Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Naftali Bennett is the new prime minister of Israel, an honor to be sure. But many of us are devastated by his assumption to the throne. It’s not only that Bennett lacks the polish and statesmanship of Netanyahu, it’s the way he seized power.

Israel is a true democracy, pretty much split down the middle in terms of right and left. We comprise a plurality of views. And that is precisely why we kept having election after election (after election after election). It is so darned difficult to settle an election when half the population feels one way, and the other half feels the other way. But even right and left are fragmented into itsy bitsy parties. Except for Netanyahu’s Likud, which received the most significant block of votes.

An election was always going to be decided by forming a coalition, because without 61 seats, you can’t make a government, and Likud had only 30. The only thing to do then is to make a match between a large party, the next largest party (Lapid’s Yesh Atid), and a few lesser parties. It was either that or cobbling together lots of teeny tiny little parties to make a larger whole of a coalition that would be so fragmented in its views that it would always be doomed to failure and not represent anyone at all.

The latter is exactly the track Naftali Bennett chose in his rise to power. He glued together teensy little parties that the majority of Israelis did not vote for, and then put them all together in a basket and presented us with a government that doesn’t represent the majority of Israelis, or even the largest sector of Israelis represented in the election, those who voted for Likud, the party of Netanyahu.

Alas, the majority was still not enough to keep Bibi in power. With only 30 mandates, he was short by more than one half of the 61 mandates he needed to remain on Balfour St.

To the hopeful, it looks as though Bennett achieved an amazing feat of unity, by crafting a government composed of every part of society: right, left, Arabs and Jews, gay, straight, people of color or with disabilities—this government has it all. Those with hope see this new government as all of the people getting together to make real change and compromise: an inclusive government. But the rest of us see it as chicanery, a coup to unseat Netanyahu, a group of tiny parties of few votes so hungry for power that they would and did play dirty.

Bennett swore up and down he would not be in a government with the people with whom he is now in a government. Bennett’s party received just 7 mandates. Netanyahu’s party had 30. Is it any wonder that Netanyahu feels he was done dirty by Bennett?

Also: you don’t have to love Netanyahu to know that this is not the time to have a changing of the guard, with Iran weeks away from the bomb and a president hostile to Israel in the White House. Netanyahu is a seasoned statesman. Bennett lacks stature, presence. Maybe that’s why the people did not choose him. He got in through deception, alone.

The night that the new government passed its final parliamentary vote, I slept badly, and had nightmares. I am afraid of this government, afraid of the Biden Administration, and terrified of Iran. The situation feels out of control.

No. I did not love Netanyahu—he made promises to the right and never kept them—but that is who needs to be prime minister right now. In Israel we have two groups of voters: Only Bibi, and Only NOT Bibi. Now we have the Only NOT Bibi government in power, and consider this: four times the number of people who voted for Bennett, did not want him in power.

Of those who did vote for Bennett, many feel betrayed. I know because I live in a town where he is very popular, and he mentioned us in his first speech as prime minister in a nod to that support. I polled my friends and many said they feel betrayed by him for sitting with Lapid, the Left, and with Ra”am (the Arab party.) A minority of my Bennett-voting friends are taking a wait-and-see attitude. They are not yet ready to give up on their romance with Naftali.

Those outside of Israel often find it difficult to understand our political climate. The following segment of Guy Zohar’s M’HaTzad HaSheini [From The Other Side] of June 1, 2021, from Israel’s Channel 11 Kan News, is enlightening, but in Hebrew only. The clip details the promises that Bennett has made and broken.

I endeavored to make a rough translation (apologies in advance for my shortcomings as a Hebrew-English translator) of the 4-minute segment to help my non-Israeli readers understand why there is such a lack of trust in Naftali Bennett. It boils down to this: every politician breaks promises, but Bennett went beyond the pale, abusing his voters’ trust, and taking advantage of the kinks in our electoral system. This makes it all the more clear that we have a desperate need for electoral reform in Israel, something to which Netanyahu alluded in his bitter parting speech.

Guy Zohar: We have to take a breath, it just doesn’t come easy for us.

Naftali Bennett: I inform you today, that my intention is to work with all my strength toward the creation of a national unity government, together with my friend Yair Lapid.

Guy Zohar: We have no choice. You understand now what we have to do, don’t you?

Host: You will sit under him if he is prime minister?

Naftali Bennett: No!

Host: Will you make a rotation [agreement]?

Naftali Bennett: Not in rotation. Not in mutation. [waves hand]

Guy Zohar: Ouch. No one says he didn’t learn from Netanyahu.

Naftali Bennett: Forever and without any preconditions, I will not lend my hand to the establishment of a government with Yair Lapid.

Guy Zohar: Ouch.

Naftali Bennett: I won’t permit Yair Lapid to be prime minister, not even in rotation.

Guy Zohar: It hurts us more than it hurts you. And it gets worse.


Naftali Bennett: We won’t form a government that elevates the Left. Because I’m Right. What I’m going to do is to establish a national government, that is to say not to transfer administration to the Left, because most of the nation, 80 mandates, are on the right, at today’s count.

Host: Lapid is the Left?

Naftali Bennett: Lapid, yes.


Naftali Bennett: I commit before you that no matter what, I will not sit [in government] with or give my hand that *ding* Yair Lapid will be prime minister of Israel. And of course, I will not flip Lapid *ding* to become prime minister, not by rotation, and not without rotation [waves hand], because I am a man of the right.

Guy Zohar: And it doesn’t end here. Come let’s return to the speech in which Naftali Bennett declared his intention to—yes—establish a unity government with Yair Lapid.

Naftali Bennett: This is a government that will not be against any sector or any group.

Guy Zohar: But . . . just before the elections, you said that . . .

Naftali Bennett: Yair Lapid caused polarization in the last decade, truly terrible, in the Israeli community. I don’t think this should be the character that the nation of Israel today needs as its prime minister.

Guy Zohar: Back to this week’s speech. (Hoo-wa!)

Naftali Bennett: Know that the Left makes here difficult compromises in granting me the position of prime minister.

Guy Zohar: Wait! You prime minister?? YOU prime minister??? But you only have 6 mandates [out of the necessary 61 minimum needed to form a government]!

Naftali Bennett: I hope and believe that the public will give me the strength *ding* with 15 mandates I won’t be prime minister. Twenty? Yes. And I am the insurance policy for a right-wing government that will care about you.

Host: The public gives you a small number of mandates, nine mandates in the latest polls.

Naftali Bennett: Excuse me. Today I am already at 11. *ding* And if I reach 15 we will have established here a government. I need just a few more mandates to generate a change in leadership. Impossible with ten mandates to do this. 15 mandates, we can come and change the leadership in real fashion.

Host: You are the spoonful that tips the scales. You can be prime minister.

Naftali Bennett: But not with *ding* ten mandates.

Host: With ten mandates!

Naftali Bennett: That’s not democratic. You need more.

Guy Zohar: Yes. Now, let’s return to the speech that’s fresh. What does it mean that the left makes compromises?

Naftali Bennett: Know that the Left makes compromises that are not easy.

Guy Zohar: Does this mean that you are going to sit with the Labor Party?

Host: The Labor Party with seven mandates is a sort of partner?

Naftali Bennett: No. With them, they’re not in favor of a Jewish and Democratic state.

Guy Zohar: Do you mean to say that you will sit with Meretz?

Host: We’re ready to come to an agreement on this that you will not sit with Meretz?

Naftali Bennett: Right. You know why? Because they support The Hague.

Guy Zohar: What about Ra”am’s [refers to the Arab party] abstention or support?

Naftali Bennett: Listen, it’s an unbelievable thing, also this. Look how Netanyahu embraced Ra”am in this way. It’s a disgrace. I’ll explain why. Ra”am is the Islamic Movement’s party in Israel, in fact the Israeli branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is who the prime minister is ready to embrace—those who contribute to the murder of our soldiers.

Guy Zohar: Okay. There’s one thing you have to credit him, that this also Bennett said before the elections.

Naftali Bennett: *Ding* We won’t go to a fifth election. I won’t drag the State of Israel to a fifth election. This would be a crime! Vote for the right, letter Bet, it’s a kind of insurance policy that 1. We’ll establish a government.

Guy Zohar: Here it is. Everything’s okay. There were a few promises. They were all contradicted. But hey! You have to choose "1."


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