column

Rescuing the coalition at Israel’s literal and figurative expense

Even those who dread another round of Knesset elections ought to take into consideration that Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi is a dubious (and dangerous) voice.

Meretz Knesset member Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arrives for an interview at Channel 12 News in Neve Ilan in the outskirts of Jerusalem, May 19, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Meretz Knesset member Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arrives for an interview at Channel 12 News in Neve Ilan in the outskirts of Jerusalem, May 19, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

When Israeli lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi reversed her decision to quit the government, a sigh of relief was heard in the halls of half of the 120-seat Knesset. Had the Knesset member from the left-wing Meretz Party upheld her resignation, the coalition, which had already lost its single-mandate majority with the exit of Yamina MK and coalition chair Idit Silman, would no longer be in a 60-60 tie with the opposition.

Even worse for her partners, who were already miffed that she had failed to inform anyone of her plan to bolt, her move didn’t include evacuating her Knesset seat to make way for the next in line on the party list. Their fear was that her vote might tip the scales in favor of toppling the government if a no-confidence motion were put forward.

Her assurance that she had no intention of contributing to the replacement of the current coalition with a right-wing one was not sufficient, and she knew it. She also milked it for all it was worth, issuing a list of demands as a condition for a change of heart on her part.

Though it was rumored that she pulled the stunt in the first place because her appointment as Israel’s consul general in Shanghai had been bureaucratically stalled for months, she is reportedly forfeiting that role. Instead, she’s getting a bunch of cash to allocate to Arab municipalities. It was her being an Arab, after all, that caused Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz to hand her a realistic slot on his list without her having to campaign for and win it in the party’s primaries.

While Horowitz and his coalition cohorts may be cracking open the champagne, the rest of the country shouldn’t be celebrating this turn of events. Even those who dread another round of elections ought to take into consideration that Rinawie Zoabi is a dubious voice, on the one hand, and a dangerous one, on the other.

The former explains Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s desire to dispatch her to China—far from the benches of the Knesset, where she was proving to be a liability for the self-touted “unity” of the ideologically disparate government.

One example is her threatening in January to block a coalition-backed bill to encourage ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces in protest over the government’s reinstating of the ban on citizenship for Palestinians who marry Arab Israelis. She backed down only after exacting a promise that the haredi draft law wouldn’t be a precursor to similar legislation targeting Israel’s Arab sector.

The latter is why even Horowitz, who picked her for her ethic and gender “credentials,” preferred to keep her radical politics out of the watchful and scornful eyes of critics. This wouldn’t have been so difficult had she not refused to camouflage her anti-Zionism to preserve the coalition’s pretense of possessing mutual respect, despite severe differences of opinion.

Indeed, she never had an interest in hiding her dim view of the Jewish state—more precisely, that Israel shouldn’t be a Jewish state at all. Nor has she retracted her boasting about not knowing the words to Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.” That she certainly wouldn’t ever sing it is a given, as it is for the other anti-Zionist Arab MKs.

The thing is that she doesn’t belong to the openly hostile Joint (Arab) List in the opposition or in the coalition’s Islamist Ra’am Party. No, Meretz, which claims to be on the left of the Zionist spectrum, is where she hangs her hat.

Her return to its and the government’s bosom might temporarily rescue the teetering coalition. But it’s bad news for the country.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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