. This coalition will probably re-enact legislation of particular interest to American Jews: the portion of the Western Wall designated for mixed gender worship may regain the legitimacy it only briefly enjoyed during Bibi’s tenure. Emphasis will be placed on improving relations with America’s majority non-Orthodox Jewish population and Americans in general.

Another plus for me is that Gideon Sa’ar is the Justice Minister. Sa’ar is a strong proponent of modifying the committee which chooses Supreme Court justices. This would ensure sitting justices wouldn’t have the most power to appoint new justices who “look and think” just like they do. This “club” status has led to a number of court justices making decisions increasing the court’s power at the expense of the Knesset, weakening the tripartite government scheme (similar to the US: equal executive, representative, judicial components). 

The elephant in the room is the fate of Bibi Netanyahu, who still is Likud’s leader and favored candidate. I’m not alone in blaming him for the successive elections Israel endured. The Likud party, as the largest vote getter by far, was tasked after the first and three succeeding elections to form a majority coalition. Despite his and Likud’s popularity, Bibi failed every time, due to his alienation of allies and his disaffection from opposing parties. 

IMO (in my opinion) Bibi should have resigned his Likud chairmanship and concentrated on defending himself in court, where he faces the possibility of prison time. But no, Bibi insisted that Israel couldn’t get along without him, resulting in the failure to form a right wing government. The final result was that eight parties from left to right were able to create the existing coalition. So, I accept this government as an interim arrangement to get Israel back to a more normal situation. 

The question arises: Will Ya’ir Lapid, who is both Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister, successfully rotate positions in 2023 with Naftali Bennett and head a government which will lean more to the left for the second half of the 4-year term? One can only conjecture what will happen then, when Bibi may have left politics and a new leader would head Likud. But that’s only one of the possibilities in the saga of Israel’s 36 governments since 1948 (even more than in very contentious Italy).

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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