Lapid and Bennett: The Brotherhood of the Fat Cats

The corrupt alliance has begotten a government riddled with contradictions: Seeking peace while building settlements, idealizing the middle class but burdening it with more taxes, subsidizing settlers while demanding everyone carry their own weight.

Last week, Haaretz ran stories on the shockingly inflated salaries of city and settlement rabbis and on Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett increasing the prices of the rabbinate’s services. Finance Minister Yair Lapid did his part and consented to the fee hikes. These examples describe a reality that is entirely contrary to the ideology with which Lapid rallied support and trust. It is worth trying to figure out the basis for the strange brotherhood of Lapid and Bennett. Their parties collectively control a quarter of the seats in the Knesset and act as a the main pillar in the coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

When people speak of “politics as the art of the impossible,” it is generally uttered with at least a touch of irony or humor, but there is nothing artistic or funny about the alliance between Lapid and Bennett. There is also no reason to acquiesce to such a constellation of political forces, which is an expression of corrupt values. This alliance spans across the country’s political map and therefore it actually represents contempt for and abuse of democracy. On the left end of the spectrum in Lapid's Yesh Atid party, there is MK Adi Kol, who worked closely in the past with Tamar Gozansky, a former member of Knesset affiliated with the Israeli Communist Party. On the opposite end is Orit Strock, an MK in Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi from the West Bank settlement of Hebron. Such a distorted situation requires an explanation.

It's possible that the explanation actually lies in the personal connection between Lapid and Bennett. Though they appear to come from starkly different backgrounds it is, in practice, possible to find quite a lot of common ground between the two. The lives of both are success stories. Granted, they had the benefit of comfortable, sheltered backgrounds, but they accomplished what they accomplished with their own two hands and quickly reached success. Bennett prides himself in his military career as a combat officer in Israel Defense Forces' most elite unit. For his part, Lapid can claim the equivalent in the press corps, from his early years at “Bamahaneh,” the military publication, to the "Shiva Yamim" ("Seven Days") supplement of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper and on to his work as a television anchor at Channel 2's Friday evening news program "Ulpan Shishi."

Bennett co-founded a startup company and later sold it, turning him into a multimillionaire. Lapid danced his way from the Genky nightclub to becoming the brand ambassador for Israel's largest bank. We are talking about two young millionaires. When Lapid wanted to cultivate an image of an ordinary guy, he quickly traded in his BMW sedan for a fancy executive’s SUV. The opposition leader from the Labor Party, Shelly Yacimovich, appropriately dubbed them the alliance of the fat cats - not only financially privileged but also smug. Ironically, both built their political persona - and success - on the image of the everyman. Lapid called his supporters "my fellow slaves" and ran on a platform of hope but with nothing to show for it. Bennett simply declared “Bennett is a brother” in his campaign and breathed life into a dying party. Their spectacular success begot great arrogance.

On his Facebook page, Bennett posted a Haaretz editorial critical of him, adding the comment "Oy, carry on." Lapid attributes the criticism leveled at him to bitter jealousy, educating critics that no megaphone yet invented can penetrate the walls government halls. He compared his detractors to little dogs barking in the rain.

The pair don't really see eye-to-eye on matters of politics and social affairs and they never will. Their cooperation is a cynical tool to reach positions of power and weaken Netanyahu (even as he provides the model they both aspire to). As a result, they enjoy and will continue to enjoy the cynical support of newspapers like Yedioth Ahronoth. It is an alliance with deceit and corruption in its DNA. That's the only way the brotherhood of the fat cats can sit together in a government that is renewing the peace process and at the same time carrying out construction in the settlements; a government committed to equal sharing of the burden of military service along with generous funding for rabbis and settlers; committed to serving those who work but also raising taxes and upping the cost of services. That is the essence of the new politics of Lapid and Bennett and it must be resisted.