Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new coalition government is launching under tenuous circumstances.
As Philadelphians prepare to elect the person likely to become their next mayor, Israelis are just now realizing the results of their own elections, seven weeks after they went to the polls.
The narrow coalition Benjamin Netanyahu managed to scrape together last week denies him the large mandate he had sought when he called for early elections last year. With just a 61-seat majority in a Knesset of 120 members, many are wondering how long his new government will last.
More important, however, is what his government will do.
He begins his fourth term in office at a most tenuous time. U.S.-Israel relations are at a precarious low, a nuclear deal with Iran that many Israelis and Israel supporters rightfully fear looms on the horizon, and the entire Middle East is swept up in chaos and violence, with Islamic extremists inching ever closer.
Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition skews decidedly right on diplomacy and defense. For the first time in at least a decade, it includes no parties that support the establishment of a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority, now operating 10 years under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, seems disinclined to do anything to persuade skeptical Israelis that the Palestinians have any interest in peace.
But there are also pressing domestic issues in Israel — economic and social — that mustn’t be overlooked, even amid very real security threats.
The re-emergence of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the government, for example, is deeply disturbing to many Israeli and Diaspora Jews who value religious pluralism and were heartened by some of the progress made under the previous government. Haredi Jews have as much right as any Israeli to serve in government, but they shouldn’t have the right to control policies that discriminate against non-Orthodox Jews living in Israel or around the world.
Two recent incidents unleashed a wave of fury in recent weeks: The ultra-Orthodox mayor of Rehovot decided to cancel the B’nai Mitzvah ceremony of children with disabilities because it was to be held in a Conservative synagogue. And men who dared to help bring a Torah to the women’s section of the Kotel were viciously attacked by haredi men. Giving further political power to these forces would be a mistake.
As Rabbi Steven Wernick, the former rabbi at Adath Israel who now serves as CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, wrote recently: “I cannot help loving Israel, but lately it seems that Israel simply does not love me back.”
As Netanyahu begins his new term, we wish him not only much-needed luck, but also the wisdom and strength to resist those actions that alienate rather than embrace Jews of all stripes.