By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The birth of the new government of Israel was slow and painful. The result is anything but a strong and healthy baby. Its razor-thin majority (61 out of 120 Knesset seats) is divided between five coalition parties. By all accounts, most of the major protagonists can’t stand each other and no doubt harbour grudges after lengthy and acrimonious negotiations, particularly between Netanyahu’s Likud and Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi. Perhaps the two dislike each other because they’re so similar.
Within Likud itself, we hear of dissatisfaction, because too much had to be given away to the small coalition parties to leave enough for their own Knesset members.
But the government may nevertheless last for a long time, perhaps even its full term, because no party in the coalition wants another election, probably fearing that each would lose badly if the electorate were given a second chance.
And the official opposition is too diffuse to constitute a viable alternative. For example, it consists of both the United Arab list and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu with the latter’s frequent covert and overt attacks on Israel’s Arabs. It’s difficult to imagine that the two will ever vote together or even talk to each other.
That’s behind the rumours that as soon as this government has been formed, fresh attempts will be made to entice Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union to join it. (His co-leader Tzipi Livni seems to have vanished from the headlines.) Now when Lieberman has gone into the opposition and is no longer foreign minister, Netanyahu is said to keep the portfolio for himself in order to make it available to Herzog should the latter join the government at some later stage. (If that happens, other important ministerial jobs will have to be ceded which means that those who got them will fight tooth and nail against an expanded coalition.)
Apart from the division of offices and the perks that go with them, there’s the larger issue of how much Netanyahu had to give away to make Habayit Hayehudi and the two ultra-Orthodox parties join his team. It seems that some Likud members feel that their leader has sacrificed them to make sure that he stays prime minister.
Habayit Hayehudi ministers will provide more resources for the settlers and do their best to restrict the freedom of the judiciary (unless the most credible of the coalition parties – Kahlon’s Kulanu – will exercise its veto to retain the freedom of judges). The fact that Ayelet Shaked, a passionate advocate for restricting judicial independence, will be the new minister of justice is bad news.
Bennett as minister of education will no doubt also tamper with school curricula in favour of more radical nationalism (“patriotism”) on the curriculum.
The ultra-Orthodox will, as expected, grab money for their institutions and make sure that their schools won’t teach the core curriculum. This will mean that the graduates will be unfit for gainful employment or army service and remain – together will their many children – on the welfare books of the state claiming to secure the future of the Jewish people by studying God’s will as articulated by their teachers in their yeshivot.
Moshe Kahlon remains the hope of this government. If he succeeds in making life easier for the have-nots and to keep the judiciary intact, he’ll earn the respect of the electorate and may lead the country into a more stable future.