Bennett and the Dream: A Letter to Bennett Detractors
There are promises and there are other promises.
You point out, with rage, all the promises Bennett made that he is not keeping. These include electoral promises not to sit with Meretz or an Arab party in the government and not to cooperate with Lapid, and items on the Yamina Party platform, such as to apply Israeli civil law in Judea-Samaria, and more. This is true. He made these promises.
But after the election results were in, it was clear that Yamina did not win enough seats to have any hope of carrying out all that he promised. The electorate just did not give him the power to do so. As usual, the right, that is the majority of the electorate, divided their votes among the variety of rightwing parties, making a coalition necessary. That is just how it is in Israel.
I do not have access to the workings of Bennett’s mind to know how he originally intended to behave upon hearing that Yamina only got seven seats. I believe that he saw no other option than accepting the results and gearing up for a fifth election cycle if coalition negotiations would follow the same path to nothingness that we saw in the first four cycles. That would have been the easy thing to do.
And then the unexpected happened. It is not clear how the idea came about to form a coalition that would put Bennett and Lapid at the head of a rotating prime ministership and include unlikely partners such as Meretz and Ra’am in a sliver-thin majority that would make passing legislation a major feat each and every time. He obviously broke election promises as soon as he entered negotiations for the coalition that led to him become prime minister in the first rotation.
I can understand the sense of betrayal you experienced at the first whiff of this coalition. But if you would stop and think for a moment, you might realize that while you rant about how he betrayed those who voted for him, you ignore the one promise, perhaps the most important one for this particular moment in time, the one promise that he did keep. This was repeated in several news reports following the swearing in of the most unique and surprising coalition government in Israel’s history. Naftali Bennett said:
The core promise in this election was to get Israel out of the chaos.
The core promise was to avoid going to a fifth election. . . and a sixth and seventh. . .
Bennett told the nation that the coalition partners have agreed to put aside attention to their very different ideological positions and get down to the nitty gritty work of bringing order to the chaos that ensued from indecisive election cycles and neglect of certain issues for over a decade: get a budget, get control over crime in the Arab sector, work toward freeing the courts from political activism, break the Haredi monopoly over religious infrastructures, and more.
Of course, Bennett could only control his own fidelity to the coalition agreement pertaining to ideological aspects; he could not force other ministers into compliance in overcoming their biases and working from a position of ideological neutrality. Seeing evidence of the latter is what has you up in arms against Bennett but I guess I need to remind you of two things: first, that you did not give Yamina the number of seats that would have availed him of the power to exert more control over such things, and secondly, that the lashing out against Yamina began well before the coalition was even sworn in. I can only imagine how hard Bennett needs to work behind the scenes in order to temper the impact of some of his coalition partners.
At the same time, he is facing challenges to the stability of the coalition both from within and from without. Two of his own party members disengaged from the coalition supposedly over these same promises you are going on about, and Ra’am threatened to bring the government down over imagined slights to Palestinian sensitivities at Har HaBayit.
However, you may not remember that Yamina MKs have been under extreme intimidation from the time that coalition negotiations were taking place. The Jerusalem Post reported in May 2021 that:
Bennett told Yamina MKs on Wednesday night that their party was facing “a well-oiled machine of bullying and terror” from the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party, but would ignore it and would “do only what is good for the people of Israel.”
According to David Makovsky of the Washington Institute, that is still going on. In addition to public campaigns to smear Bennett, Yamina MKs and their families are subject to hideous bullying by elements working overtime at bringing down this government.
I wonder what electoral promises and platform items the Likud and Religious Zionist Party (RZP) are upholding in their incessant one-track obsession with sending us all back to the ballot box as soon as possible. Did they promise their voters that they would boycott Knesset committee sessions and vote against legislation they themselves initiated, or against laws that actually concur with their own ideological positions?
You rage at Bennett and accuse him of capitulating to Ra’am out of a self-aggrandising desire to stay in the PM’s office. You argue that he is damaging Israel. And when it is pointed out that he is not doing anything different regarding Har Habayit during Ramadan than has been done for decades (and for the same reason), and has even kept the Har open longer and with more Jewish visitors this year and Jews who prayed on the Mount, you say you had higher expectations of him because he shouted about this when HE was in the opposition. But did you give him the electoral power to do more?
You will retort, I am sure, with the argument, “Then he should not be in the coalition and he should certainly not be prime minister.” In other words, you say, if he cannot do all of what he promised he should do none of what he promised. Would it have been better, in your opinion, if had he had violated his promise to prevent a fifth election when he saw the possibility to actually do that, to get the country out of the electoral stagnation?
I think that Bennett’s attitude toward being PM given the near impossible conditions under which he is operating was summed up in his message to his kids when the coalition became a reality, and I paraphrase: “Be aware that your father is now going to be the most detested person in the country.” If you think about it, that is a funny thing to say to one’s kids and it may hint at a sense of foreboding to a degree, or perhaps wondering what he had got himself into. I never saw Bennett as a megalomaniac nor as someone who was looking for power for the sake of power. I think he handles the power with a sense of awe.
He also knew that by agreeing to take part in this coalition he was likely signing away any potential political future he may otherwise have had. That would make these two years all the more precious to him — he has two years to make some headway in the goals for which he entered politics in the first place.
I do not know the man personally. I have no close contact with him. I joined Bayit Yehudi (BY) when he and Shaked were at the head of the party and followed him to Yamin Hadash and Yamina when he left BY. There is one thing about which I have seen him remain absolutely consistent — and that is the desire for the different sections of our multidimensional social fabric to be woven together into a pleasing weave of contrasting and complementary colours and textures that works as a united whole rather than as an embattled confusion of opposing factions as we have seen growing among the Jews of Israel over the past decade. And that one uniting factor is love of Israel.
Can the Arabs become part of this weave? Time will tell. Having Ra’am in the coalition, yes, Ra’am! the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, a kin to Hamas, will either turn out to be the disaster many (most?) of you on the right believe it to be, or it will prove to have been the trigger for a historic new direction. Did Bennett have an Arab party in mind when he began working toward unity in Israeli society? I do not know.
In any case, he always had the goal of bringing Jews of all political and cultural orientations together. He said as much at the beginning of his interview with CNN’s Christina Amampour in which she needled him and tried to trip him up. Bennett said:
Our government is a unique experiment. It is the most diverse government in the history of Israel. Religious and secular together, right and left, Arabs and Jews, and it transcends Israel itself. It’s an experiment in fighting polarization and having decent people that have different views working together and I am convinced that the members of this government and the Israeli public, for that matter, want it to succeed, which is why I think it will succeed.
And again, at the Azoulai family Mimona celebration he attended in Shilat on 23 April, he said:
I would like to say here to the entire people of Israel – our people is the strongest in the world when we are together, when we are all together.
For a long time, the Mimouna holiday has not been a holiday only for those of Moroccan heritage. In our country there will not be a first Israel; neither will there be a second Israel. There will be one Israel, the entire people of Israel together. The entire people of Israel together will celebrate Mimouna and when the people of Israel are together – we will win.
This is the promise he vowed to uphold for as long as I know the man.
Electoral Promises Revisited
Yes, you bring up promises he made before the elections and you use tweets and videoclips of these promises to shame him for not doing what he promised to do. Did you give him the votes to give him the power to do what he really wants to do? No. You did not.
He cannot do it alone. He needs a coalition to be able to work on the promises he made. And, for that, he had to choose from among his many goals and decide which are achievable given the circumstances. If A, not B. He could not do A and B.
He decided to seek the common denominator needed to achieve essential short-term goals, leaving the important ideological battles for a time when the country will run more smoothly and when there will be reduced animousity among the various sectors of the population.
But go on, bitch and whine about Bennett. Ignore the big picture. Ignore what this coalition HAS accomplished while you are shouting and trying to stop a working government from clearing up the chaos.
Forget about the fact that you voted for an intelligent, principled man to make the best choices among the available options. You seem to have decided, instead, to listen to the cackling politicians who chose to be vindictive just when their voices were needed within the government or at least in support of legislation with which they actually agree. These petty politicians seem intent on taking us back into the muddy swamps of elections that get us nowhere and they have no qualms about bullying those who stand in their way. They apparently cannot understand someone truly seeing the bigger picture and being brave enough to live it.
In the meantime, this man, Naftali Bennett, does not toot his own horn but just goes about the business of being our prime minister. I imagine him waking up each morning and renewing his vow to get us beyond the petty politicking and onto the path this country needs to walk toward health. He has taken on a gargantuan task.
Remember, there are promises and there are other promises. Timing is key.
An edited version of this article appeared in Israel National News.