When Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett called the president of Israel in the presence of Mansour Abbas to declare success at forming a government-in-waiting, many of us let out a collective sigh of relief. Whatever you think of Benjamin Netanyahu, the past two years with four elections and near-daily scandals have been exhausting. Just having a government, for many of us, was enough.
When the smoke cleared, however, many started to attack the composition of that government, declaring it an affront to democracy, an unholy mixture, or to use a biblical term, sha’atnez. While the reasons for these denunciations were myriad, a common line existed throughout them from the right and the left: the belief that a government so ideologically diverse and fragile in voting blocks will be hobbled and ineffective in carrying out its responsibilities.
I deeply disagree, and believe that the government we are now seeing in formation reflects a potentially new paradigm that we should, as citizens who believe in democracy, ask for more of in our future.
For too long have we thought of democracy as one team versus another, of winners and losers, of battles and wars and campaigns. These biases have led us to back demagogues who pursue populist politics, who play to their base and oppress their opposition, who seek power through divergence instead of collective action through convergence. Democracy should not be a winner-take-all game. Democracy should be the ongoing governance of the people, by the people, recognizing the needs of all the people, in all of their diversity.
The proposed government would be bound by the need to perfect coalition building, the need to survey the needs of all represented parties and find solutions that bridge the common and minimize that which sets us apart. It requires a prime minister who calls not upon party discipline to ram things through but rather on the interests of the citizens to engage in public works. Or as the expected Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in his May 30th speech, “to put the needs of the nation above ideology.”
The opportunity we have before us is to have a government that debates daily the diverse and multifaceted needs of the people who elected it from across the socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic rainbow. The opportunity that we have before us is a government that consults with different ideologies and demographics and comes to an optimal decision that is livable for everyone. It is one that does not allow for a populist demagogue to berate and bully his peons to ensure they support positions they fear may be bad for the long-term survival of the State of Israel. The opportunity we have before us is a government composed of representatives who respect each other enough despite their ideological differences.
Which is why there is something quite beautiful about the idea of a minority party controlling the prime ministership. Traditionally, prime ministers have been able to rule by fear and fiat, through party discipline and as leaders of their parties by the judicious allocation of funds for future election campaigns. In the government before us, the prime minister will be more of a quarterback than a general, a member of the team who will need to recognize the capabilities of the government and motivate his peers to aspire to greatness, together. That he only represents five percent of the electorate makes him that much more obligated to work collaboratively and seek common causes.
And then there is the issue of Ra’am, the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, a signatory to the formation of this government. There is nothing more Zionist than for Lapid and Bennett to form the government with the full engagement of the Israeli branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. There is no way to more clearly declare the permanence of the State of Israel in the region than to bring Ra’am to the table, no better repudiation of the politics of the Joint List, no better declaration that we intend to live in peace with all of our citizens, to reflect the needs of our entire public. That Ra’am is brought to the table alongside parties from the right, center, and left only strengthens my belief and hope that the needs of the Muslim and Christian public will be taken as seriously as they deserve to be, to level the playing field and improve the lives of all of our citizens and residents.
We are now at a moment in which we may finally have a government that understands its responsibility towards the public, works towards common ground and common good for all of Israel’s diverse ideologies, and establishes a covenant with Israel’s Muslim and Christian citizens, who have been for too long pushed to the sidelines because they were deemed not as politically valuable to appease. With this government, we have the opportunity to treat the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox parties as any other minority and not as kingmakers or, God forbid, communicators of God’s will. We have the opportunity finally to work together for the betterment of all of Israeli citizens and to release ourselves from the grasp of a populist demagogue who has capitalized on the tensions between Israel’s many tribes.
If we want the State of Israel to succeed, we need to have a government such as this, not just this election but every election. We need to have a government that serves all of Israel’s citizens. A government that is too fragile to allow overreach. The diverse, multipolar dynamic of the current government is probably one of the best coalitions we can hope for. I encourage everyone who has the ability to make their voices heard to support the foundation of this government and to help it achieve what it has been called to achieve on behalf of the citizens of the State of Israel. God bless this government, and God bless the dignity of difference it represents.