Israel’s 36th Government in 73 years – What’s Next? by Steve Kramer
Now that the Lapid-Bennett government (aka Change government) has replaced the Netanyahu-Likud government, which “reigned” for 12 years, what’s next? From the above title one can see that the average government has lasted only two years, not nearly the full four years alloted. This is the result of Israel’s parliamentary system, wherein the government falls if the prime minister fails a “vote of confidence.” Alternatively, the prime minister can call for new elections at any time if it’s thought to be advantageous, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
So, Bibi Netanyahu, the “king,” is deposed, yet no one is calling Naftali Bennett a king. After winning only seven seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Bennett is breaking new ground by becoming the head of government with so few mandates. Yes, Bibi is the favored choice of the plurality of Israelis to head the country. Nevertheless, his party failed to win a majority of Knesset seats in four successive elections, even with help from other parties.
Obviously Israelis were fed up and not willing to go through a fifth election (or sixth…) to give Bibi yet another chance. Ya’ir Lapid’s center left party was given the chance to build a majority coalition after Bibi failed. Lapid painstakingly accomplished it on Friday, June 11. But to succeed, he needed to reach out to the right, thus fulfilling Bennett’s ambition to be prime minister, as well as to the Arab sector. Bennett’s term will be two years – if it lasts, with Lapid taking the reins for the second two years. This is a long shot, because Israeli governments rarely last a full 4-year term.
Who is Naftali Bennett? He was born in 1972 to parents who made Aliyah from the US soon after the Six Day War of 1967. Like Bibi, he had an exemplary military career in Sayeret Matkal (commando activities beyond Israel’s borders) and after that joined Maglan, an equally prestigious unit (reconnaissance behind enemy lines). Some of you may know that service in units like the above is considered the equivalent of attending Harvard or Oxford.
Bennett lived in the US for several years after his army service. In that period he started a high tech company which eventually made him very wealthy. His attributes include bravery, boldness, business acumen, political savvy, and excellent English. Added to that is the fact that he is an Orthodox Jew, the first government leader to wear a kippah (skullcap).
In politics for 12 years, Bennett served as Bibi’s chief of staff before they had a falling out (typical of Bibi’s protégées). But he rebounded as a minister in several governments, most recently as defense minister in 2019-20. In that position, Bennett made a very good impression.
At the outset, the success of the new government is very much in doubt. There has never been such a broad government which goes from far left to right, excluding the far right and the ultra-Orthodox. For the first time an Arab Islamist party is included in the coalition, which causes concern among many of us. But the whole coalition is such an upheaval, replacing Israel’s longest serving prime minister, that nobody can say for sure what will happen.
I’m pleased that the ultra-Orthodox are excluded, because this will probably give their leaders the excuse to accept some new economic, educational, and military service realities, based on their lack of political leverage. Some say that a number of influential rabbis have wanted to make changes, that are glaringly required, and that the new political reality will give them cover to accept change.
Ann: One of my most loyal readers has sent me some questions, which I answer below.Ann: What puzzles me is the opposition of the religious parties. Bennet always wears a yarmulke, so I assume he’s Orthodox. What’s going on?
Steve: the religious parties are not in the government for two reasons. The first is that their rabbis consider less ardent (if that’s the right word) Jews to be practically gentiles. So they want to stay far away from the secular parties, such as Lapid’s Yesh Atid. But this attitude assumes political principles, and I have trouble mentioning politicians and principles in the same sentence. The second reason is the enmity between the new finance minister, Avigdor Liberman, and the ultra-Orthodox. He will charge ahead with his agenda to cut back on their economic benefits and to push forward with their need to do some sort of army or national service. Lastly, the young men must learn skills to allow most of them to be employed, rather than many – who are not scholars – “studying” in yeshivas while depending on their wives’ salaries to augment the family’s government allowances.
Ann: How do you think Bennett will work with Lapid?
Steve: the two of them grew close when Bennett and Lapid made a political pact to not join Bibi’s new (2013) government without the other. That forced Netanyahu to include both of them, at the expense of (ultra-Orthodox) Shas and United Torah Judaism, who were left out of the government.
The friendship has had its ups and downs, but both said they never lied to each other and that they kept up a relationship of trust. The brotherly bond between Bennett and Lapid irked Netanyahu throughout that government and led to his initiating early elections in 2015, after two years. (https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/politics-and-diplomacy/history-in-the-making-how-bennett-and-lapids-brotherly-bond-began-670849)
Ann: I do want to see an era of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. How do you think the Arab party, Ra’am, will work out?
Steve: Ra’am is an Islamist party, strongly opposed to Israel as a Zionist state. Bringing it into the government was a necessity, because the Zionist, Jewish parties could not produce a majority government. Bibi, Bennett, and Lapid all made overtures and promises (like is done with all the parties in a coalition) to its party leader, Mansour Abbas, to entice him to join them. No one can say for sure what will happen. However, with a coalition that is spread across such a wide spectrum of the political map, the leaders have “agreed” to leave the most contentious items off the agenda. We will have to wait and see. Ra’am may bolt the coalition, or any one of the other seven (a record) constituent parties in the government may leave it.