Yes, Sit in a Government Even With Netanyahu

Ravit Hecht
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Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2012.Credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO
Ravit Hecht

It’s not popular in my milieu, and it’s certainly not the bon ton in the center-left bloc, parts of which have become addicted to hatred of Benjamin Netanyahu. More importantly, it contradicts the sincere, heartfelt longing to see the Netanyahu family finally exit the stage of history and leave us alone for a while. I only wish that would happen.

I also wish it were possible to elect a left-wing government that would be free of corruption, end the occupation, extend a hand to peace and promote liberal values. But that evidently won’t happen. Not anytime soon.

Therefore, we’ll now address reality – the lesser of two evils, which unfortunately is sometimes the most effective way to frame one’s choices. The lesser evil in this case is a unity government – yes, even with Netanyahu at its head – that will leave out MK Bezalel Smotrich, and, if possible, ultra-Orthodox extortion as well.

This isn’t an easy opinion either to have or to hear. But there are several pragmatic reasons for it.

>> Read more: Unity means following the right ■ Why a Netanyahu-Gantz unity government would be best for the economy

First, this is the people’s will, as reflected both in the polls and in the actual election that took place in April. Over and over, we see the same graph – two tall columns for the major parties with a plethora of tiny parties beside them. Some of the latter are niche or sectorial parties, some are simply troll or extremist parties, and most are hovering around the electoral threshold.

The popular desire for a unity government is also evident in the success of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who has reinvented himself. Lieberman has made a unity government a key element of his campaign, and so far the polls show the public rewarding him.

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman and former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Tel Aviv, Israel, July 30, 2019. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Second, the situation requires a unity government. People like Gabi Ashkenazi and Ofer Shelah must sit in the cabinet, not on the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women or the Interior and Environment Committee. They must grab the cabinet chairs from right-wingers like Orit Strock and Moti Yogev. They have many more supporters than Hebron hotheads and conversion therapy zealots.

Supporters of the center-left deserve representation and influence. They shouldn’t have to keep watching, silently and painfully, as tiny messianic cults take over public resources and leave them to languish in the wilderness of the opposition.

Third, paradoxically, a unity government would actually be the best vaccine against personal legislation drafted only to let the prime minister escape justice. It’s self-evident that the fundamental, non-negotiable demand of a party like Kahol Lavan should be to prevent the parliamentary immunity bill or the Supreme Court override bill to go through the Knesset. On this, there can be no compromises. 

If the choice is between a catastrophic right-wing government peddling West Bank sovereignty for Netanyahu immunity, and a unity government able to block disruptive legislation, the second option is simply the lesser evil.

A man walks past electoral campaign posters bearing the portraits of Netanyahu and retired Israeli general Benny Gantz in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, on April 3, 2019Credit: AFP

Ostensibly, the likelihood of a unity government is small. Why should Netanyahu choose to sit with those who don’t want to protect him? The answer is that he has no other option, as the failed coalition negotiations following April’s election show.

For him, the risk of political beheading comes from the right, not the left. Lieberman exemplifies this. Kahol Lavan would be a much more comfortable, sympathetic partner than Smotrich, Lieberman and Naftali Bennett. It’s no accident that Netanyahu’s campaign is focused on his true rivals – Ayelet Shaked and Lieberman

For Kahol Lavan, this would at first glance be a betrayal of its voters, the bulk of whom truly despise Netanyahu. But despite the hate, Kahol Lavan voters long for power and yearn to regain a smidgen of control after having lost the country to Likud and the disturbed hilltop youth.

One could cautiously conclude that Kahol Lavan has begun to prepare them for such a step. Its campaign slogan has changed from “Netanyahu cares only about Netanyahu” to the veteran workhorse “Israel above all.” A source in Kahol Lavan said Thursday that this change was indeed planned, but “after a million tries, we understood that this was best.” In other words, it’s the lesser evil.