It’s painful, but I have to admit that I was wrong.
I supported the Bennett-Lapid government because I believed that nothing could be worse than the instability of an endless series of elections and caretaker governments. The challenges facing the country were too great, from Hamas to the new American administration which was (and is) poised to try to force us into another series of concessions to the PLO while enabling Iran’s atomic project and holding us back from striking it. I wanted the country to have a budget, which it hadn’t had since 2018. And I felt that it was time for Binyamin Netanyahu to step down (although, unlike some, this was not my primary concern).
I yearned for a real right-wing government without Meretz or Arabs, one that would put an end to the phenomenon of voting right and getting left, in which our leaders talk big but knuckle under to the US and Europe on key issues like building for Jews in Judea and Samaria, stopping illegal Arab construction in Area C, and enforcing the law in Jerusalem. I wanted to see changes in the legal system, a limitation of the apparently boundless powers of the Supreme Court and the Legal Advisor to the government, who is also the Chief Prosecutor and Attorney General all in one.
But I believed that four elections had established that there was no way to manipulate the numbers to yield such a coalition, given the personalities involved. I knew that Lapid was (to be kind) a lightweight, and that having leftist elements in the government would be problematic. I was repelled by the idea of admitting to the government representatives of an anti-Zionist Arab party – whom, according to the basic law governing the Knesset (sec. 7a), should not be permitted to sit in it at all.
Still, I knew that Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar were ideologically right wing, and Lapid at least a Zionist. The left-wingers would not be strong enough to begin any initiatives toward the PLO or Hamas and would concern themselves with domestic issues, I thought. And regarding Ra’am, the Islamist party led by Mansour Abbas (not to be confused with Mahmud Abbas of the PLO) that would be brought into the government – did not Netanyahu himself try to establish a coalition with their support?
I should have known better. I underestimated the power that would be placed in the hands of Ra’am by the coalition, and I underestimated (as Israelis consistently do) the powerful and unshakeable ideological commitment of the Arabs to their narrative and their opposition to a Jewish state. Bennett and his partners were prepared to pay almost anything to get the votes of Ra’am, which they believed was the only way to avoid another election. Perhaps they thought that Ra’am was “pragmatic” – that is, able to be bought. “It will be expensive,” I can hear them saying, but “you do what you have to do to get a coalition.”
The budget includes some 30 billion shekels (US $9.6 billion) for the Arab sector, much of which will be distributed according to the wishes of Mansour Abbas, someone few people had even heard of before this election, greatly increasing his power and importance. Other Arab politicians will benefit as well. Surely some of that cash will help Israeli Arabs, but just as surely a great deal will flow into the pockets of people connected to Ra’am. And some of it will even go to an NGO close to Hamas.
I admire Mansour Abbas. He will take your money, but he can’t be bought. Writing in Israel Hayom today, Nadav Shragai translated Abbas’ recent words:
Just a few months prior, speaking to Arabic-language media so that Jewish listeners could not understand, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas spoke about his “civil jihad.”
“When we talk about land, housing and demolitions, are we talking about a civil issue? This is a national issue that forms the base of our struggle for our homeland,” he said in a moment of honesty.
He explained to his listeners that which the Jewish public refuses to hear: “The Islamic Movement started as part of the jihad family. But the political experience has taught us that due to the Israeli reality we cannot say today that we want to take up arms and wage jihad. We aspire and we engage in civil jihad. We maintain our presence in the country. We preserve our identity. We make the best of our existence through knowledge and action.”
Ra’am is not a pragmatic party. It is an ideological party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood that is the parent organization of Hamas. Its long-term objectives are no different than those of the Brotherhood, and include the end of Jewish sovereignty and the establishment of Shari’a throughout the land. In the short term, it calls for
…the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, with an end of the occupation and dismantling of the settlements. It also seeks the release of Palestinian prisoners and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The party advocates the recognition of Israeli Arabs as a national minority and seeks to ensure their rights in a constitution. (Israel Democracy Institute, summary of party platforms)
Both Bennett and Netanyahu are guilty of placing political considerations above national ones by bringing this enemy of the state into the government and empowering it.
Even if the government were to fall tomorrow, much of the damage is done. One could argue that this government has replaced Haredi extortion with Arab extortion, but the difference is that even anti-Zionist Haredim are not working to erase the Jewish character of the state in preparation for replacing it with an Arab-majority state.
I am not sure what the solution is in detail, but I do know that Israel’s electoral system is failing to reflect the will of the people. The majority of Israelis want a right-wing government. They certainly don’t want Islamists in it! If it weren’t for the split between pro- and anti-Netanyahu factions on the right, there would be a right-wing coalition with some 70-odd mandates. And yet, we have a government including the extreme left-wing, borderline anti-Zionist, Meretz party, and the Islamists of Mansour Abbas.
We are approaching several important tests. Will Israel stick by its designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terror-supporting groups? Will she refuse to permit the US to open its Jerusalem consulate as an “embassy to Palestine?” And will she finally evict the Arab squatters from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, after they rejected a court-proposed compromise?
These are minor but symbolic issues that the government will soon face. There is also the existential issue of soon-to-be nuclear Iran, and the perennial question of what to do about Gaza. In particular, many have raised the question of how a government that includes Ra’am will deal with a violent escalation by Hamas.
The camel’s nose is already inside the tent. If we don’t push it out, we’ll soon have its hindquarters as well.