While it is not over yet, as there remain some internal machinations in Israel’s Knesset before the new government can assume its role, Israel’s democracy proved its resilience once again as disparate parties put aside their ideological differences to ensure the takedown of the Netanyahu government.
It took four elections in the course of two years, massive demonstrations around the country every Saturday evening after the end of the Sabbath during that time, civil strife on the streets of our cities, and two weeks of war with Hamas. Nevertheless, those of us who believe that no Prime Minister of Israel should ever serve indefinitely finally seem to have won the day.
To be sure, Prime Minister Netanyahu has an enviable record of accomplishments in foreign relations, security, and economics. Certainly, he deserves credit and thanks for all of that, notwithstanding his current legal challenges. However, having served for 15 years (Israel does not yet have term limits for its nationally elected officials) it was clear to a large portion of the populace that it was time for new leadership to take over in order to avoid the risk of Israel becoming a totalitarian state.
For this to have come about as it did, political parties with strong ideological differences had to compromise those positions for the good and welfare of the health of Israel’s democracy. Whether the coalition will be successful, whether it will serve out its term, whether it will split apart, nobody knows. Hopefully, while the good feeling persists, some initial positive legislative steps can be taken such as instituting term limits on the prime minister, among others, that will further strengthen what remains as the only real democracy in the Middle East.
No doubt over the next days we will hear many negative voices. They will posit a number of predictable scenarios.
We are already hearing that if, as expected, Naftali Bennett becomes Prime Minister, that we cannot have a Prime Minister whose party only gathered 6 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. Who says so? The whole concept of a parliamentary democracy is that whoever is able to put a coalition together gets to work with his or her coalition partners to determine who will lead the coalition and become Prime Minister. If the coalition partners agree that Bennett should be the next Prime Minister, so be it. That’s the way the system works and we should celebrate it.
There is a lot of noise that many of Bennett’s supporters would not have voted for him if they suspected he would agree to sign a coalition agreement with an Arab party (i.e. RAM). That may be true. Nevertheless, while some will describe it as an abandonment of his constituency and a pure power grab by Bennett, I look at it as a successful business person (Bennett and his brother are self-made millionaire alumni of the high tech industry here during its infancy) deciding what is strategically best for Israel. And I might add, that Israeli Arabs constitute 20.95% of the population so logic would dictate that they should be part of the governing coalition.
I already hear the complaints that nobody in the new government has the diplomatic experience that Netanyahu possesses. There is no argument with that statement but so what? That will always be the case when we consider new leadership unless we Israelis let someone else take the reins, guide the chariot and develop his/her experience. I believe that people rise to the occasion if they have the raw intelligence, commitment and personality to do so. The country will survive the transition and may even come out better than today’s status.
There will also be the (mostly right wing) naysayers who will say that our security is imperiled, we won’t be able to stand up to Iran, to the US, to Russia, to Hamas, to the Palestinians……and the list goes on. I believe that these scare tactics are just that, scare tactics to substantiate the canard that marks so many world leaders today who boast “I am the only one who can handle the problems we face.” When a nation believes that tripe, democracy and the nation are both doomed. We see that playing out even among some of our closest allies. We, as Jews, know where that can lead and we really don’t want to go there. It never ends well for us and others.
Will there be disagreements as we move forward? Absolutely!!! No doubt about it. But machloket min hashamayim, a dispute in the name of heaven is in the highest traditions of our people. Our challenge is to recognize that there is validity on both sides of every disagreement and that at the end of the day a decision must be made as to which side to follow while respecting the validity of “the other.” If the new government can rise to the occasion and craft a constructive dialogue among its members, Israel can continue to grow, to prosper and to be the light unto the nations that we are obligated to be and as our hallowed tradition dictates. We owe ourselves nothing less.