By Ruthie Blum
The moment that some Israelis have been dreading and others happily anticipating finally arrived on June 20. Though the announcement by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of a call for the disbanding of the Knesset was virtually a foregone conclusion, it came as a bit of a surprise.
Earlier in the day, it was reported that Bennett had bought his teetering coalition an additional week. This was attributed to the fact that Likud Party and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was postponing a no-confidence motion for several days.
Still, the public response has been similar to that surrounding the death of someone who suffered a long and drawn-out illness; despite the inevitability of the demise, the end is slightly jolting. Nevertheless, nobody skipped a beat — certainly not the politicians or reporters scrambling to address the new reality — at the sound of the government’s last breath.
Judging by the polls, those who had hoped it would survive aren’t numerous, but they have begun to reiterate the rhetoric of the anti-Netanyahu camp. Sadly, some voters who experienced buyers’ remorse at having opted for Bennett in the first place — as he represented for them the uncompromising Zionist who would annex Judea and Samaria — are singing the same tune about Netanyahu.
If they allow their ideological purism to govern their ballots on Oct. 15, the ostensible date for the fifth Knesset election in 3½ years, they are likely to find themselves back where they started. And it won’t serve their interests to have Likud unable to form a majority coalition.
The same goes for Likud supporters who considered it a waste of their time to vote at all, given the repeated impasse that led to four inconclusive rounds. Ditto for disgruntled Likudniks who don’t favor Netanyahu but say that there’s no candidate they consider a substitute.
One thing that Israelis across the spectrum seem to share, however, is embarrassment at the content of Bennett’s statement about why the coalition is no longer viable — as though it ever were destined to succeed with such an internally disparate makeup.
“We stand before you today at a difficult moment, but with the understanding that we made the right decision for Israel,” he began. “A year ago, we formed a government that many thought was impossible, in order to stop the terrible spiral in which Israel was caught.”
He got the first part right. What followed, on the other hand, was laughable.
“In Israel, a year ago, there was massive unemployment, a huge deficit, rioting in the streets and missiles on Jerusalem,” he went on, failing to mention the pandemic in this context. Oh, and a surge in terrorism spurred, among other things, by an internecine Palestinian Authority battle between Fatah and Hamas over which group is better equipped to demolish the Jewish state.
He then proceeded to point to the main impetus behind his “Zionist” move to forge a coalition with a mere seven seats: a government that was in “total paralysis.” Here he omitted the bit about the signing of the Abraham Accords, for example, in September 2020.
“Together, we got the country out of the pit,” he said. “We returned the values of fairness and reliability to center stage. Israel resumed being led.”
Here is where he highlighted how well it worked out. This raised a few eyebrows, considering the circumstances under which he was speaking: the flop of the kumbaya experiment.
A more substantial guffaw was elicited when he invoked the famous biblical story of King Solomon’s judgment.
“We chose to be the mother who safeguards her child’s life at great personal expense,” he said, before listing what he claimed to be his coalition’s outstanding accomplishments. These, according to the outgoing premier, included repairing the economy, making the south of the country safer, successfully fighting terrorism and conducting wonderful relations with the administration in Washington.
In the alternate universe that Bennett described, Lapid — the “alternate prime minister” replacing him until the establishment of the next government — is a perfect fit. Not so much for the Israeli populace living in the real world.
It’s a population whose justified fear is that the results of the upcoming election will not resolve the political deadlock that characterized the previous ones. The only way around it, other than an overhaul of the electoral system (which isn’t in the cards in the near future) is for all eligible citizens to cast a ballot. This means curbing the purism and joining, not hovering above, the fray.
There was a 67.4% voter turnout in March 2021. It is possible and necessary to raise that percentage considerably. We Israelis owe it to ourselves to aim for majority rule.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”