December 10, 2019

A Coalition for the Days of Awe

From left: Benny Gantz; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photos by Amir Cohen/Reuters

It shouldn’t be too controversial that the best thing for Israel in the wake of these latest elections would be a grand coalition between Likud and Blue and White. After the April elections, in a short online post that never made it into print, I urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do just that. I still think it’s a good idea.

For the benefit of our print readers, here is what I wrote back in April:

“If there’s one thing that has done significant damage to Israel, it is a parliamentary system that gives inordinate power to small, extremist parties which don’t represent the Israeli mainstream. Because the electorate has been so fragmented, larger parties have been forced to hook up with smaller parties who wouldn’t mind, for example, turning Israel into a theocracy or annexing the West Bank tomorrow.

“In return for their valuable seats, these parties extract concessions that lead to divisive policies which alienate much of the Diaspora, not to mention many Israelis.

“The good news is that with the results of the April 9 elections, these extremist parties can go where they belong — out of power.

“For one of the rare times in Israel’s recent history, two parties — Likud and Blue and White — have garnered a significant majority of 70 seats, with each party gaining 35 seats.

“For the good of Israel, these two parties must unite.

“Extremist parties are always on edge, fighting to push their dogma. They’re not built to compromise, and politics is all about compromise.

“While there are members of Likud that many would consider extremist, they’re still better than the alternatives. Moreover, in a coalition with a centrist party like Blue and White that would garner the support of the majority of Israelis, extremist impulses are more likely to be tempered.

“Under the right-wing-religious coalitions of recent years, the opposite has happened. Instead of tempering their extremist impulses, the smaller parties have flaunted them. They’ve had so much power for so long they now expect to get their way.

“Having these kinds of coalitions which reject so much of the Israeli mainstream is corrosive to democracy. The Israelis who voted for two parties and 70 Knesset seats are the new Israeli mainstream, and their collective voice must be heard.

“Over the next few weeks, as the traditional coalition horse trading will dominate the news, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz have an opportunity to do something extraordinary — they can unite and take their country in a healthier direction. They can put the interest of Israel first.

“Yes, it will take an enormous effort to swallow egos, bury hatchets and negotiate compromises. The looming indictment of Netanyahu further complicates the picture.  But if a center-right coalition that has the support of most Israelis and can lead to more reasonable policies is not worth the effort, nothing is.”

Well, they never put that coalition together, and here we are five months later, and how much has really changed? Israel still needs a broad unity coalition.

In a sharp commentary in JPost last week, Amotz Asa-El laid out three major initiatives that such a unity coalition could undertake. 

The first is the long-overdue constitutional reform to safeguard against abuse of the system, such as “special legislation that would grant immunity to a prime minister suspected of felonies,” which Asa-El calls “a disgrace to the Jewish state’s moral pretensions.”  

Israel needs a constitutional convention, he writes, that would comprise “a broad forum of lawmakers, jurists, intellectuals and also rabbis that will redefine the High Court’s authority and rewrite the rules of constitutional legislation.”

“In a sense, I’m glad I still don’t know the winners. This has forced me to pull back and think of the big picture — what’s best for Israel.”

The second crucial initiative would be a mass transit master plan. “Without such a plan and the transparency it would spawn,” he writes, “Israel’s mass transit will remain Third Worldly; with it, we can catch up with the advanced nations within a decade.”

Finally, a broad coalition free of extremist parties could make fundamental changes in religion-state relations.

“No, this should not mean public transportation on Shabbat or forced conscription of yeshiva boys,” he writes. “It should, however, mean civil marriages and eased conversions for partially Jewish immigrants.”

There’s also an emotional, calming effect to having a unity coalition. Extremist parties are always on edge, fighting to push their dogma. They’re not built to compromise, and politics is all about compromise. Without it, there is no dignity. Israeli politics have been mired in dogmatic mudslinging for too long.

By the time you read this, you will have a better idea of the election results. In a sense, I’m glad I still don’t know the winners. This has forced me to pull back and think of the big picture — what’s best for Israel.

A unity coalition is best for Israel, no matter what time of year, and especially before the Days of Awe.