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How Shas can save Israel from itself

Sometimes we need to go beyond existing boundaries. We have to change the paradigm. In Israeli politics there are lots of “known knowns” (to recall Donald Rumsfeld’s famous categorization). But some of the knowns may be unknowns, and there are surprises waiting to happen.

Shas may be one of those surprises.

I have previously argued that Israeli politics faces a choice between four options. Three of those options take Israel further down the path of ungovernability, chaos and division. One of those options is the path of healing, consensus, strength and re-emergence.

The major problem facing Israel today is neither Hamas nor Hezbollah. I firmly believe, as Rabbi Sacks Z”L repeatedly said, “the only people who can defeat the Jewish people are the Jewish people.”

Israel’s major problem is its internal divisions.

One of the few things that still unites the Jewish people today is the belief that Jewish unity is good and beneficial, Jewish division is bad and harmful.

But Israel is addicted to division. It cannot stop itself. However much Israelis may say “’beyachad nenatzeach” (“together to victory”), they can’t stop themselves from also muttering under their breaths about “leftist traitors” or the “fascist dictator.”

The only good choice in Israeli politics is a choice that heals the sources of division, and does not deepen them further. This is where choices 1-3 fall short. A long way short.

Choice one – if this coalition chooses to struggle on, which I think they will, and I think they will manage, it will massively exacerbate division. The opposition will scale up protests and we will be back to where we were on October 6th, G-d forbid. No lessons learned. This is a path, G-d forbid, of death and destruction.

Choice two – Even if the coalition heeds the opposition’s call and Israel goes to elections, who could disagree that this would be the most bitter and divisive election campaign in Israel’s history (and there’s quite some competition)? All the trauma of October 7th and its aftermath, all the blame games, will be channeled into a negative, inciteful campaign, G-d forbid, where more hatred is directed at each other than at the genocidal enemies waiting at the gate. Israel’s degraded political class has shown it cannot campaign with the dignity, respect and responsibility that would be fitting for the Jewish people. We do not need elections like these.

Choice three – Many are praying the opposition can succeed in peeling off some members of the coalition to form a new coalition with representation from both the right and left. On the surface, this seems like a unifying path. But it only takes a moment of reflection to realize it is no less divisive than choices one and two, and in some senses may be more so. What are the major fault-lines in the country? Religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Mizrachi, center and periphery. And who are those defectors the opposition hopes to peel off? Secular Ashkenazim from Israel’s center. This was one way in which Netanyahu successfully delegitimized, and finally provoked the collapse of the Lapid-Bennett-Gantz coalition that spanned Israel’s historical “left” and “right.” Such a coalition would only reinforce the sense of exclusion and division felt among religious, traditional and Mizrachi communities in the periphery. It would create another deep sense of betrayal, G-d forbid, much like the Gaza withdrawal in 2005. Its impact would be felt for a long time thereafter and could reshape Israeli politics into a vicious ethnic contest in which everyone loses, G-d forbid. It would likely incubate renewed calls, G-d forbid, when things settle down, for the most intense version of judicial reform with an open focus on settling scores. Again, G-d forbid, it is the way back to October 6th.

There is one more choice – choice four. Choice four is a national unity government. For a government to be truly about national unity, it needs to include, represent and build consensus across Israel’s fault-lines – Mizrachim with Ashkenazim, religious with secular, periphery with center. To that should be added, Arab with Jew.

To achieve what Israel and the Jewish people need of it, a national unity government must be more than a sticking plaster. It must provide the political cover for a period of deep listening to existing grievances and for the emergence of genuinely creative thinking that go beyond existing zero-sum questions to address the wide range of difficult challenges that Israel faces today: the war, the Haredi draft, Jewish-Arab relations within Israel, settlement, the peace process, a more inclusive development trajectory for the periphery, and the reset of Israel’s international relations.

How can such a government be created? What is the path?

The first and main requirement is to identify who can lead the country into national unity. A separate question then becomes, who would participate in the national unity government.

This is where I believe, by process of elimination, only Shas can lead the country into national unity.

Let us look at the options.

The Netanyahu/Likud-led option is no longer viable since Benny Gantz’s departure. Whatever one’s opinion of PM Netanyahu, rightly or wrongly, he is not trusted by many of the parties that need to be brought into the big national unity tent. And Likud is not about to jettison the prime minister as its leader – experience shows, no one else has the stature within Likud to rival him.

It cannot be any of the opposition parties. They do not have the numbers in the Knesset to force an outcome. Their best hope is choices two and three above, which we have argued, are paths that deepen division.

It cannot be Religious Zionism or Otzma Yehudit. Their platforms are purposely ideological and uncompromising.

Also it cannot be United Torah Judaism, for the most part non-Zionist, as a parochial party with an aversion to government beyond issues relevant to its own community.

That leaves Shas:

  1. A Zionist party that understands when “clal yisrael” comes ahead of parochial interests.
  2. A party of pragmatism and moderation that has proven it can work with others from across the political spectrum.
  3. A party whose leadership can bridge Israel’s fault-lines through the inclusion of a strong religious Mizrachi voice from the periphery at the heart of government.
  4. A party with the numbers in the knesset to force a national unity outcome.
  5. A party with a rare diamond among Israel’s degraded political class who can bring to Israel a new governance style, inspiring the country with honest, fair, straightforward and inclusive leadership, and changing minds about Israel around the world.

This leader must now have the courage to emerge. The time is right.

About the Author
Adam Gross is a strategist that specialises in solving complex problems in the international arena. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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