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Ron Werber
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Only a united opposition can prevent this looming catastrophe

Without joining together, liberal parties have no chance of blocking this government's dark vision for the country
Thousands of Israelis protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on April 29, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Thousands of Israelis protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on April 29, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Many in Israel’s Liberal-Democratic camp admire Hungary’s political opposition for its principled stand against Prime Minister Viktor Orban, under whose thuggish leadership the country’s judiciary, media, academia, and much of the business sector have been stripped of their independence, corruption has run rampant, and the cost of living has skyrocketed. But supporters of Hungary’s opposition ignore the simple fact that it was the opposition’s inter-faction division and mistrust, and the mutual animosity among leaders that paved the way for Orban’s sweeping victory and return to power in 2010, and for his repeated electoral successes since. Sadly, similar fissures within the Israeli opposition serve as the main strategic asset of the Netanyahu government.

While hundreds of thousands of Israelis stand united in an unprecedented nationwide protest, demanding change and rallying around common democratic and liberal values, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz-Gideon Sa’ar, Avigdor Liberman, and Merav Michaeli choose to perpetuate the divisions within the opposition. Despite their rhetoric about saving the country from an impending nightmare scenario, they lack a strategy and a concrete political action plan. Instead, their efforts are dedicated mainly to exploiting the mass protest for their own short-term personal political gains.

Heads of opposition parties, Benny Gantz of National Unity, Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beyteinu, Merav Michaeli of Labor, and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, hold a joint press conference in the Knesset, February 13, 2023. INSERT: MK Gideon Sa’ar attends a faction meeting of the National Unity Party at the Knesset, February 6, 2023. (Photos: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The imperative of the mass protest movement’s political goal can no longer be overlooked. Israel is in dire need of a sane, cohesive, and sustainable liberal government that can chart a new course for the country. This resonates deeply with the aspirations of the protest movement. To realize this vision, the current government coalition must be dissolved, early elections announced, and a united list of liberal opposition groups established, one that is poised to emerge victorious in the upcoming elections.

Without a united front among the liberal opposition parties, the participants in the mass protest will find themselves entangled in the rivalries and divisions that plague the fragmented opposition landscape. The unity that was once forged among people who joined hands in collective protest will quickly be replaced by political rivalries as they compete for votes at the ballot box. Tragically, the immense potential for genuine political change, so deeply embedded within the fabric of the largest protest in the nation’s history, will dissolve into thin air.

It is crucial that the protest movement in which many of us are taking an active role put forth an unwavering call to Lapid, Gantz-Sa’ar, Liberman, and Michaeli to establish a united political front. This unified parliamentary list could also integrate, as the next elections approach, prominent figures from within the very heart of the protest movement, whose wealth of experience, unwavering integrity, and exceptional competence position them on par, if not higher than, some of the current opposition’s political leaders.

The overwhelming public support for such a cohesive coalition would surpass the combined forty-six parliamentary seats currently held individually by their respective Knesset factions, Yesh Atid, National Unity, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor. Moreover, this united front has the potential to inspire liberal voices within the Likud party to abandon a sinking ship and join forces with this united list, resulting in the dissolution of the current government coalition and the setting in motion of early elections that would take place within an entirely different landscape.

The peril that looms over Israel surpasses the narrow confines of any single party’s ideological agenda. It is imperative to cast aside personal whims and animosities, which currently impede collaboration among opposition leaders. While commentators, lobbyists, and politicians may bombard us with myriad explanations for the apparent impossibility of such unity, they will all fade into insignificance when confronted with the paramount opportunity before us, a chance to forge a vibrant, viable, and resolute political force that can avert the encroaching catastrophe and embark on a transformative journey. Although the prospects for such unity may appear tenuous to some today, it may swiftly emerge as the sole genuine opportunity that so many of us yearn for.

Many of us share a firm belief in a free-market economy combined with a modern welfare state. Moreover, many of us support a two-state-for-two-peoples solution, fostering peaceful coexistence, security, and economic cooperation with the Palestinians, if and when circumstances permit. Until then, we all wish for a significant reduction in violence across Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem, Gaza, as well as within Israel’s Green Line. However, at this critical juncture, our immediate existential threat is the opportunistic attempt by Smotrich, Ben Gvir, Levin, Stroock, Rothman, Ma’oz, their zealous rabbis, and the ghosts of the Kohelet Forum, to impose their political, religious, economic, messianic-nationalist, and racist vision. It’s a vision that will crush our economy, widen the social divides, dramatically exacerbate the nationalist and criminal violence, and erase all of Israel’s domestic and international achievements and the possibility of recovery.

In light of this looming catastrophe, we must not allow ideological excuses to impede collaboration between liberal party heads. It is imperative that they unite their efforts to safeguard our country and shield it from the impending perils we face.

Outdated paradigms

Those who are familiar with the way the government and Knesset work know that the current opposition parties in Israel share a lot in common, allowing fruitful collaborations on economic, social, welfare, security, and foreign policy issues. The Lapid-Bennett government was a vivid testament to this fact, as were many years of close cooperation among all factions of the Knesset in important legislative initiatives.

As for the Arab parliamentary groups, their leaders too must engage in soul-searching. They must decide whether to embrace genuine pragmatic collaboration, working together for common interests, following the example set by Ra’am, or to continue down the dogmatic path followed by Hadash-Ta’al, which has achieved very little thus far. Either way, the political leaders of the Arab parties – some of whom, like the messianic nationalists in Jewish society, embrace radicalization and escalation, hoping to score more votes – cannot be part of this united list just yet. They might, though, take part in future collaborations, after the alliance is established.

How will embracing a united Knesset list affect our personal whims, political allegiances, worldviews, and our inclination to stick to ideological arguments, even though the connection between these and “our” current political parties is almost non-existent? How can we confront the multitude of supposed legal, ideological, and procedural excuses that politicians and party technocrats will inevitably present to hinder progress? By freeing ourselves from outdated paradigms and gathering the courage required for the next necessary step. The urgency of the moment and the magnitude of the crisis demand an intense and dramatic change – change that can be realized only through a united and strong political faction. This unity holds the key to genuinely overcoming the existential crisis that looms over our beloved but troubled country.

Without unity, here and now, Lapid, Gantz, Sa’ar, Liberman, and Michaeli will be held accountable too, for the imminent historical catastrophe. Moreover, the public will sever ties with them, and new, more relevant, trustworthy, and competent political leaders will emerge from within the inner circle of the organizers behind Israel’s unprecedented protest movement. The pivotal question that remains is whether this change will occur just before disaster strikes or only rise from the ruins, after we have all paid a very high price.

About the Author
Ron Werber served as a political & campaign strategist for three decades, in numerous elections & referendum campaigns in Europe, while actively involved in political, social, religious pluralism and environmental advocacy initiatives in Israel. Earlier in his career he was actively involved in Jewish Agency’s, WZO and general world Jewish affairs. Complete bio: http://werber-pa.com/ron_werber
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