The blight that Bennett brought

It will take a long time to repair the damage that the machinations used to ensconce the current coalition have wrought.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Nov. 14, 2021. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Nov. 14, 2021. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.
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.

“Whoever commits a fraud is guilty not only of the injury to him who he deceives, but of the diminution of that confidence which constitutes … the existence of society.”—Samuel Johnson, renowned English poet, playwright, essayist, (1709-1784).

“Bennett knows that if he goes to a military conflict, the coalition will fall apart because Meretz and Ra’am won’t agree to it. The presence of Meretz and Ra’am limits the sharpness of any military decision …The moment the government makes a decision about something military, there will be a danger to the coalition.”—Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi, cited in The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 8, 2021.

The political process taking place in Israel is eerily similar to what took place in Lebanon following the foundation of Hezbollah.—Mordechai Kedar, “The Lebanonization of Israel,” March 31, 2021.

Earlier this year, prominent Mideast scholar Mordechai Kedar penned two versions (here and here) of an incisive and insightful, but deeply disturbing article.

In it, he warned that the petty, vindictive personal and partisan agendas of Israeli politicians have brought the Jewish state to the brink of disaster. He writes: “The political struggle in Israel has reached a deadlock because the actors are focused not on issues and ideology but on personal, sectorial, factional and party-based considerations. National interests have been relegated to the margins of political discourse.”

Kedar, an acknowledged expert in the study of Islam, with years of experience in both academia and military intelligence, makes a cogent case for his caveat that by letting the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliate, the Islamist Ra’am faction, into its mainstream body politic, Israel was setting out along the same perilous path that Lebanon took when it allowed the Iranian-affiliated Hezbollah into its mainstream politics.

He ascribes the roots of the Lebanese tragedy to “the choice by politicians … to subordinate the national interest to personal and sectorial interests. They sacrificed the country on the altar of their own careers by delegitimizing opponents.”

Sadly, I find myself compelled to concur in large measure with Kedar’s ominous prognosis, for similar patterns of behavior are emerging in Israel.

Indeed, as time passes, the abysmal truth is coming into ever-sharper focus.
The entity that governs Israel today is nothing more than a toxic brew of unbridled personal ambition and ideological nihilism; puerile pique and devious duplicity. Nothing more. It is, by its very nature, wracked by impossible internal contradictions—incapable of generating any common vision towards which it can guide the nation.

Shattering all credence in campaign promises

The newly formed hodgepodge of a Bibi-phobic governing coalition, ostensibly led by Naftali Bennett, has been in power for a little more than five months. Yet, it will take a long time—probably decades—to repair the appalling damage that it has already wrought on the fabric of the body politic of the country and on the essence of the Zionist endeavor itself—if such repair is even feasible. Ever.

Regrettably, it would be no exaggeration to state that the current coalition has shattered any credence that the Israeli public can place in campaign promises of candidates during elections.
Significantly, this goes way beyond any healthy skepticism with which voters should treat the usual gamut of pre-election pledges, routinely peddled by candidates, to implement various aspects of their respective party platforms, and on which —due to political constraints—they eventually prove unable to fulfill.

For in the case of Bennett’s accession to the post of prime minister, the deceit and the duplicity far exceed the regular shenanigans that have come to characterize the conduct of politics in recent decades. After all, it was not that Bennett, once ensconced in a post-election government, ultimately failed to advance his platform as he pledged to do during the 2021-election campaign.

Rather, it was that he reneged on explicit commitments that he repeatedly and resolutely undertook, joining up with his ideological adversaries, whom he vowed to shun, in order to establish—indeed, spearhead—a government that he vowed to foil.

Thus, it was not that he failed to fulfill promises ex-post (i.e. once in government). Rather, it was that he discarded promises ex-ante, in order to facilitate a government in which the overwhelming majority of the component factions had very different (some, even antithetical) ideopolitical positions to those on which he ran during the elections.

Fake, fabricated and fraudulent

Indeed, so fundamental was this deception that it involved Bennet jettisoning—or at least suspending—virtually his entire ideological frame of reference, and whose advancement was the very thing for which he elicited voter support in the election, so that he could participate in precisely the government he vowed not to.

Thus, in a pre-election press release (March 6, 2021), Bennett’s party pledged: “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.”

Elsewhere, Bennett himself vowed: “I won’t let [Yair] Lapid become prime minister, with or without a rotation, because I’m a man of the right, and for me values are important.”

Just to eliminate any possible doubt, he reiterated: “Never, and under no circumstances, will I ever lend a hand to the establishment of a government led by … Lapid, not in a rotation or any other way.”

Likewise, mere days before the March 23 elections, during a prime-time television interview, Bennett, expressing his alleged sensitivity for the democratic process, proclaimed, unequivocally: “I won’t be a prime minister with 10 mandates. That’s not democratic.”

Of course, Bennett showed little compunction or conscience in extorting the post of prime minister with barely half that number—unless, of course, he is so arithmetically challenged that he genuinely believes that six is significantly more than 10.

Cratering support

Unsurprisingly, then, a poll conducted shortly after the elections found that more than half of Yamina voters would not have voted for the party if they had known that Bennett would act in the way that he did—which would have left it below the minimum threshold for Knesset admission. Moreover, the poll found that a majority of Yamina voters felt that the deal Bennett spun, together with Lapid, constitutes a violation of the trust given him at the ballot box.

Nor has Bennett’s performance since then—or that of his coalition—instilled greater public confidence in either.

According to a poll this month, the combined right-wing elements in the present government (Bennett’s Yamina and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope) comprise a mere six seats—less than half the number that they won in the March elections—and barely 5 percent of the total number of seats in the Knesset. Even if we add the four seats that the poll assigns Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, the overall number of seats won by coalition factions, usually considered to be “right of center,” amounts to 10—roughly half the Knesset seats that they have at present.

Significantly, very similar findings emerged from an earlier poll, conducted last month, in which a Netanyahu-led Likud mustered mandates in the mid-30s, while the Bennett-Sa’ar-Lieberman trio’s tally was once again a paltry total of 10.

This shows a dramatic cratering of public support for the allegedly right-of-center parties that preferred to shun their own long-standing pledges and throw their lot in with those whose political credos are antithetical to the ones that they profess to hold.

“There can be no allegiance to Israel …”

Arguably, one of the most disconcerting elements of the Bennett-led coalition is that, in effect, it left the fate of a purportedly Zionist coalition totally dependent on the whims of a blatantly anti-Zionist party, openly committed to a doctrine of stripping Israel of its status as the nation state of the Jewish people.

Indeed, the 80-page Ra’am charter quickly dispels any doubt that may linger on this matter, and how utterly discordant it is with the professed belief system of Yamina and of the constituency it purports to represent. It asserts: “The State of Israel was born of the racist, occupying Zionist project; iniquitous Western and British imperialism; and the debasement and feebleness of the Arab and Islamic [nations]. We do not absolve ourselves, the Palestinian people, of our responsibility and our failure to confront this project.”

In similar vein, it proclaims: “There can be no allegiance to [Israel], nor any identification with its Zionist, racist, occupier thought, nor any acceptance of any of the various forms of ‘Israelification,’ which would shed us of our identity and particularity and rights.”

The left-leaning Israel Democracy Institute gives the following synopsis of Ra’am’s political credo: “Ra’am supports the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, with an end of the occupation and dismantling of the settlements. It also seeks the release of Palestinian prisoners and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The party advocates the recognition of Israeli Arabs as a national minority and seeks to ensure their rights in a constitution.”

Mortgaging Zionism to anti-Zionists

This, then, is a snapshot of the political faction to which Bennett has mortgaged the fate of the current government, charged with safeguarding and developing the Jewish state and the Zionist endeavor—which Abbas and his anti-Zionist cronies are committed to impeding and eliminating!

Of course, in order to cobble together this bizarre—almost Kafkaesque—political potpourri, Bennett (and his co-conspirator, Lapid) was compelled to confer far-reaching benefits on the anti-Zionist, Islamist co-participants to ensure their continued maintenance of a bizarre kaleidoscopic coalition.

Accordingly, Ra’am secured an agreement for the allocation of more than 53 billion shekels ($16 billion) for development and to curb the soaring violent crime in the Arab sector—including a half-a-billion-shekel slush fund for “discretionary” spending over five years.

One can only imagine the uproar had it been a Jewish Ultra-Orthodox party that managed to extort such an inordinate sum to advance the needs of its constituents and to further its political objectives, in exchange for support of/participation in a coalition.

But financial bonanzas were not the only benefits that Bennett’s newly found anti-Zionist BFFs were awarded. Indeed, the non-financial concessions to Ra’am are more directly detrimental to Zionist endeavor than the lavish funding of the anti-Zionists in the coalition.

For these clearly contribute to cementing the pervasive illegal Bedouin presence in the expanses of the Negev in southern Israel, a stronghold for Islamist support. Thus, the agreement provides for Israel (a) immediately recognizing three unauthorized Bedouin villages in the southern Negev desert; (b) extending the freeze already placed by the outgoing government on the demolition of illegal housing in the Arab community by three years (Clause 18); and (c) presenting within nine months a proposal to legalize all[!!] unlawful Bedouin villages (Clause 19).

Devastating and durable damage

The crucial point to grasp about the devastating damage wrought by Bennett and his fickle Bibi-phobic cronies is that it will not be remedied by any later feats of governance. Not only have they empowered political adversaries, whom they assured their voters that they would not, they gravely—hopefully, not irreparably—impaired at least two seminal pillars of Israeli democracy.

Firstly, they have sent an unambiguously clear signal that voters cannot give any credence to pre-election pledges, no matter how apparently passionate and resolute they appear, even when they involve the allegedly core ideology of a candidate. By perpetrating this, they have effectively emptied elections—and the entire democratic process—of any significance; have given the stamp of approval to unadulterated deceit; and have endorsed fraudulent duplicity.

Secondly, they have legitimized political parties that repudiate the principle upon which Israel was founded as the nation state of the Jewish people and normalized their political agenda of de-Judaizing Israel.

History has given the Jewish people the rare—arguably, unique—opportunity of reestablishing its national sovereignty after being stripped of it for two millennia. Bennett and his crony cohorts, Sa’ar and Lieberman, are on the cusp of squandering it.

After all the effort and sacrifice invested in the reemergence of a Jewish nation state, it is difficult to conceive of a greater tragedy.

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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