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Will Bibi Rise to the Occasion?

Bibi has changed his tune since his big election victory. Now we’re seeing the unity Bibi, not the divisive Bibi who said whatever it took to win.
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November 16, 2022

Have you noticed a certain sobriety in Benjamin Netanyahu? Ever since he came out ahead in the recent elections in Israel, we haven’t seen the usual triumphant spirit, the celebration of finally reaching his dream of a broad right-wing coalition.

That’s because he got a lot more than he bargained for. To secure his majority coalition, he must include extremist parties and extremist politicians whose ideas would make any lover of democracy cringe.

“A coalition comprising his own increasingly hawkish Likud, the far-right Religious Zionism, and the two ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism does not begin to represent Israel’s diverse constituencies,” David Horovitz wrote in Times of Israel, adding that “many of [the coalition’s] members hold positions and are advocating immensely far-reaching policies antithetical to the fundamental values, interests and needs of a vast number of Israelis.”

Bibi knows all that. He’s a secular Jew who understands very well that many of the policies of his future partners go against “the fundamental values, interests and needs of a vast number of Israelis.” 

Remember the expression, “Be careful what you wish for?” I wouldn’t be surprised if that thought is going through Bibi’s head at the moment.

Of course, Bibi, ever the brilliant communicator, has changed his tune since his big election victory. Now we’re seeing the unity Bibi, not the divisive Bibi who said whatever it took to win.

After receiving the president’s mandate to form the government, Bibi vowed to be “a prime minister for everyone – for those who voted for me, and for those who did not vote for me. It reflects what I believe in and what guides my actions.” 

After receiving the president’s mandate to form the government, Bibi vowed to be “a prime minister for everyone – for those who voted for me, and for those who did not vote for me. It reflects what I believe in and what guides my actions.” 

But when you have indispensable partners whose policies much of the country abhors, it won’t be easy to be a “prime minister for everyone.”

I went looking for a ray of light, and I found one in a piece from Michael Koplow titled “The Case for Optimism Regarding the New Israeli Government.” Arguing that “a sky-is-falling attitude is unwarranted,” Koplow starts with Bibi himself, reminding us that Netanyahu “is a true conservative in the sense of being cautious on policy, and has effectively served as the left flank of Likud for nearly a decade.”  

He adds: “As prime minister, he avoided major wars, pursued Gaza ceasefires and backroom deals to keep Hamas sated and the territory quiet, did not annex West Bank territory or retroactively legalize illegal outposts despite a clamor in his party and coalition to do both.”

He reminds as well that Netanyahu “is the one who ultimately has leverage over his partners in forming the next government rather than the other way around. UTJ, Religious Zionism, and Otzma Yehudit have been insisting that specific agreements on policy priorities must be struck before they agree to form a government, but it is nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which any of them forces a sixth election.”

Finally, he notes that there have been recent “signals from both Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit intended to project a more moderate image, from [Itamar] Ben Gvir’s open letter on Monday to his ‘brothers on the left’ in which he pledged protection and security to Israeli Arabs, to Religious Zionism MKs promising that they do not intend to roll back LGBTQ rights.”

He notes that Bibi’s political partners “are at the high-water mark of their leverage now, but as the deadline to form a government gets closer, they have too much to lose by continuing to hold on to their absolute demands.” 

Silver linings aside, this is a difficult moment for people who care about Israel. We don’t want to see an Israel that brazenly annexes territory, makes the Law of Return more restrictive, imposes religious edicts on secular Israelis, overrides the Supreme Court with a parliamentary majority, enables ultra-Orthodox Jews to continue to avoid military service, and so on.

He’s never faced such a challenge, because he could always count on center-left partners to play off against his right flank. Now he’s all alone against tough ideologues for whom the word compromise does not come easily. Even those who hate Bibi should hope he succeeds.

Bibi frowns on all that. He always has. But he’s never faced such a challenge, because he could always count on center-left partners to play off against his right flank.

Now he’s all alone. It’s him against tough ideologues for whom the word compromise does not come easily.

Will he rise to the occasion? Even those who love Israel but hate Bibi should hope he succeeds.

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