The new coalition and the Israeli political disruption – opinion | #socialmedia

 My social media feeds are filled with very mixed reactions to the announcement of Israel’s new coalition government.

“A dream,” said one Netanyahu critic who lives in Tel Aviv. More of a libertarian, his disgust for Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu reached its peak during the three lockdowns, which he saw as the ultimate suppression of individual rights.
“The one above is in charge,” wrote a religious-Zionist “settler” who lamented the formation of a government with a “Muslim Brotherhood” party, Ra’am (United Arab List). He thinks that Netanyahu, with all his faults, is the best leader to confront a new American administration that’s eager to strengthen Iran.

When I first heard the news, I actually had a good feeling about it. It was a disruption.

Who would have ever imagined that he country would have a very right-wing prime minister – who charmed the Right in 2013 with a platform promoting the annexation of the Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank – leading the nation with other right-wingers (Yamina, New Hope, Yisrael Beytenu), centrists (Yesh Atid, Blue and White), leftists (Labor, Meretz), and Arab Muslims (Ra’am). In the country’s parliamentary system, Ra’am was granted the role of kingmaker since no bloc could feasibly form a coalition without its support.

The historic unity government is a true unity government, unlike previous governments, which mostly connected the establishment Likud and Labor parties. Most, if not all, of these parties are anti-establishment parties when the establishment is a Netanyahu government made possible only with an alliance with the ultra-Orthodox. Netanyahu has governed for so long – more than 15 years total – that he now represents the elite, no matter if he is “right-wing,” or at least is a master of right-wing rhetoric.

Some of my hawkish Israeli friends have also realized that the price to pay for what appears to be a conservative foreign policy is too high. As part of his “right-wing” coalition, the ultra-Orthodox parties, often considered Bibi-puppets, exploit the state for financial benefits for their sector only. Too many of my friends have suffered from their coercive religious approach that makes it difficult for non-Jews to immigrate to Israel or for intra-religious and gay couples to be married legitimately in Israel. The coronavirus lockdowns, as well, have turned secular and traditional conservatives off to the ultra-Orthodox since the Netanyahu government largely ignored their massive lockdown infractions.

I doubt Yamina Leader Naftali Bennett would have agreed to the coalition had he not received the first two-year rotation as prime minister (with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to follow). But the fact that the former head of the Yesha Council, the main settler advocacy group, is set to be prime minister, to the great joy of the Left, comes to show how far Israel has come in its embrace of the “settlements” in Judea and Samaria. The settlers, once discredited as “obstacles to peace,” are no longer the pariahs of Israeli society (only to the European and American elite).

The withdrawal of Israel from Gaza in 2005, which Lapid passionately supported, has taught most of society, including the Left (now on Bennett’s life-support), that giving up territory only gives us rockets. While European governments still can’t stop discriminating against Jews who live in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank, Israelis are past that.

We want to live together. We don’t want to hate each other anymore, including Arabs. We don’t want to hate the ultra-Orthodox, either, but they have for too long sidelined the secular citizens. Now they must step aside and enjoy less government funding and power, which will hopefully be funneled to all sectors of society.

OF COURSE, the major wild card is Ra’am, representing the Arab citizenry, which accounts for about 20% of Israel’s population. While some Israeli Arabs dream of a “Judenrein” West Bank or no Israel at all, the fact that their political leaders have legitimized a “Zionist” government might foretell of a change within Arab society. Most Israelis hope that the anti-Jewish, Gaza-inspired Arab riots in Lod, Jaffa, and Acre weeks ago were led by misfits who did not represent the mainstream Arab population. But now Arabs cannot blame a society that excludes them.

I doubt Bennett and his partners believe Ra’am will all of a sudden renounce its support of the Palestinian cause and even the terrorism that comes with it. I agree with the critics: it’s troubling. But this is realpolitik. While Ra’am must be regarded with suspicion, I’m hopeful that its input will actually serve to moderate the extremist elements in the Arab sector. This might be a good example of keep your friends close, but your enemy closer.

But the population that is closest to me is the immigrant population. I moved to Israel in 1999 from the United States (although now living in self-exile in Germany), and it was always clear how much superior the day-to-day quality of life was abroad. While Israel is indeed a democracy that overall respects individual rights, and life there is extremely meaningful, its socialist roots and dysfunctional political system have made Israeli life too hard, expensive and often unsafe. But loyal Israelis don’t talk about that too much because they want Israel to have a good reputation.  

Under Netanyahu, we’ve been through four fatal Gaza skirmishes and four elections that were a copy-paste of each other. He served as a decent manager of conflicts and an ingenious politician but not a visionary.

The fact that Bennett has joined this coalition demonstrates to me that he’s not a sell-out, as my hardliner friends would argue. He is, hopefully, a man with a vision – a vision that made him a hi-tech millionaire and successful politician who revived the Zionist nationalist camp.

What I love most about this coalition is the unpredictability. Netanyahu’s ticks, patterns and methods have become too familiar. With a hardliner at the helm of a motley crew of politicians, the American and European governments will have to throw away the old scripts suited to the Netanyahu era. As the self-help adage goes: don’t be afraid of the unknown.

I’m giving the unknown a chance – if it lasts.

The writer is an American-Israeli journalist and author based in Berlin. This article first appeared in German translation on the political blog Die Achse Des Guten.

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