If It Wants to Survive, Israel's New Government Must Be Balanced and Liberal

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset in Jerusalem, following the vote on the controversial Citizenship Law, two days ago.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Hundreds of Palestinians seeking Israeli citizenship owe a big vote of thanks to Yamina lawmaker Amichai Chikli and the opposition. Thanks to them, the draconian temporary amendment to the Citizenship Law was defeated, and at least for a little while, until a new law is passed or until Chikli is persuaded to vote with the government, they have a window of opportunity in which to resubmit their applications.

Granted, every application they submit will have to surmount the high hurdle of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. But they can petition the High Court of Justice to challenge the automatic rejections they can expect from her. And above all, this defeat will give the government another chance to rethink its faulty judgment and halt this legislation.

Beyond the irony of the fact that the rightist opposition joined the Arab-majority Joint List to defeat a patently anti-liberal law that embodies the spirit of the extreme right and wraps itself in the false pretext of national security to prevent the collapse of Israel’s Jewish majority, this bill, and the battle over the vote, mapped out the boundaries in which this government can function. If there were any doubt of this, we saw the proof on Monday.

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The “anyone but Bibi” government is facing an opposition whose slogan is “anyone but Bennett.” It makes no difference what bill the government proposes; the opposition will vote against it regardless of its content, the agenda it seeks to further or the ideology it represents.

What this means in practice is that the government can pass laws only if it manages to create a stable common denominator among its members. That in itself is a huge innovation, a real revolution in Israeli politics compared to what it experienced during the previous 12 years.

Suddenly, a cabinet consists of all its members and has to satisfy them all. Not a single minister can be taken from granted. This is a stark contrast to previous governments, which served as a rubber stamp for a tyrant who is facing criminal charges.

The glue that holds this government together won’t enable it to hold extremist views, either right-wing or left-wing. It will fall apart if human rights are eroded too severely for Meretz and Labor to stomach, or if support for the settlements is eroded to a degree that the government’s right flank can’t accept.

The issues of the Evyatar settlement outpost and the Citizenship Law mark the government’s boundaries on both sides, the places where an electric fence lies that mustn’t be approached. Crossing it means the government will fall. The pole of the big tent under which its members have gathered will collapse, new elections will be called, and Benjamin Netanyahu will return to power.

The government will therefore have no choice but to be more balanced and, one might even dare to say, more liberal than any other government in years. It will re-establish the coordinates defining the center and restore the center to its natural place, from which it was torn away by the power of the right during Netanyahu’s successive governments.

The populist yardstick that measures whether this government is more right-wing or more left-wing has become superfluous. Having failed on the Citizenship Law, with generous help from the opposition, it has been freed of the ideological criteria Netanyahu set for it. Because after Netanyahu himself removed the barrier to partnering with Arab parties, gave a kashrut certificate to United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas and thwarted the right-wing Citizenship Law, he and his band of tin drummers have disqualified themselves from serving as the judges of ideological purity.

What is keeping this government alive is the ideology of “anyone but Bibi,” thanks to which it was formed. And this may suffice to grant it the long life it hopes for. This slogan should be engraved on small wooden signs placed on the desk of every minister and Knesset member in the coalition to remind them that this is their political raison d’etre – the essential food that will ensure its continuance in power and, in the process, also Israelis’ wellbeing.

This government, which no longer needs to measure itself against the opposition and is exempt from political justifications, now may and even must abandon the Citizenship Law, which threatens its existence. This threat is much more serious than the threat posed by a few hundred Palestinians who will receive some kind of residency rights in Israel.

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