When the new government came into power, they had a very clear message – they came to do the work. There would be no distractions, no tricks, nothing untoward. This unity/mish-mash government was going to overcome their differences by being there for the right reasons and by focusing on getting the job done. But we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. While I’m not sure that where we’re at now is “hell”, the coalition certainly has not established that their new alternative government is heaven.
It is true that this coalition is up against a very determined, angry and combative opposition. No one expects for the relationship between the two sides to be rosy. However, we should be able to expect a certain standard of protocol and respect to govern the halls and rooms of Knesset. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case.
The most jarring example of this has been the Knesset committee distributions. We as citizens should expect to have our votes be represented fairly in Knesset and that should apply to representation in Knesset committees. When the coalition decided on the distribution of committee spots, they gave themselves an overwhelming majority in all crucial Knesset committees. Though of course it makes sense for the coalition to have a majority, it should be reflective of the makeup of the Knesset itself. When the Likud with 29 seats has 2 spots on a committee and a party with 6 seats has the same amount, it is no longer representative of the Knesset makeup or of the will of the citizens. It is not for the coalition to decide which opposition parties should sit on which committees or for them to decide how the opposition should fulfill their duties on these committees. It was however up to the coalition to assign committee seats fairly and by protocol, in a way that reflects the votes of the country – that is something they did not do.
Additionally, all members of Knesset work on various bills and pieces of legislation that are important to them and that they feel will benefit the citizens of Israel. The MKs and the coalition and opposition won’t always agree on what legislation should be passed and that’s fine. But we should expect that each vote on a proposed bill should be evaluated based on its merits and not based on who will get the credit for passing important legislation. When opposition MK Michal Woldiger presented a bill that would help addicts receive proper support and treatment, the bill was unanimously voted down by the coalition. This alone is not where the real problem lies. Perhaps the coalition had an alternative bill or a different approach for addressing this issue. But – just 2 months after being voted down, Coalition Chair and Yamina MK Idit Silman presented the exact same bill for Knesset approval, this time under her name. Now this sort of thing does happen from time to time, with legislation passing from MK to MK. However, the protocol calls for a 6 month freeze before a failed bill can be presented for a vote again, giving the MK who authored the bill time to obtain more support or make necessary changes. In this case, it seems clear that the bill was solid and the initiative worthy and important, but only if the coalition would receive the credit for it.
Now it’s one thing for the coalition to make it more difficult for the opposition to accomplish their goal of toppling the government. But what happens when the members of the government actually say or even don’t say things that conflict with their core values and the stated values of the government?
Last week, Minister Elazar Stern stated that in his role as IDF Head of Manpower he would shred or ignore anonymous sexual harassment claims and then was accused of doing exactly that by two different women. Where was the criticism and outrage against this behavior? Where was the condemnation? Where was Labor head Merav Michaeli, who built her career on protecting women and ensuring their rights? Where was Stern’s party leader, Yair Lapid, who claims to have a zero tolerance policy for harassing and silencing women? The coalition was eerily silent and in what was clearly a debate between core values and political gain, political gain clearly won.
Speaking of Yair Lapid, his speech during the Knesset ceremony marking Yitzchak Rabin’s death was anything but unifying. Lapid is alternate Prime Minister in a government that claims to be for all of Israel and to represent all of Israel. Yet on a day that for so many Israelis marks a time of hatred and division, Lapid chose to divide further. Instead of using the moment to unify the nation, Lapid chose to single out and mark the right wing and religious zionists as illegitimate and as ideological heirs of a murderer. Did he forget that his coalition partners are themselves religious zionists in all but party name? That his Prime Minister is the former head of the Yesha Council? That the Chair of the Knesset House committee is the former director of the Bayit Yehudi party? Did he forget that at least half of Israel voted for right wing or religious parties to represent them? Perhaps he just forgot that incitement is still incitement no matter where it comes from or who it is directed towards.
It would be wrong to say that this government isn’t accomplishing anything good just as it would be wrong to say that it’s all good. But the policies being implemented are not the only measurement of what makes a “good” government. Right and left, religious and secular – they will always be at odds over the “goodness” and successfulness of a government. The one thing that should be unanimous is whether the government has integrity and character.
When we played sports as kids, we were taught that winning or losing is much less important than having good sportsmanship. Why is that? The win, the loss – these are fleeting moments of joy or sadness. They ultimately will mean little once the moment passes. But good sportsmanship? That’s the mark of good character. That’s a lesson and a habit that will follow a person throughout their lives.
So yes, forming a coalition was a win for this government and its members and MKs. But that win means little if it’s not followed up by good sportsmanship, commitment to integrity and maintaining their core values. It means nothing if their idea of “winning” is sticking it to the opposition. It means nothing if when faced with a political crisis, they buckle in the face of their values. And it means nothing when during a chance to unify a broken nation, they delve further into the division.
This coalition still has much that they want to accomplish and some of it may very well be for the betterment of the country. I just hope that their good intentions won’t lead to a hell we can’t get back from.