Naftali Goldfarb or Gonen Bennett?

In a single act of rash duplicity and deceit, Naftali Bennett provided the left with a plum prize from which it has been precluded for years: broad access to positions of governmental control and influence.

Yamina Party head Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset on April 21, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Yamina Party head Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset on April 21, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/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.

“Bogie [Moshe] Ya’alon, Benny Gantz and Yvette [Avigdor] Lieberman are knowingly endangering the security of Israeli citizens. … As Israel’s Defense Minister, I declare: An Israeli government that is dependent on the support of the Joint Arab List and is extorted by supporters of terrorism, is tangibly and immediately placing the lives of Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers in peril.” — Naftali Bennett, Twitter, March 5, 2020

“Ra’am is a sister movement of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is an extremist and anti-Zionist faction with no place in the Israeli Knesset at all. Yamina will not be complicit in forming a government dependent on Ra’am—not with its support; not with its abstention, and not in any way. … The whitewashing of these supporters of terrorists by Netanyahu and his messenger boy, Itamar Ben Gvir, is shameful. Right-wingers should be the first to stop it. — Press release by Naftali Bennett’s party, Yamina, March 6, 2021

” … [T]ake, for example, the vaccinations. Today he [Netanyahu] holds a press conference and declares there are vaccines. 27 countries, in Europe alone, signed with Pfizer, and there are other countries like Australia—we are in 35th place [but] he holds a press conference and deceives the public. He [Netanyahu] claims that they will arrive in January. Maybe a box of 5 vaccines, at most, will arrive—the rest will arrive after all the other countries receive them. … This is how to lose public trust by lying to the public on matters of life and death. — Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the person Naftali Bennett believes is qualified to lead the nation, Channel 12, Nov. 13, 2020

The die is cast. A new government has been installed.

Almost inevitably, its establishment takes us back in time to a similarly woeful event involving the concoction of another dubious coalition, cobbled together in nefarious ways, eerily reminiscent of those with which the current coalition was spawned.

The wages of treachery

In January 1995, Gonen Segev and Alex Goldfarb, who were elected to the Knesset on behalf of the distinctly hawkish right-wing Tzomet Party, defected to the Rabin government, which in September 1993  had signed the unprecedentedly concessionary Oslo I Accords (Declaration of Principles). Segev was appointed a minister and Goldfarb a deputy minister. In October 1995, they both supported the Oslo II agreements, which were approved by a razor-thin majority of 61 to 59—i.e. as a result of the shameful perfidy of Segev and Goldfarb and of their unscrupulous misuse of the political power with which their voters had provided them.

The grim consequences of the mendacious machinations of the duplicitous duo were not long in manifesting themselves—in cemeteries and trauma wards across the entire country, in funeral services for the dead and emergency treatment for the wounded—the gory legacy of their odious opportunism. Indeed, we would do well to recall that every time hawkish pre-election pledges were broken to adopt dovish post-election policies, the result has invariably been tragedy, grief and anguish for Jew and Arab alike.

Thus, Israel’s dealing with the PLO in preparation for the Oslo Accords— contrary to Rabin’s pre-election pledges to avoid such dealings—resulted in an unprecedented number of “victims of peace” in the wake of those accords.

Similarly, the abandonment of the Gaza Strip (aka, the “disengagement”) by Ariel Sharon. Indeed, during the elections immediately before the disengagement, Sharon urged voters to reject the self-same proposal, then touted by his Labor Party opponent, Amram Mitzna. Perversely, following the election, Sharon adopted the very policy he sternly warned should be avoided, and transformed Gaza from being a terrorist nuisance into a long-term strategic threat, which, as he himself predicted, has inflicted a heavy toll in both blood and treasure.

Duplicity and dramatic distortion of democracy

A similarly daunting outcome will, in all likelihood, be the case with the Bennett-Lapid government, which emerged solely as a result of a flagrant violation of Bennett’s explicit—and explicitly repeated—pledge to refrain from doing precisely that which he, brazenly and unabashedly, decided to do anyway.

Indeed, it is hard to overstate the gravity of Bennett’s duplicity. After all, it spawned an extraordinary distortion of Israel’s democratic process.

On the one hand, someone who received around five percent of the vote ends up as the nation’s leader. On the other hand, the most popular candidate, who obtained, by far, the highest level of backing from voters—about five times that of Bennett— is ostracized by political rivals, all with far lower public support, in order to prevent him from becoming prime minister.

Furthermore, the act of boycotting Netanyahu comprises no less than a blatant attempt by certain parties—most of which are markedly undemocratic in their internal functioning and in their selection of Knesset candidates—to impose on another party that is generally democratic in its internal affairs—who will and will not be its leader … in stark contradiction to the express will of its members!

The ‘core commitment’ con

Bennett, in a rather forlorn attempt, to explain—or rather to explain away—his inexplicable behavior, invoked an unconvincing linguistic gimmick with which he purported to differentiate between pledges that must not be violated and those which can be violated—indeed, which, at times, should be violated rather than honored.

Accordingly, with considerable “creativity” as befits a hi-tech entrepreneur, he introduced the innovative concept of a “core commitment” into the Israeli political arena—which is little more than a license for post-election deceit.

Thus, in Bennett’s words, which he was careful only to utter after the elections, the “core” of the myriad of commitments that he undertook was the promise to prevent an additional round of elections. This, of course, is easily exposed as a bald-faced fabrication—without even a smidgeon of truth to back it up. After all, Bennett never once stated—and certainly never stressed—that he was determined to avoid an additional election, even if it meant that he would take part in a left-leaning government together with Lapid.

By contrast, he did firmly—and unequivocally—assert that as a right-wing politician, he would not participate in a government with a leftist politician such as Lapid—not even under a rotation agreement.

Moreover, during the recent “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” he did not hesitate to declare that a left-wing government was no longer “on the table”—with nary a reference to his “core commitment” or his “core concern” regarding the imperative to prevent yet another round of elections.

Of course, Bennett’s voters certainly understood, and believed, that his commitment to avoid complicity in establishing a government together with Lapid and other left-wing factions would override his wish to avoid a fifth election. In fact, if Bennett had stated that he was prepared to set up a governing coalition comprised mainly of left-wing factions—including an overtly anti-Zionist party—it is more than doubtful that he would have won enough votes to get through the minimum threshold required for admission to the Knesset.

A recent poll provides strong corroboration for this assessment. According to its findings, more than half of Yamina voters would not have voted for the party had they known that Bennett would act in the way he acted—which would have left it below the minimum electoral threshold. Moreover, the poll found that a majority of Yamina voters feel that the deal Bennett spun, together with Lapid, constitutes a violation of the trust given him at the ballot box.

Apparently, they have little doubt as to which commitment was the “core” one.

A flimsy foundation of falsehood and fabrication

Furthermore, in a single act of rash duplicity and deceit, Naftali Bennett provided the left with a plum prize from which it has been precluded for years: broad access to positions of governmental control and influence. This is in clear contravention of the will of the electorate. After all, the results of the elections provided a decisive majority for the parties right of center, reflecting a distinct public preference for precluding left-wing parties from attaining positions of power and influence in government. Bennett has now given them precisely that.

In addition, although the Likud did conduct talks with the Arab parties, which were, in fact, the result of the personal enmity against Netanyahu, the current government has created a situation that is both absurd and perilous. By shunning Netanyahu, it is now in a position in which both the formulation and the sustainability of an (allegedly) Zionist coalition are entirely dependent on the good graces of an openly anti-Zionist party, which according to the letter of Basic Law: Knesset (Clause 7a(a)1) should be precluded from the Knesset elections altogether.

In this regard, according to the previously cited poll, almost 60 percent of Yamina voters believe that “it is not right for the government to rely on the support of the [anti-Zionist] Arab parties.”

The gravest threat to national security

But over and above all these fundamental flaws in the current government, which was cobbled together on a flimsy foundation of falsehood and fabrication, there is yet another defect—arguably even more detrimental than those already mentioned. This is the adverse effect, likely to arise from the stark duplicity, which accompanied the formation of the current coalition and its impact on the nation’s youth, its identification with the state, the belief it has in its leadership and its willingness to make sacrifices on its behalf.

After all, when 18-19-year-olds are about to be enlisted into the IDF and required to put their lives at risk for the country, there is a moral and practical imperative for them to believe in the absolute necessity of the dangers that they are expected to endure and the sacrifices that they are expected to make. But when they see that the solemn pledges made by those responsible for their fate are no more than empty words, to be discarded at will or on a whim, this cannot fail to cause long-term erosion in their belief in the state and its destiny, their emotional and spiritual attachment to it and their willingness to sacrifice in its name.

Indeed, is difficult to conceive of anything more detrimental to the national security of the state, and its ability to survive over time, in Israel’s challenging geostrategic environment.

A recalcitrant national agenda

Much has already been written on the considerable difficulties that the new government, riddled as it is with impossible internal contradictions, can expect to encounter in its routine operations. Indeed, for virtually every conceivable subject one might think of, there are component elements in the coalition that will have not only different but diametrically opposing, opinions on how best to deal with it. Thus, adopting one opinion necessarily means rejecting the opposing one. This would be largely true for issues such as levels of taxation, construction beyond the 1967 Green Line, the conduct of Israel’s relations with the United States, the interaction with American Jewry, and so on.

In response to concerns expressed on these matters, leading figures in the fractured government have expressed the hope that the coalition partners will attempt to focus on consensual commonalities and set aside matters in dispute.

The problem with this enlightened collegial approach is that recalcitrant realities are not always so compliant and cooperative with such far-reaching attitudes of mutual consideration and restraint. Indeed, not infrequently, they may well impose the need to deal urgently with some issue over which disparate coalition members are in deep dispute—such as when to begin a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, what its scale and scope should be, and when it should be terminated; or how to respond to the possibility of a move by the Biden administration to annul favorable measures instituted by the Trump administration, such as relocating the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv; or how to deal with radical left-wing organizations resolutely bent on undermining the activities of IDF soldiers or what is the best response to Arab attempts to undermine Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and obstruct unification of the city.

All of this bodes ill for the ability of the government to survive for any length of time, which in itself might be the only encouraging morsel to hold onto in this entire dismal and farcical fiasco.

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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