It is not unreasonable in a democracy to expect elected officials to reflect the views of the electorate to a significant degree. This is a given, except in today’s Israel.
It is quite clear that the electorate tilted right in the last election. The Likud Party, headed by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, won 29 mandates—12 more than Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, the second-largest party in the Knesset.
Given that the voters who chose the New Hope Party and Yamina were predominantly right-wing, it is self-evident that the majority of voters—more than 52%—supported the right. Netanyahu fell well short of forming a government coalition, however, because New Hope’s leader Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Yamina’s leader Prime Minister Naftali Bennett refused to sit with him. In fact, they took pride in shunning Netanyahu.
Bennett and Lapid then managed to cobble together the most diverse governing coalition in Israel’s history—stretching from New Hope on the right to Meretz on the left, and including the Ra’am Party, the political arm of the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement.
The left often said that this coalition should be celebrated because it comprised an Arab party, which supposedly made it Israel’s first inclusionary government. But those claims avoided mention of the fact that the Arab party in question is Islamist/anti-Zionist. This is a red line that should not have been crossed in a Zionist and Jewish state.
Lapid made much of his coalition as a cross-section of Israeli society but knew quite well that it had very little chance of functioning cohesively precisely because of its diversity. He frequently offered words of caution on the need to avoid going off on an ideological tangent that would split the coalition apart.
Now, precisely what Lapid feared has come to be. It was inevitable. The implosion of the coalition was precipitated by an ideological vote on a bill extending the application of Israeli law to citizens living in Judea and Samaria. The law did not pass because two MKs—Meretz’s Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Ra’am’s Mazen Ghanaim—did not adhere to coalition discipline and voted against it. They are not inclined towards reversing their votes or leaving the coalition.
Bennett now estimates that the coalition has about two weeks to fix the situation. It is highly unlikely that it can be fixed. His party is scrambling.
Just as there has never been a governing coalition in Israel as diverse as the current one, there has never been a political spectacle such as we are now witnessing. I know that I am hardly alone in my sense of horror. We are better than this. MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) has described the coalition as a “circus,” and he is not wrong.
None of this would have happened if the opposition had supported the Judea and Samaria legislation, and they were roundly criticized in some quarters for refusing to do so. But they knew that if they withheld support, it would expose the inherent weakness of the coalition. I remain confident that in due course the bill—or interim legislation—will be passed.
The only way to avoid an election when the government collapses is via a constructive no-confidence vote. This is possible when a new coalition with at least 61 mandates has been formed by the opposition. This can only happen if a sufficient number of members of the current government move over to the opposition, either independently or as part of Likud.
It could happen, but the odds are not good right now. MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionist) was correct when he recently said that there is nothing to do now but wait for the government to fall. Rothman did not seem particularly distressed by this. Nor am I. The government deserves to fall and, in the end, this has a silver lining: Since the government took office, the electorate has moved further right. Ironically, it turns out that this is the current government’s gift to the State of Israel.
Depending on the poll, it is predicted that Likud will win somewhere between 34 and 36 mandates in the next election and the Religious Zionist Party between nine and 11. Polls are predicting a 60-60 tie between the government and opposition blocs, but Netanyahu is reportedly confident that in this political climate it will not be difficult to gain one more mandate.
What is more, I am seeing increased activism on the part of the right-wing of the electorate. They are taking Zionist positions with conviction and embracing their belief in our right to the land. All of this is exciting. Perhaps it will turn out that we had to go down in order to come up.
Arlene Kushner is a freelance writer, investigative journalist and author. She has written books on the PLO and Ethiopian Jews, and major reports on UNRWA. She is a co-founder of the Legal Grounds Campaign, which provides courses to law students regarding Israel’s legal rights in the Land of Israel. Her blog, focusing on political and security concerns in Israel, can be found at www.arlenefromisrael.info.