Natanyahu’s New Government Regrets – OpEd


After five elections that paralyzed Israeli politics for nearly four years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally returned to power with a government he has long coveted: a majority of ultra religious and far-right lawmakers who share his hard-line views toward Palestinians and his hostility toward Israel’s legal system.

And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nascent coalition has already lost its majority public support, according to a television poll released three days after his new government was sworn in.

Netanyahu’s new government has pledged to prioritize settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, extend massive subsidies to his ultra-Orthodox allies and push for sweeping reform of the judicial system that could endanger the country’s democratic institutions. The plans have sparked an unprecedented uproar from across Israeli society, including the military, LGBTQ rights groups, the business community and the Israeli Arab community. 

If fresh elections were held today, Netanyahu’s right wing nationalist and Ultra-Orthodox religious bloc would get only 58 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, dropping from its current tally of 64 seats, said the Channel 13 survey, broadcast Sunday. Opposition parties would together receive 58 seats; of these, plus the left-wing Meretz party, which failed to cross the electoral threshold in the November election, would get four seats, the poll found. 

According to the Channel 13 survey, Netanyahu’s Likud would receive 31 seats, one fewer than it now has. Opposition chairman Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would climb to 26 seats, two more than it presently has. The Religious Zionism alliance would fall from 14 to 12 seats. The poll said the ultra-Orthodox Shas, which now has 11 seats, would drop to eight. And the Arab community also has its regrets.

There are many people in the Israeli Arab community who thought that it did not matter if Netanyahu became Prime Minister or not because all the Israeli parties are no good, but the head of the Arab Muslim political party Ra’am slammed the other Arab parties for helping bring down the previous government of which it had been a part. 

That very diverse, very fragile coalition that toppled Netanyahu, collapsed last June, and Netanyahu and his ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies secured a parliamentary majority in November’s election.

Ra’am’s head, Mansour Abbas, questioned the purpose of the Hadash-Ta’al alliance and its ‘dogmatic’ approach to politics, arguing it does not help Arabs. “I don’t understand what their purpose is in the Knesset,” Abbas told the Ynet news outlet hours before incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to have his far-right religious coalition approved by the Knesset.

Ra’am, an Islamist party, had joined the previous government, providing it with key seats needed to achieve a majority and using that as leverage to secure commitments for significant state funding for the Arab community. Elections were called after outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid’s government lost its parliamentary majority in the face of systematic pressure from Likud and opposition parties, including the Hadash and Ta’al parties, then part of the Joint List alliance of Arab parties.

The incoming coalition, led by Netanyahu’s Likud, won 64 out of 120-seat Knesset in the November elections and is now the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. Abbas criticized the two other parties, saying “their members don’t believe in my approach. They have a dogmatic approach, they don’t want to change.” Abbas’s Ra’am was the first Arab party to join a governing Israeli coalition.

“For a whole year Odeh and Tibi cooperated with the Likud and the Religious Zionism [parties] to bring down the previous government, and what did they gain?” he asked.”Instead of upgrading our status as an Arab society in the State of Israel, we missed a historic opportunity.”

In the past, Ra’am, Hadash, Ta’al and the hardline Arab party Balad ran on a united slate called the Joint List. Ra’am left the alliance ahead of the March 2021 elections and subsequently joined the government, while the rest of the Joint List stayed in the opposition. Balad then split off before the recent November elections, leaving the remaining two parties to form the Hadash-Ta’al alliance. 

Ra’am had already decided to run its own slate as it had in the previous election and now the three other parties had failed to sign a vote-sharing deal. On election day, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al each won five seats while the Balad party failed to clear the minimum threshold for entry into the Knesset which allowed Natayahu to become the Prime Minister. 

Abbas said that the incoming government, which includes three far-right Ultra-Orthodox religious parties, has raised concern in the Arab community. “There is fear, frustration and mistrust in the government and its policies among the Arab community,” he said. “There is no Arab or Druze representative in the government to reflect things from this community.”

None of Netanyahu’s coalition partners are on record supporting a two-state solution with the Palestinians, but not all support annexing the West Bank without granting equal rights to Palestinians in those areas. But Netanyahu’s government will legalize dozens of unauthorized settlements in the West Bank

Most Palestinians have greeted the election of the new government with a shrug. With peace talks already on hold for over a decade, many don’t see how any government can make things worse. But I think that in 2023 the Israeli Arab community will find out if it does, or does not matter if Netanyahu is the Prime Minister.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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