This past Sunday Israel’s most diverse government ever was installed. “As they assembled for the traditional photograph with the president, there was no mistaking the breadth of Israel represented by the ministers in the government headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid,” wrote Times of Israel’s founding editor David Horovitz. “On one side of President Reuven Rivlin sat Bennett, Israel’s first Orthodox prime minister and the former head of the Settlers Council. On the other sat Lapid, the secular centrist who drew together the radically improbable eight-party mix that on Sunday unseated Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years. Among those arrayed behind them stood an Ethiopia-born minister (Pnina Tamano Shata), a former IDF chief of staff (Benny Gantz), Israel’s first openly gay party leader (Nitzan Horowitz), a minister from the Arab community (Issawi Frej), other ex-army officers, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In her wheelchair to Lapid’s left was Karine Elharrar (she has muscular dystrophy), the incoming energy minister.”
As Horovitz also notes, it is not just their backgrounds, but their ideologies that differ widely. “Bennett would want to annex up to 60% of the West Bank; Meretz’s Horowitz would like to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines. Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman would seek to maximize conscription in the ultra-Orthodox community and drastically reduce that sector’s government funding; Bennett and maybe even Lapid hold out the hope of at least some of the ultra-Orthodox MKs joining the coalition.”
While much of the world celebrates Israel’s new government, those not sitting in the coalition now are painting a very different picture. As Ittay Flescher, Jerusalem correspondent for Australia’s Plus61JMedia and Education Director at Kids4Peace, noted on his own Facebook page, “In Israel, right-wingers are overwhelmingly horrified that this coalition includes a deeply religious Muslim party and left-wing parties that hold progressive views on gender and family” are denouncing it as dangerous. “Outside the country,” he continues, “Israel’s ambassador to Azerbaijan and many Hasbara pages praise the inclusion of Mansour Abbas and the openly gay Nitzan Horowitz in the coalition.” How this coalition is seen is different, for sure.
Those pushed out of power use fearmongering as a tactic; it is not an unfamiliar playbook. Of course, not all Israelis are horrified. The photos I’ve seen on social media of liberal, secular Tel Aviv celebrating a new government led by a religious and rightwing prime minister cannot go unappreciated. Still, I think about those outside of Israel, especially those excited that Bibi is now in the opposition and replaced by a diverse government, and beleive they do not understand the ideological clashes of coalition members. How with the world see Israel in six months, a year, two — assuming it remains intact that long?
After the coalition addresses agreed-upon changes (Dov Lipman’s handy list of coalition deals is worth reading), I can’t help but wonder about two things: (1) how will this mish-mash of a coalition function and vote when the topics move to those on which there is ideological disagreement? And (2) with the focus on Israeli Arabs, how long a grace period will Israel’s government get from the world when people see that the situation with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza remains unchanged?
Of course, negotiations cannot take place as long as there is no single voice to negotiate with on the Palestinian side. But, as I pointed out in a blog aptly called Israel’s Next Steps a few weeks ago, that does not mean nothing can be done. And yet the list of coalition deals includes nothing that affects Palestinian lives. (Do read this, please. It lists non-political ways that Israel can demonstrate it does want to move from the status quo.)
I fear the world’s love affair with the new government may inevitably dissipate. The Flag March and the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on Sheikh Jarrah, both contentious and near term issues (so there may be a grace period of tolerance towards Israel, depending on how the police and army handle things), will be followed by a slow realization that nothing is changing; sovereignty for Palestinians alongside security for Israel will still be way off on the horizon. I truly fear that the increased global antisemitism we are witnessing now – which many have attributed to the demonization of Israel because of its previous right-wing government — will no longer have Bibi to blame and will not recede.
Then we will be faced with two issues — further growth of antisemitic acts against Jews and the increased demonization of Israel.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Those who truly care about the future of the people in the region need to pick the cause and not pick a side.
I wish the new government success. I wish them much success on their list of promises, and want to see how they navigate their way through the tougher issues which will test their absence of ideological unity. And I really hope that they will also begin to think about how they could also take steps to improve the lives of Palestinians. It would allow the world to see how the Palestinian leadership is an obstacle that warrants attention too.
With this list of wishes and hope, let me say B’hatzlachah! (good luck!) to Israel’s new government and to us all.