Michael Boyden

The Awful Truth behind the Numbers

Elections and coalitions are all about numbers. As we know, Prime Minister Netanyahu was successful in putting together the most right-wing, religious extremist government in Israel’s history.

While people talk about the fact that the current coalition numbers 64 members and, therefore, has a right to rule and pursue its legislative agenda, it is instructive to look at the components of that government.

No less than 50% of those who comprise it are either from the charedi parties of Shas and Yahadut Ha-Torah (United Torah Judaism) or the ultra-right-wing Religious Zionist Party.

The latter, as we know, is headed by Bezalel Smotrich, who, echoing the words of Golda Meir, declared this week in Paris that “there’s no such thing as the Palestinians”. While he may be correct historically, he ought to know that you avoid at your peril the dismissal of the national aspirations of millions of people who see themselves as Palestinians.

The undemocratic charedi parties take their marching orders from their religious authorities, and try to impose their vision of Israel on the population at large. The Chametz Law is just one example.

Understandably, these parties frequently find themselves at odds with the rulings of the Supreme Court over such issues as the seizure of Palestinian land or properties, or evading military conscription. No wonder they want to limit its power.

Given their way, Israel would look more like Iran than a Western, liberal democracy, and Arabs living within the territories between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean would be denied citizenship, thereby turning our country into an apartheid state.

Israel made it through its first 75 years because we faced a common enemy that sought to destroy us. Perhaps, as a consequence, many of the issues that divide us were left smoldering like a dormant fire beneath the surface.

What the current argument over the balance of power between the legislature and the judiciary has done is to highlight how much we are a divided society.

Numbers count. The charedi population continues to increase in size, and right-wing political extremists enjoy unprecedented power. Netanyahu understands the name of the game, and has used his political skills to form a government that ensures that he will remain prime minister, and lessen the chance that he will ever pay the price for the misdemeanors of which he is accused.

However, many Israelis are now asking themselves whether this is the kind of Israel in which they would want to raise their children, and whether they are prepared to put their lives at risk in defence of a country whose values they do not share.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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