With the major focus these days being on the spread of the Coronavirus in Israel and elsewhere, the political establishment continues to play its games of power politics. Does it matter that people are testing positive to the virus, or that multitudes are being quarantined, or that the economy here is facing a potential major crisis? Yes and no. Yes, it matters. But, no, it is not a priority. The only thing that is important for politicians is how to undo what the voice of the people determined in a democratic election.
How can a small political party, that has only seven seats out of a parliament of one hundred and twenty, determine who can be or will be the Prime Minister of Israel? The question almost boggles the mind, when it has been asked in each of the last three elections here. And the answer is that it is always the same party, headed by the same person, who has come to be labeled as the king maker of Israeli politics.
Well, it didn’t take long for Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) Party to follow up his endorsement of the proposed legislation to set a term limit for the Prime Minister and to curtail a P.M.’s ability to form a government if he is under indictment. That endorsement was like a re-invigorating shot in the arm for Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party, as well as for the leftist conglomerate of parties. This morning, Sunday, Lieberman blew wind to his sails as he came out with his five basic terms for joining the next coalition government that he would support Gantz to head up.
The points: (1) minimum income, based on the minimum wage, for pensioners living on supported income and old-age pension; (2) transferring to local governments authority regarding public transportation and operation of businesses on Shabbat; (3) completing the passage of the Draft Law that passed its first reading in mid-2018, that would, in part, cancel exemptions of Yeshiva students, set recruitment targets and impose economic sanctions on Yeshivot that don’t meet those targets; (4) passage of a law allowing for civil marriage [yes, there is no legitimate civil marriage possibility in Israel and such ceremonies can only be performed abroad and then can be registered here]; (5) changing the laws relating to conversion, allowing local rabbis to carry them out [instead of the orthodox, religious establishment]. These are starting points, not final ones.
Within the space of a few short hours, Gantz accepted Lieberman’s conditions, saying: “Agreed. We must move forward.” But, in the language of politics, “moving forward” often means moving backwards, attempting to undo what has been done and to negate the voice of the people that was expressed in the elections that took place last week. So, if Lieberman’s assistance will help to push Gantz over the threshhold to enable him to get the nod from the President to form a government, then one must ask whether Gantz is the one who will really be in charge, or whether the strings of the country will be pulled and manipulated in the background by Lieberman.
What is it that motivates Lieberman, who was once a close associate of Netanyahu, to pull out all the stops to unseat the Prime Minister? According to a report in the Times of Israel, Lieberman claims that Netanyahu was responsible for multiple complaints filed against him and his family with police, prosecutors and tax authorities. Some of the “complaints” were made anonymously while others were said to be made by persons close to Netanyahu. Lieberman was quoted as saying: “It’s clear to me that behind this move are Netanyahu and his lawyer ….”, adding that efforts were made to dig up dirt on him. “By my code this is a sin for which there is no forgiveness, even on Yom Kippur” (i.e., the Jewish Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar). “They should stop sending messengers to me on behalf of Likud — the thought that I will sit with Netanyahu is a fantasy with no chances.” Obviously, the Likud denied any validity to Lieberman’s claim.
For a secularist, Lieberman’s reference to Yom Kippur and saying that Netanyahu cannot be forgiven of his sins against Lieberman, is nothing short of hypocritical. Even though there are some differences in political ideologies between Lieberman and Netanyahu, Lieberman’s own statements reveal that his primary reason for opposing Netanyahu is personal, not political. For him, “The most important thing right now is to ensure [Blue and White party chief Benny] Gantz gets the mandate [to form a government].”
How exactly Gantz, with Lieberman’s help, is planning to set up a government without the help of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties remains to be seen. But, as we have seen time and time again, politics makes for strange bedfellows. Still, the possibility of getting support from the Joint List has generated opposition within the ranks of Gantz’s Blue and White Party.
The world continues to turn and power politics of misaligned players continue to try to overturn, while the Coronavirus continues to spread in its not so petty pace from day to day and impacts more and more of our population and our national life. National health should take precedence over national prominence. Our priority should be the welfare of the population, not the whims of the political establishment. We are a first-world nation with a third-world mentality. Hatred will not bring about healing. We need an injection of common sense and a spirit of camaraderie. With God, nothing is impossible.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,