So you want to crash the Bennett-Lapid-Ra’am Coalition…..be Careful!
What is behind the growing pressure on Yamina and the party’s remaining loyal members to get behind calls to bring down the coalition?
Who is afraid of Ra’am?
Israel is at a crucial juncture right now. When the current coalition was sworn in so many Israelis across the political spectrum had hopes for change. For the first time in a long time, those on the right were talking with those on the left and hoping for the success of the same government. Of course, there were many on the right, Likud supporters, the Haredim, Religious Zionism voters and even some (many?) who voted Yamina were horrified that an Arab party was in the coalition for the first time.
I was not horrified. I was skeptical but curious. I thought it might be able to work.
I watched the government closely.
I rejoiced in the atmosphere of calm that prevailed. There was no more hate in the air. I could once more hold political discussions with leftwing friends without someone getting enraged, you know — how it used to be in this country, when it was just understood that we all cared about the country even if we had different opinions about how to run things. Israelis used to be able to argue quite loudly and still be friends. That was something that disappeared over the past decade or two. And suddenly, it was back again. The underlying assumption that we all love the country but want it to be run very differently from each other. The underlying assumption of love of the country was back.
It was also calming to have a budget after so long and to see money put toward military spending and other essentials for running our lives. You may object to the large sum devoted to Bedouin development in the Negev and to legalization of illegal Bedouin construction but the chaos in the Negev was inherited from previous neglectful governments.
And it appears that the ministers were working at their jobs. They all took their jobs seriously. Matan Kahana, for example, has been making strides toward democratising religious institutionalization and taking the controls away from the Haredim and back to the people. And Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin succeeded in one of their major goals:
Israel’s government has approved 13 new communities in the southern Negev region, where the spread of unregulated Bedouin encampments has grown to such dimensions that some Israelis call it a national security threat. The government hopes that the new towns, approved over the last few months, will check illegal Bedouin squatting and strengthen Israeli sovereignty in the region.
The government is serious about bringing law and order to the Arab sector: rounding up illegal weapons and arresting crime bosses. So far 70% of those identified by the police are either already indicted or in prison awaiting trial; in other words, they are off the streets. The level of crime made life unbearable for Arab citizens in their own neighbourhoods and, according to the Jerusalem Post, that is beginning to change:
We are identifying a blessed change at street level in the Arab population’s attitude toward the police in general, and to the understanding that the operation comes from the Israel Police’s desire to serve the Arab-Israeli public.
I believe that this was moving forward only because Ra’am was in the coalition. I am not sure that a purely Jewish government would have been able to accomplish this as they have not been able to in the past. I don’t know if the former governments even dared try.
The Biggest Threat
There are chinks in the armour, of course. I hate that Defence Minister Benny Gantz is so heavy-handed with Jews in Judea-Samaria and so negligent when it comes to the Arabs. He avoids dealing with the massive illegal construction and agricultural activity on the part of the Palestinian Arabs who are stealing land in Area C, but he insists on the letter of the law with Jews. He is willing to legalize illegal Arab building that is carried out with the sole purpose of choking off Jewish settlements but is not willing to legalize the unrecognized Jewish communities that were built with government under-the-radar-approval over the years.
Except for Gantz, I was mostly okay with the government. And I said as much to friends who disagreed with me — most vociferously disagreed with me. The hate that had been hanging in the air for the last decade was back — and this time it is expressed by friends who want the coalition to fail — the hate and rage are not directed toward me, but toward Bennett and Yamina.
A Rude Awakening
Then came the violence on the Temple Mount. I saw Mansour Abbas trying to keep things together, working out a solution whereby Ra’am would freeze their parliamentary activity for two weeks in response to no longer seeing the Israeli police “breach the compound” in their words and arrest violent Arabs from inside the mosque. This is a convenient way to keep the quiet and stay the hands of his colleagues in the party that want to bring the coalition down: in other words, Ra’am is not “really” a member of the coalition for the period during which Israel’s security forces need to be able to control the violence at the Temple Mount. Therefore, we should no longer hear their repeated threats to bolt the coalition the next time police “breach” the site to arrest those who construct barriers in the path taken by Jewish visitors to the Mount and amass rocks to throw at Jews praying at the Wailing Wall.
I could accept that as a way for Abbas to manage his untenable position caught between his goal of improving life for Israeli Arab citizens and the need for him not to be seen to be abandoning Palestinian honour. I just wish he was braver and willing to point the finger at those who were piling rocks and other ammunition in the mosque, telling them that if they are going to prepare for war they must bear the consequences.
He did not say that and Israel got blamed . . . again.
Okay. I let that pass, hoping that the next two weeks would pass relatively quietly for the coalition. And all day I was playing in my head with thoughts about a possible article describing why I hope this coalition lasts the term.
And then….and then…I read that Bennett capitulated and closed the Temple Mount for Jews until the end of Ramadan in exchange for Ra’am not leaving the government.
That did it!
This government has no legitimacy if an Arab party can hold it ransom. I felt almost sick to my stomach. Not rage, not hate — despair.
But someone threw out the term — fake news. What? Is it not true? Did Bennett not close the Temple Mount to Jews? Nope. It’s true. He did. So what is fake, then? A Google search showed me. On 13 May 2019, Haaretz published an article with the title: “Israel to Close Temple Mount for Jews on Jerusalem Day for First Time in 30 Years” in which they wrote:
The police have closed the Mount — the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam — to Jews every year for the last 10 days of Ramadan, which this year coincides with Jerusalem Day. The last year Jews were barred from the site on Jerusalem Day was 1988.
“Every year, the Temple Mount is closed to visits during the final days of the month of Ramadan for reasons of public safety and security and public order,” the police told the group Students for the Temple Mount.
This was under Bibi’s watch. And last year it was closed to Jews for 19 days. Bibi enforced the closures for the very same reason as Bennett is doing this year — to prevent clashes between violent Arabs and Israeli police. For international public consumption? Perhaps. Do I agree with this? No. But this is not Bennett being held ransom by Ra’am — it is maintenance of the status quo. Ra’am got nothing from Bennett that was not already traditionally in place.
The only way to understand the situation, then, is that Bibi is pulling the strings behind the scenes in the artistic way only master politician Bibi knows how to do. I believe he is orchestrating the collapse of the current coalition.
What about thinking outside the box?
We have a problem. But the solution is not what upset rightwingers are demanding — the solution is not having the government fall and sending us back to interminable elections. I have not seen anyone who is clamouring for the coalition to break down present a plan for what follows that. It is so easy to break things apart but there needs to be an alternative already worked out before doing that.
Unfortunately, we are all so used to political leaders politicking. We have forgotten that politicians are also people who know how to problem-solve when motivated to do so. We also know that Israelis come together when faced with war and fight shoulder-to-shoulder with political opponents.
So let us put together these two things we know.
We are still at war.
The war is more psychological now than physical but without resolving the psycho-social aspects that keep us from working together it may turn physical. We know that too. We all see Gaza and we all saw what happened last May. Do we need more warning that if we do not get our government house together we will suffer dire consequences?
The only solution now is for each and every elected representative to ask what needs to be done and to be willing to do it. Given that the great majority of the population is on the right, that means that the majority of MKs are on the right side of the aisle. If the rightwing party members can set their egos aside and fight shoulder-to-shoulder against hate and against the existential threats that still lurk under the surface, they can overcome the forces that threaten to bring us down. But they need to be with the government to do that.
In other words, I am asking each and every individual MK to look within and make a personal decision: am I here to serve the public or am I here to serve Bibi?
Let those who answer the first part in the affirmative put themselves on the line, quit the opposition and join the coalition, not asking for cabinet posts and private drivers but voting with the coalition in matters of import. That will dilute the threat people see in Ra’am and it will allow Ra’am to stay in the government and actually complete the important work of bringing the Arab sector out from under crime bosses. Without Ra’am in the government it won’t happen. And I do not accept the argument that having Ra’am in the government is taking us down a slippery slope away from the Jewish nation to a nation of all its citizens. That is hysteria talking.
With individual MKs voting with the government when they agree with the legislature on the table there is a chance of diluting the destructive forces in Judea-Samaria Gantz has unleashed upon us. (I wish we could freeze Gantz, by the way.)
It may dilute the potential serious problems for the right when Lapid’s rotation comes about.
Doing this will be a sign of country over politics — using politics for the common good rather for personal good (Bibi’s good, that is).
And we, the people?
We need this coalition. I do believe that. And we need an opposition that supports the government in important issue that they would have voted for had they been in the government themselves. You did notice they were voting, not on the issues, but on how to embarrass Bennett, right?
Let us start demanding that our elected representatives put their shoulders to the wheel rather than clamouring for Bennett to fall on his face. Not because Bennett deserves it but because WE deserve it. Get over the fact that you think he stole the election by becoming prime minister with only seven seats that became six overnight. Let us get through the next three years with ministers who are working at their jobs and then decide next time who we will vote for.