Save the Bennett government! | The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com | David Weinberg | 9 Nisan 5782 – 10 April 2022


Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

(LR) Gantz, Lapid, Bennett, Sa’ar, Michaeli during the defeat of the family reunification law, July 6, 2021.

Likud, religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox (haredi) politicians are telling the public that the Bennett-Lapid government has been a disaster, a disaster of historic and unforgivable proportions. They rejoice at his apparent downfall.

I do not share this point of view at all. I have the impression that the Bennett-Lapid government has fulfilled the desire of many Israelis to have a leadership that is neither radical left nor radical right, neither anti-religious nor obnoxiously religious-coercive, neither weak nor fierce . And he has real accomplishments.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s scorecard is respectable. His complicated and bifurcated government passed a responsible budget for the first time in four years. The budget deregulated important sectors of the economy, while investing in health, education and defense without significantly raising taxes.

The nascent restructuring of the kashrut and conversion systems by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, and the government’s proposed changes to the military bill regarding haredi yeshiva students, were for the good of the religious bureaucracy in the country. State as well as for the healthy future of Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy in this country.

I’m hopeful that some of Kahana’s tweaks will stick and that the principles they’re based on (transparency, competition, moderation) will prevail in the long run even if Kahana doesn’t get a chance to fully implement them.

And in that regard, who wants a revival of the Netanyahu-haredi governments of the past decade? Who wants another Netanyahu government anchored by cantankerous Haredi politicians who will seek to roll back all of Kahana’s necessary religious and state adjustments? Who wants to see another group of narrow-minded haredi chief rabbis elected in 2023? I do not know.

And who wants more corona lockdowns, which was Netanyahu’s brutal way of handling the virus crisis. This cost the government billions of shekels in alimony payments and lost tax revenue, and led to a new crisis between the general public and the Haredi and Arab sectors (which defied the lockdown and undermined its effectiveness). Bennett wisely took another approach, keeping the economy and schools open despite the difficult fourth wave of the pandemic.

The Bennett-Lapid government has also demonstrated that there is life for Israel in the diplomatic arena after Benjamin Netanyahu. Foreign and defense policy Doomsday did not descend on Israel after Netanyahu’s departure from Balfour – as Netanyahu and his supporters have strongly warned.

Of course, it was foreseeable that Israel’s enemies would act to test its new leadership and upset the momentum of the Abraham Accords, which explains the current wave of Palestinian terrorism.

But Bennett demonstrated principled continuity in Israeli foreign and defense policy. Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz moved quickly to put themselves in Netanyahu’s shoes and maintain diplomatic momentum, while improving Israel’s ties with Jordan, Egypt and the United States.

Neither Bennett nor Lapid has Netanyahu’s finesse and gravity on the world stage. But the leaders of the current government have not embarrassed anyone. Bennett, in particular, has at times been eloquent, unashamedly proud of his right-wing and religious roots, and both polite and provocative in appropriate measures and contexts.

Bennett also revived a discourse of respect and appreciation in Israel-Diaspora relations, without renouncing his right-wing and religious principles.

As for Likud’s delegitimizing slogans against the government – mainly that it relied on anti-Zionist Islamists Ra’am (Joint List), meaning Bennett has no right to be prime minister – eh well, it was also poppycock.

It was Netanyahu who first proposed bringing Ra’am into the government as a coalition partner of Likud. If Bennett managed to reach the prime minister’s office with Raam as a responsible partner (yes, Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas acted and spoke responsibly!), and with only six seats for his own party in parliament while Netanyahu couldn’t do it even if he held 30 seats – so perhaps Bennett should be credited with superior political magic, not chicanery.

Above all, the Bennett-Lapid government brought stability and common sense to Israeli politics for a decent period.

There have been far fewer vituperations between government ministers despite the deep ideological chasms, say, between Ra’am and Yamina, or Meretz and Yamina. Hardly anyone called the settlers “criminals”, the Haredi Jews “parasites”, the right-wing “fascists” and the left-wing “traitors”. Even Avigdor Lieberman has mostly mastered his demagoguery.

REALLY, creating a climate of relative domestic political calm has perhaps been this government’s greatest contribution. The coalition may have been an incongruous creation resulting from a case of force majeure. But reining in Israel’s raging political fevers after 32 months of furious campaigning was a good thing.

And Israel needs it more. Israeli politics needs more healing time. He still needs restraints to his political passions, which have gone wildly out of whack.

A September 2022 election that will be bitter and vitriolic and yet will most likely lead to another political stalemate – is the last thing Israel needs.

And so, it’s truly tragic to see this government fall apart because of a wanton, superfluous, stupid spat between Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Coalition Whip Idit Silman over chametz at Passover in Israeli hospitals.

This is the question that Horowitz and Silman each decided to fall to their swords on? To prove to their home bases that they were respectively sufficiently anti-religious, or defiantly national religious? It’s incredibly silly!

Of course, question marks hang over this government’s performance in the fight against Iran and the hostile Palestinians. It remains unclear whether Bennett was prepared to act in defiance of American and world opinion and actively sabotage the impending sale of Western nuclear power to the Iranians.

Bennett made it clear that the decrepit government of Mahmoud Abbas is no peace partner for Israel, and therefore a two-state diplomatic scenario is pending. But his government has failed to act to preserve what remains of Israel’s de facto sovereign control in Area C of Judea and Samaria. It has not dismantled illegal Bedouin and Palestinian settlements that deliberately encroach on strategic roads, nor has it reinforced Israeli settlement in the Jerusalem envelope and other critical/consensual areas.

As world leaders like to say, “the status quo is unsustainable” – in the sense that Israel must advance its interests in Judea and Samaria and not just repel Palestinian assaults in the territories and international institutions.

Nonetheless, I think the Bennett-Lapid government (or at least the rest of Bennett’s intended tenure) is worth saving, one way or another. I don’t easily see the political constellation in which the government can survive another year, but I would be happy if it worked out, again one way or another.

And in the final analysis, I will admit that I was very happy to see a prime minister of Israel wearing a yarmulke – Israel’s first openly religious/Orthodox head of government.

During his meeting with President Biden, Bennett quoted Isaiah 49:18 about the sons and daughters of the Jewish people returning to rebuild their ancient, native homeland. At the UN, Bennett spoke of “bringing the heritage of the Torah to life in modern Israel”, and quoted a pithy Jewish saying (attributed to Rabbeinu Bachya and former Lubavitcher rabbis) that “a little of light dispels a lot of darkness”.

I think that’s what the Bennett government has done so far: bring some light to Israel.

*Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Jewish Press Online

{Reposted from author site}

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