Say what you will about Israel’s former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his depiction of his year in office is surprisingly frank. Maybe that’s why it will surely infuriate many of his voters who handed him the opportunity to lead a right-wing policy, as per his stated agenda and countless promises, and received instead a militant anti-settlements and pro-Arab government that, had it been permitted to serve out its four years, would have inflicted an irreparable damage on their hopes and principles.
Bennett’s Sunday NY Times op-ed “A Good-Will Government Was Possible in Israel” is founded on the notion that his joining a bizarre, unprecedented right-left coalition whose single unifying idea was removing Benjamin Netanyahu from office was unavoidable. He has a point: the legitimate right-wing parties that were elected on March 23, 2021 included Likud with 30 mandates, Shas with 9, Yamina (Bennett’s party) with 7, United Torah Judaism with 7, and Religious Zionism with 6. That’s 59. Netanyahu was going to include Ra’am with its 4 seats, but the move was vetoed by Bezalel Smotrich.
Bennett’s solution was to join Ra’am in a coalition with parties across the aisle, in exchange for serving as the first prime minister in Israel whose party had fewer seats than other coalition parties.
His excuse? “We had near-record unemployment and an unprecedented deficit. We hadn’t passed a budget for three years. Benjamin Netanyahu had failed to form a government, and we were just days away from another round of elections and full-blown chaos.”
Except that those harrowing statistics were the result of dealing with a raging pandemic, and, indeed, in a few months the Israeli economy was back on track. Not because Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman was such a wizard, but because Israelis went back to work. If only the NY Times readers had been on planet Earth during that difficult year…
Presenting himself as a kind of political sage, Bennett explained his method in herding so many different cats, whose ideologies ran from his own party’s mainly national religious constituency to the post-Zionist Meretz party and even the anti-Zionist Ra’am: “How did we do it? I established the 70/70 rule. About 70 percent of Israelis agree on 70 percent of the issues. … So, my government focused on getting the 70 percent done, as opposed to endlessly wrangling over the issues we didn’t agree on.”
Naturally, in a government that stayed away from disagreeable subjects, those who were willing to go there won the day. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, for instance, used his share of the vacuum to push forward a Palestinian state, at the expense of the Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria. And Mansour Abbas was able to wrestle billions in budgets for his Israeli Arab constituents, including those who had been thumbing their nose against Israel’s legal system.
Bennett has a warm corner in his heart for the Ra’am chairman. He shares that he invited Abbas to talk during the coalition negotiations, and the Arab leader asked, “Which secret apartment should we meet at?” He was used to the secrecy of his meetings with Netanyahu. Bennett responded: “We’re going to meet openly at my Knesset office. You are not second-class. I am not ashamed to meet you.”
Good for him.
“I discovered a brave leader just about my age who turned out to be something of a mensch,” Bennett writes. “We are both men of faith and quickly agreed that whatever theological disagreements may exist between Judaism and Islam, we will let God handle those. We will work together here and now to provide better education, better jobs, and safer streets for Israelis and Arabs.”
What a shame that, as Bennett puts it, “After a year of progress, my government collapsed amid nonstop pressure from public protests and on social networks. Arab parliamentarians who joined my coalition in order to improve the socioeconomic future of Israeli Arabs were called traitors in their hometowns, as were members of Yamina in their communities.”
He blames the failure of his outlandish concept of a government united by nothing more than loathing Netanyahu on the public that couldn’t tolerate a little bit of absurd existence and self-deluding hypocrisy. In the end, Naftali Bennett does not accept responsibility for the wobbly foundation of his government, criticizing the folks who were getting seasick.
There’s also this: “My government did a poor job fending off the enormous amount of misinformation that was being spread across Israel and blind sectarianism. This campaign succeeded and brought my government to its end.”
I can’t recall in recent history a government that was more preserved and supported by the general media than this one. Journalists who for years had been attacking Bennett for his right-wing positions, Liberman for his crooked reputation, and Lapid for his moderate intelligence, heaped so much praise on them and the rest of the key participants, it was nauseating. In the end, Bennett’s government did not fail over misinformation, but over information.