By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Voters in the United States know that they can replace their president after four years and must replace the incumbent after eight. Though the current circus in the Republican Party doesn’t show up American politics at its best, at least we know that the United States will soon have a new president and hope that it won’t be one of the clowns, despite their alleged popularity and notwithstanding their professed love of Israel.
Like in many other countries, including Canada, there’s no time limit for Israel’s prime minister. This means that one of the aims of Binyamin Netanyahu seems to be to stay in office as long as possible. As there’s no one party that has the majority of Knesset seats, Israeli governments are always coalitions. This requires great manipulative skills on the part of the person at the helm because the authority of office isn’t sufficient to handle a cabinet the members of which have their own, often very different, agendas.
National interests invariably come second to party or even personal interests. When the government’s majority is as thin as it is now, the horse trading becomes particularly ugly. No wonder that prime ministers have been tempted to create emergencies that will persuade opposition parties to join governments of “national unity.”
Binyamin Netanyahu is said to have tried hard to create such a government by perhaps manufacturing emergencies in order to woo the leader of the largest opposition party, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union, to join him. Herzog wouldn’t agree, perhaps because he knows that this would render him totally irrelevant.
Not that Herzog is that a vociferous voice in the opposition. He seems to be too nice a man and too much of a patriot to blast the prime minister at every opportunity. That role has been taken over by leaders of two smaller parties both having been members of the previous Netanyahu government. Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, was a less than brilliant minister of finance and Avigdor Lieberman, whose party is Yisrel Beiteinu, was an embarrassing foreign minister. Being out now, the two attack Netanyahu at every opportunity, though one suspects that they’d join his government if they could replace others, notably the ultra-Orthodox.
By all accounts there’s also much rivalry within Netanyahu’s Likud party, but so far he has managed to keep contenders at bay. The liberals within his own party have been sent into the wilderness and one radical all the way to the United Nations. Rivals may be waiting in the wings, by all accounts with little prospect of early success.
Much of the pickle in which Israel seems to find itself now may be best understood in the context of its prime minister’s determination to stay in power at all cost, even if it means bruising relations with the United States, Israel’s most important ally, provoking Palestinian militants to engage in resistance and perhaps even inspiring Jewish extremists to prepare for the Messiah by eliminating those deemed to be the redeemer’s enemies such as non-Jews, gays and lesbians, social democrats, etc.
Israel is, as it always has been, a fascinating place and arguably the best place for Jews. That’s why some of us who deem it a privilege to live here are so deeply distressed that the first 100 days of the current government have probably been worse than many previous ones. In the words of a headline in Sunday’s The Marker, the business section of Ha’aretz, this government is on a flight to nowhere.