Opinion

Israel's National Disappointment Government

Israel Harel
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Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, Kfar Maccabiah, February 19, 2020
Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, Kfar Maccabiah, February 19, 2020Credit: Moti Milrod
Israel Harel

Even though there’s no need for it in order to fight the pandemic, the vast majority of the right wanted a unity/emergency/salvation government. The same isn’t true of the left; just look at how that bloc’s most important opinion leaders have expressed themselves.

Nevertheless, a minority of the left (and a small majority of the Kahol Lavan party’s voters) has retroactively reconciled itself to the fact that party leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi are entering a unity government. A crisis justifies an emergency government, they consoled themselves.

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Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70Credit: Haaretz

But what has since emerged with regard to the substance, structure and size of this “emergency government” has been a big disappointment for both blocs.

Despite quite a few mistakes along the way, the Netanyahu government – and this is something with which even many important players in the “anyone but Bibi” camp agree – is functioning fairly well. Even though there’s still no formal “unity,” there’s undoubtedly a genuine feeling of crisis among the public.

Not one company, research institute or academic institution has failed to mobilize against the pandemic because of opposition to Netanyahu. Nor is there a scientist in the country, including Netanyahu’s most diehard opponents, who isn’t putting their abilities at the disposal of the national effort at this time.

Thus an emergency government isn’t necessary to deal with the health crisis. But it is necessary, very necessary, for the sake of national reconciliation and to restore the citizenry’s faith in its elected representatives.

When most segments of society have representatives in the government, it enjoys the trust of most of the public. And when there’s trust, morale rises. High morale, which leads to optimism, is an important part of the battle.

Trust in the government increases obedience to the steps it is taking, and this could curb and ultimately prevent the infection’s continued spread. The more the public trusts its representatives, the more it will trust what it’s being ordered to do.

Unity and reconciliation takes place between opposites. Only when blocs that are fundamentally at odds unite during a time of trouble can the resulting government be called a “unity” government or an “emergency” one.

When political groups whose worldviews are similar, like Likud and the breakaways from Kahol Lavan, join forces, this is a standard coalition government. And the moment Gantz and the party members who followed him shelved their main “ideological” message – “anyone but Bibi” – all the rest, due to the lack of any real, deep disputes, is a question of the price.

Let’s assume for a moment that Gantz and Ashkenazi truly think their participation in the government will contribute to the battle against the pandemic. Then how do they explain their appetite for unnecessary ministerial portfolios, which will only complicate and even undermine this battle? Don’t they understand that splitting up ministries and installing a plethora of novice ministers eager to do something will be divisive, increase bureaucracy and delay the battle?

Consequently, people are right to fear that the politicians rushing into this “salvation government” are knowingly lending a hand to a maneuver whose main goal is to save Benjamin Netanyahu. If the purpose were really a salvation government, they should have demanded at the very start of the negotiations that the cabinet number only a dozen, or at most 18 ministers. Is this an emergency or isn’t it?

Had Gantz, Ashkenazi and Labor MKs Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli acted in that manner, it would have softened the feeling of betrayal among their voters. Giving up the delights of power would have attested to the purity of their intentions, and a different mood would have prevailed.

But for now, the coalition negotiations – in all its aspects, not just the unbridled inflation in the number of ministers – spark feelings of disappointment, bitterness and betrayal on both the left and the right. The public feels that its faith and naivete have once again been exploited.

It turns out that even new, ostensibly clean politicians are exploiting the emergency to gain the minimal experience needed for promotion by adopting the very tactics that, according to their public statements, they entered politics to fight.

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