In his maiden speech on Saturday evening, Israel’s newly instated interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, performed very well. His delivery was good and whoever wrote the address deserves kudos for its content and tone. The trouble was the circumstances, which rendered the whole thing moot.
The occasion for the Yesh Atid leader’s suddenly slipping into the role of the country’s 14th premier was the dissolution of the disastrous government that he and now-former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had forged just over a year ago, when a fourth impasse threatened yet another round of Knesset elections.
According to the rotation agreement between Bennett and Lapid, the latter was to have taken the reins in September 2023, serving until then as foreign minister. But the unviable coalition, made up of too many small and disparate parties, was unable to sustain itself. Its inevitable implosion last week was the upshot.
To be fair to those who had begun to believe that the constellation would last for a full four years, the need for each party leader to hang on for dear life—lest he or she be punished by constituents for sacrificing ideology on behalf of a portfolio—made it appear for a time that nothing was going to melt the glue. Indeed, those who predicted its immediate demise turned out to be wrong.
Yet, as became apparent with each passing day, fear of disintegration was just as much a weakness of the Bennett-Lapid government as it was its impetus for longevity. The players involved should have realized that the solution to the problem of the repeated electoral deadlock could not be the very thing that caused it: a shared aversion to former prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.
In this case, the adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” only worked when it came to establishing the coalition. Once the deal was sealed, old and new rivalries among factions resurfaced. The rest is recent history.
Lapid’s record, too, is current. His status as the incumbent could thus end up being more of a burden than a blessing when Israelis cast their ballots on Nov. 1. Though the “anybody but Bibi” voice still reverberates in the pages of newspapers and halls of the Knesset, Netanyahu has a loyal base.
Detractors on the right continue to insist that if he would simply step down, members of the public with Likud-aligned politics who spurned the party due to a rejection of Bibi would be able to return to their natural home. Opponents on the left claim that if he had quit in the first place, this whole business of repeated rounds of elections would not have been necessary.
It’s both difficult to know and doubtful whether this assessment is correct. On one hand, Bibi has been a landslide victor in primaries. On the other, Likud with him as chairman still garners a far greater number of mandates than any other party. This is in spite of his criminal trial, which has been crumbling as fast as the coalition.
But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Netanyahu is the disease and his exit is the cure. This still leaves the voter with two blocs from which to choose: one headed by Yesh Atid and the other by Likud. When viewed as a contest between left and right, the left loses. When divided along “pro-Bibi, anti-Bibi” lines, it’s less pronounced.
Nevertheless, the latest Ma’ariv survey indicates that if Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who replaced Bennett as head of Yamina, joins Netanyahu, he will be able to form the next government. The same poll shows the far-left Meretz Party—which had a prominent place in the Bennett government—disappearing from the Knesset.
Polls aside, there is an inescapable rightward bent. And the public has seen what happens when right-wing politicians tie themselves in left-wing knots in order to be in a Bibi-free coalition.
This brings us back to Lapid. Always described as a “centrist,” he is now officially the leader of the left-wing bloc. His only recourse to balance this out would be to ally himself with the haredi parties.
The leaders of those parties have informed Netanyahu that if the upcoming election results in the same impasse, they will no longer consider themselves bound to him. They feel that they paid too high a price in power and budgets to remain on the back benches.
Lapid would anger his supporters by doing this, since one key draw for them was his anti-haredi stance. The same goes for Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, whose loathing for Netanyahu is only surpassed by his hatred of the haredim.
Israelis must not be under any illusions. Lapid, like U.S. President Joe Biden whom he so admires, is the man crowned as a “moderate” to appeal to voters who do not hold with far-left positions.
He is also a firm believer in the nonsense that Netanyahu is responsible for the rift in America between Republicans and Democrats over the issue of Israel. What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that it’s Republicans, not Democrats, who will overwhelmingly stand by him during his tenure, however long it is.
“To everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Don’t test us. Israel knows how to use its strength against every threat, against every enemy,” he announced in his address to the nation that doubled as the kick-off to his election campaign.
When put to such a “test,” the Biden administration will fail. As it has during previous Israeli battles against Hamas, it will urge “restraint” and warn against “disproportionate force.”
Nor should Lapid forget that this crew in Washington is trying to mar the beauty of the Abraham Accords, which belie the false assumption that the path to peace in the Middle East passes through the Palestinians.
Then there’s Iran. Lapid may be glad that Israel’s moves on and inside Tehran haven’t aroused the ire of his counterparts in D.C. But while he’s flexing his muscles at the Islamic Republic, his buddies in Biden’s circle are still begging the regime of the ayatollahs to accept a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal from which former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.
As if this weren’t bad enough, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, following consultations with Attorney General Merrick Garland, have decided that aspects of the Immigration and Nationality Act will no longer apply to individuals who have either “provided insignificant material support or limited materiel support … to a designated terrorist organization.”
According to Mayorkas’s and Blinken’s June 23 notice about this travesty, the entry ban will be lifted for those who provide evidence that they didn’t really abet a terrorist organization in any direct way. In case there’s any confusion here, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a “designated terrorist organization.” It’s the one that Iran is trying to get Team Biden to remove from the blacklist.
This insanity didn’t enter into Lapid’s speech, of course. What did was the assertion that “most Israelis agree on the ‘truly important topics.’”
Ironically, the Israelis to whom he was referring are to the right of his party, and the left won’t tolerate any pandering to them. If he runs on the “unity” ticket, he’ll be in the same bind as the fallen Bennett government.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”