Will the Tragedy on Mount Meron Help Naftali Bennett Form a Government?

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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Naftali Bennett speaks at a press conference, last month.
Naftali Bennett speaks at a press conference, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

As I write this column, trying to shed light on the coalition talks only hours after the disaster on Mount Meron, we only know one thing for sure: Everything that happens now will take place under the gloomy shadow of the tragedy and the failures that led to it. As we see details such as the cries of a child with no air to breathe or a ringing phone next to the body of a young man with the word “Mom” on the screen, our fury and pain will only grow.

In the past, the festivities on Lag Ba’omer were part of our popular culture, and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a spiritual asset of the entire people. But over the years, as has happened with events, ceremonies, the tombs of the righteous and other holy places, the functionaries have taken over, turning these things into political assets.

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Today, the ultra-Orthodox make up the vast majority of people coming to Mount Meron. Government ministries, the production of such events and the bids for producing them are mainly under the jurisdiction of the Shas party. And so, public welfare and the well-being of worshippers have become a low priority.

Naftali Bennett, his associates say, wanted to leave an opening for the ultra-Orthodox parties in a unity government he might lead. That would allow him, he hoped, to detach himself from left-wing Meretz and the Arab parties, a card without which he’ll have a hard time withstanding the organized onslaught by activists and media people who favor the occupants of Balfour Street, attacks meant to put pressure on Bennett.

Leaving aside the elite commando unit he served in and the eroticization of his military career, Bennett isn’t politically courageous, and the decision he faces isn’t an easy one. Up to now, he has managed to miss every opportunity to take action.

On Tuesday, for example, he could have showed up at a press conference with Gideon Sa’ar declaring that Benjamin Netanyahu had crossed a red line and there was no way back. On Wednesday he could have said that even though Netanyahu withdrew his attempt to appoint Ofir Akunis justice minister, the damage was done because when a government disobeys the law to serve a personal interest of its leader, nothing has meaning.

But Bennett didn’t do this. His condition in recent days has been a bubbling that never reaches the boiling point. Will the tragedy on Mount Meron speed up the process or cool things down? Is the talk about ultra-Orthodox autonomy and the state’s yielding to this community for political reasons enough to achieve a complete rejection of these parties and their representatives? Bennett must be asking himself these questions and others.

A few hours after the tragedy, he arrived on the scene saying: “We’re now witnessing what solidarity looks like. Arab citizens from Tamra have opened emergency centers, religious and secular people are donating blood. This is the time for unity.”

This sentiment is nice, but the big question is whether he’ll summon up the strength to declare that despite the mourning, even as people are missing and the dead are being buried, we have to determine who was responsible for the horrific failure. Will he summon up the strength before all the advisers and spin doctors take over, trying to exert their influence on behalf of their masters in shaping the story and doling out responsibility?

If a unity government is ultimately formed, it will arise under the impact of these events, which are feeding the sense that there’s no functioning state, that Basic Laws are written on water, that senior officials are appointed inappropriately, based on their proximity to the prime minister.

There’s a feeling that the police are weak and their commissioner was appointed based on ulterior motives, that the public security minister is a tireless sycophant who’s loyal only to Netanyahu, his master, that four general elections have been based solely on the prime minister’s personal needs, that the failure to impose the state’s authority, as happened on Mount Meron, is tantamount to a betrayal of the health and well-being of the citizens.

Bennett, with Sa’ar beside him, have received a blood-soaked historic opportunity to translate their words about the time for unity into a brave political act. We’ll soon know if they’re made of the right stuff.

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