Back from the brink

Until Benny Gantz threw his political lot in with the right-wing coalition, it would be little exaggeration to say that the entire Zionist endeavor was poised on a knife edge.

Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz holds a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan on March 7, 2020. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz holds a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan on March 7, 2020. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

A little more than a year ago, immediately after the announcement of the union between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, and the establishment of the Blue and White Party (Feb. 21, 2019), I published a column titled Gantz-Lapid’s directionless ad hoc political concoction (Feb. 22, 2019).

In it, I predicted that “ … it is not easy to envisage great cohesion and sense of purpose in the party ranks regarding multiple issues that are bound to arise after the elections—whether in the security, diplomatic or socio-economic spheres—and whether the Blue and Whites find themselves in government or opposition.” 

This, of course, was not really a difficult conclusion to draw. Indeed, any mediocre political scientist, with a minimal grasp of the fundamentals of his professional discipline, should not have had any problem arriving at it. After all, as I pointed out, even a cursory “glance at the composition of the Blue and White list reveals it to be a highly anomalous—the less charitable might say “perverse”— political entity.

Indeed, rather than being a body that “coalesced around some ideo-intellectual credo or consensus—however remote—on some socio-political or strategic agenda, there is now little doubt that the centripetal forces that brought Blue and White’s disparate components together, comprised little more than an anti-Netanyahu sentiment: Some bear him a grudge because of a past affront they felt he had inflicted on them; others appear to harbor an aversion to him, on a personal basis rather than due to any substantive disagreement over policy.

Thus, within the “same political framework, we find a Labor Union leader alongside a champion of free market competition; hardline hawks as well as left-leaning doves …

Zionism poised on a knife edge

As it turns out, the false facade of Blue and White was even more friable and fragile than I thought it to be. For it cracked and crumbled even before any substantive decisions on security or socio-economic policy were called for. Indeed, under the assault of recalcitrant reality, even the fast-drying Bibiphobic glue proved unable to hold things together.

Thus, on Thursday (March 26, 2020), barely 13 months after its inception—and the great fanfare and Bibiphobic hope that accompanied it—Blue and White ceased to exist as a serious competitor to the Likud. Gantz threw his political lot in with a Benjamin Netanyahu-led right-wing coalition.

But until that dramatic and unexpected moment, it would be little exaggeration to say that the entire Zionist endeavor was poised on a knife edge. Indeed, it appeared increasingly likely that the Blue and White leadership was prepared to undertake precisely what it solemnly undertook not to in repeated pledges to the electorate.

For there seemed little doubt that the party had crossed the psychological and ideological Rubicon and was prepared to provide the anti-Zionist, dominantly Joint Arab List unprecedented access to positions of governmental power and influence in charting the future of the Jewish nation-state in ways hitherto unimaginable.

‘Disgraceful decision’

Thus, last Tuesday (March 24, 2020), the Joint List was assigned chairmanship of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, the  responsibilities of which include a number of security-related matters pertaining to the handling of wounded Israel Defense Forces’ veterans and victims of terrorism.

The decision to establish the committee was made by the Knesset Arrangements Committee, chaired by Blue and White.

In recent years, the committee has overseen the regulation of compensation for wounded Israeli soldiers and veterans, as well as medical and income benefits for soldiers, members of the Israel Police and the Israel Prison Service. The committee also oversees pension funds and savings plans for government institutions into which the pension funds of everyone who serves in the IDF and Israel’s other security branches are deposited.

The committee also has the authority to revoke the national insurance benefits and other stipends of convicted terrorists and their families.

Netanyahu called the decision to entrust the work of the committee to representatives of the Joint List, which opposes Israel being defined as a Jewish state and whose members openly identify with its most vehement enemies, a “disgrace.”

Making the appointment even more outlandish was the fact that the person selected to head the committee was Joint List Knesset member Aida Touma Suleiman, who not only publicly called for the “Law of Return” to be revoked, but prescribed that the way to reduce Jewish victims of Arab terror would be for Jews to leave their ancient home land—apparently unmindful of how “splendidly” that formula worked in Gaza. … Indeed, Suleiman even had the gall to accuse the late Ari Fuld of “executing” his Arab assailant, who fatally stabbed him in the back, when despite his wounds managed to shoot his attacker preventing any further victims.

Just what might be expected from Suleiman as the newly appointed chair can be inferred from her past conduct as chair of the less influential Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality, where she refused to allow a debate on the issues facing female IDF soldiers.

Her “reasoning” for this was, according to Suleiman: “I didn’t serve in the military, there’s no one in my vicinity who is serving in the military, I don’t know what the problems are there, and it’s not on my agenda. … The issue of female soldiers is not my issue.

Of course, none of this was unknown to the folks at Blue and White. However, undeterred, they proceeded to appoint Suleiman to the chair of the influential committee.

Near metamorphosis: From Blue and White to Red and Green

But it is not only the radical views of some of the Joint List MKs that makes Blue and White’s near affiliation with the Red and Green (leftist-Islamist) alliance of Joint List so puzzling and perverse.

Indeed, as a collective political faction, the official party platform of the Joint List not only blatantly violates the conditions for participation in Knesset elections, as set out in Clause 7A of the Basic Law: The Knesset; but if anything it violates—to an even greater degree—Blue and White’s professed Zionist credentials.

Thus, in Article 1 in the platform, under “Fundamental Principles,” we learn that the Joint List supports (among other things) (a) Israel relinquishing the Golan Heights, (b) the Right of Return; (c) uprooting all the Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria; and (d) the division of Jerusalem. It reads: “The Joint List will fight for a just peace in the region, based on the United Nations’ resolutions, and calling for: an end the occupation of all territories conquered in 1967; the dismantling of all Israeli settlements and the racist separation fence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; the release of all political prisoners; the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem; and finding a just solution for the problem of the Palestinian refugees which assures the right of return in accordance with [the] U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.”

In Article 2, the Joint List clearly rejects Israel as the nation-state of the Jews:

“The Joint List will fight for full national and civic equality for the Arab-Palestinian public in Israel as a native minority with collective and individual rights. The list will demand recognition of the Arab public as a national minority with the right to self-administration in the fields of culture, education, and religion, as part of the Arab-Palestinian people and the Arab nation. [emphasis added—MS]”

But the Joint List not only rejects the Jewish character of Israel, it also opposes any effort on the part of the Arab sector to contribute to it defense. Thus, Article 2 continues: “[The Joint List] will fight to annul compulsory military service for the Arab-Druze community, and against all programs of military recruitment and national service for young Arab people … ”

Astonishingly, despite all this, Blue and White MK Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon, former IDF Chief-of-Staff, and ostensibly the leader of the hawkish faction in the party, came out with the staggering post-election declaration: “The election results put us in the position of choosing which election promise to break. In this situation, removing Netanyahu is the main goal. We have no choice but to rely on the Joint List.”

Strange political bedfellows

Indeed, arguably, one of the saddest spectacles in Israel’s political theater today is the unraveling of Ya’alon’s public image.

Driven by a sense of personal affront at the hands of Netanyahu, who due to coalition exigencies, replaced him as defense minister with Avigdor Lieberman, offering him the foreign affairs portfolio (which he refused), Ya’alon has descended into mire of petulant pique and pettiness, coupled with a vicious vindictiveness that has lost him the esteem of many who once held him in highest regard.

Indeed, Ya’alon is so infused with a desire to inflict vengeance on Netanyahu that he would rather to collaborate with the anti-Zionist “Red-Green” Joint List, than support a unity government headed by Netanyahu, including a rotation arrangement with his hitherto colleague, Gantz.

Thus, although Netanyahu has guided Israel for more than a decade through stormy seas, notching up numerous noteworthy (even remarkable) achievements, Ya’alon apparently sees his continued incumbency as a greater danger to the Jewish state than the Joint List, a faction openly committed to dismantling Israel as a Jewish state. Moreover, some of the Joint List members, such as Mansour Abbas, publicly call for introducing Sharia law in Israel, permitting polygamy for its Muslim citizens and lifting the quarantine on the Hamas ruled Gaza—see also here.

They and Ya’alon certainly make strange—indeed, bizarre—political bedfellows.

The perils (and curse) of ‘baseless hatred’

Watching the emergence of these astounding political developments, one is inexorably drawn to the words of the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 9:B) on the gravity of the perils—and the curse—of baseless hatred among the Jewish people: Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things which prevailed there: idolatry, illicit sexual relations, bloodshed. … But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they occupied themselves with Torah, mitzvot [religious observance] and acts of charity? Because baseless hatred prevailed. This teaches you that baseless hatred is equal to the three sins of idolatry, illicit sexual relations and murder. 

There seems little more to add.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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