Israel Coalition Government: A coalition consisting of eight parties from across the political spectrum is on the verge of ousting Benjamin Netanyahu. Above: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel concludes his third address before a joint meeting of Congress and reaffirms the strong bonds between Israel and the United States. March 3, 2015. (Official Photo by Caleb Smith)
Top Story: Israel Coalition Government
May was a volatile month in the Middle East, specifically in Israel. June is set to be a jumbled jaunt in Jerusalem as well. A coalition consisting of eight parties from across the political spectrum is on the verge of ousting Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving prime minister. The odd amalgamation includes right-wing groups, centrists, and for the first time in Israeli history, an Arab-Israeli party. Beyond just the pandemic and the TikTok intifada, Israel has been contending with an unprecedented period of political deadlock that has seen four elections in two years. Opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner, Naftali Bennett, have been tasked with leading the charge against Netanyahu in order to clinch a majority in the 120-member Knesset, or parliament. Here’s what both sides are saying about Israel, and the prospect of a new prime minister and political party:
Right Leaning Sentiment
Right-leaning commentators believe spite for Benjamin Netanyahu is driving the personnel change, not some profound underlying desire for a shift in policy. They believe the Israel coalition government will still lean right and question the future of the Trump administration brokered Abraham Accords.
Still Right Leaning: The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board writes that “The new government taking shape in Israel defies categorization.” Although “American liberals will surely celebrate the departure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu… it would be a mistake to interpret it as a rejection of Israel’s rightward political and security direction,” they write. Mr. Bennett, set to immediately become Prime Minister, “is a longtime champion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, explicitly rejects a two-state solution, and has urged tougher military action against the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.” Additionally, although “Mr. Lapid brands himself as a centrist and speaks in a tone that is less abrasive to American liberals… Israeli public opinion has moved steadily to the right in recent decades in response to the rise of Hamas.” This could pull Mr. Lapid in that direction, the editors suggest. At the end of the day, “The ouster of Mr. Netanyahu, if it happens, won’t be because the public turned against muscular security policy but because the conservative bloc grew so large that it fractured.”
Bibiphobia: Amnon Lord of Israel Hayom alludes to the sentiment above, saying he is “praying for the best [and] preparing for the worst.” Rather than some dramatic leftward shift, Lord writes that “Naftali Bennett knows he is about to become prime minister based on a bitter, hysteric wave of hatred for Netanyahu.” Lord asks his readers to pause for a second and reflect on the Netanyahu administration’s success. Israel was “the first country in the world to contain the pandemic. Economic growth was restored, we saw improved numbers and a diplomatic and operational campaign against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” Additionally, there were “the Abraham Accords, which it’s doubtful the new government will be able to protect.” Lord believes “Bibiphobia” is what’s driving the formation of a new government, not fundamental policy decisions.
Analyzing the Abraham Accords: Speaking of the Abraham Accords, will they survive Netanyahu’s departure? Lahav Harkov provides an analysis in The Jerusalem Post, noting that “Netanyahu was personally and intensely involved in making them happen.” Ambassador to the UAE Eitan Na’eh says “It doesn’t matter who is prime minister or the foreign minister,” adding that Israelis are “voting with their feet” in favor of relations with the UAE. Harkov notes that “85,000 visited Dubai in December alone.” Moreover, “Repeated public opinion polls in the nearly nine months since normalization was announced showed that Israelis are enthusiastic about the historic shift,” she writes. Additionally, “Key players in the government that is likely to be formed were supportive of the Abraham Accords,” including Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett. Harkov does note that “Netanyahu has been around for so long that he has built relationships with many leaders around the world,” including in the Middle East. Ultimately, she says time will tell if leaders in countries like the UAE and Bahrain will trust the new PM “enough to talk to him about key security issues.”
Left Leaning Sentiment
Left-leaning commentators and outlets aren’t overly optimistic about the Israel coalition government. In fact, many think Naftali Bennett will be very similar to the former PM. One pundit thinks the US can learn a lesson from the unlikely coalition.
Don’t Get Too Excited: Writing for Haaretz, Gideon Levy asks sarcastically, “You Call This a Government of Change?” Simply put, Levy writes “Netanyahu’s departure is neither the end nor the portal to heaven. The camp that despised Netanyahu, ignored his achievements and focused on his lifestyle and failures, will jump with joy into the city pool tonight, so I’m sorry to be a party pooper. But the Netanyahu government will be replaced by another right-wing government. Israel will wake up to a new day that will be too much like the previous one.” Levy attempts to be positive, saying “The new government will have a more efficient and impressive team of ministers, some of whom will try to do their job more decently.” He concludes, however, by saying that over “Everything hovers a black and oppressive cloud: The right is replacing the right. A right without Netanyahu will replace a right with Netanyahu, and both are cruel. No serious leftist can rejoice in this.”
Bennett is like Bibi: Rob Picheta, writing for CNN, observes the same thing, saying “Naftali Bennett lies to the right even of Netanyahu in several crucial areas.” Pointedly, “He would carry into office a history of incendiary remarks about Palestinians and a well-documented ambition to annex part of the occupied West Bank.” More broadly, as it relates to peace in the region, he is “a staunch critic of the two-state solution… citing security and ideological concerns as his reasoning,” Picheta writes. With that said, further down in his article, he does point out that “On a handful of other issues, he is considered comparatively liberal. Despite his religious background, during the most recent electoral campaign he said that gay people should ‘fully have all the civil rights a straight person in Israel has.’” At the same time, “[Bennett] also said that didn’t mean he would take action to ensure legal equality.”
US Should Take Note: Finally, David Ignatius of the Washington Post argues that “The United States could take a lesson from what’s happening this week in Israel.” Ignatius believes these “two radically diverging wings of Israeli politics have united… because of a shared passion for the well-being of their country.” He adds, “That’s the point that I wish Americans could learn from watching this episode. This seems to be a moment where Israel’s version of ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states — people who disagree about fundamental issues — have decided to put those divisions aside because of something that’s more important: national survival.” Ignatius also says, “One unsettling similarity between Israeli and US politics is that Netanyahu’s die-hard supporters have been threatening violence in recent days, just as Trump’s supporters did in the Jan. 6 insurrection.” In conclusion, “The change coalition won’t solve all Israel’s problems. But it will reinforce the fundamentals of Israeli democracy — and the need for people to unite, even when they disagree bitterly over policy. Let’s hope Americans experience the same revelation before it’s too late.”
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Well before the latest surge of violence in the region, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey from Nov. 19, 2019 to June 3, 2020 that found US Jews have widely differing views on Israel. For 45% of US Jewish adults, caring about Israel is “essential” for the lifeblood of their faith, while an additional 37% say it is “important, but not essential.” Pew notes that “Most Jewish Americans identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, and more than half gave negative ratings at the time of the survey to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” However, “Orthodox Jews – 75% of whom are Republican or lean Republican – generally rated Netanyahu positively.”
Zooming out, “While Orthodox Jews tend to be relatively young and feel a strong attachment to Israel, younger Jews – as a whole – are less attached to Israel than their older counterparts. Two-thirds of Jews ages 65 and older say that they are very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel, compared with 48% of those ages 18 to 29.”
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