A Partnership of Alchemists

The strange alliance between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid has transformed both of their parties into something they're not.

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Two couples, Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu, and Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, are playing a game of bridge over the country's future. The alliance between the Netanyahus is natural and “kosher,” as it is set in Jewish law. But the partnership between Lapid and Bennett is as awe-inspiring as the connection between sushi and matzo balls. They are united by a common, if thin thread: drafting Haredim into the army. They both assume the vast majority of the public that voted for them is entirely uninterested in any other issue in their platforms, apart from the desire to clothe a few thousand yeshiva students in army green.

It's as if Bennett’s supporters don’t care that their representatives vehemently oppose dismantling settlements or a two-state solution, as sections of the platform state: “We object to any form of Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. The Palestinian leadership does not want Judea and Samaria but all of the State of Israel.” It's as if promoting Jewish civil law, objecting to funding “anti-Israeli” NGOs, or “standing firmly against the fifth column” of Israeli Arabs pale in comparison to “sharing the burden.” Suddenly, sharing the burden – the phrase that means drafting the ultra-Orthodox and bringing them into the workforce – has become a veil that conceals their extreme right-wing identity, and explains why they have found an ally from what is commonly considered “the center.”

Bennett’s voters need to ask themselves if they agree to forgo all those other lofty principles that led them to vote the way they did in return for “sharing the burden.” Are they at all pleased with the “ideological partner” that has been attached to them and that threatens them with negotiations with the Palestinians? They aren't the only ones who should feel betrayed by the strange alliance between the new right and the superficial center.

After all, what did Lapid’s voters seek when they placed his party’s name in the ballot box?  Their representatives offered a new economic, political and social order – equidistant between left and right. And now, amid the ideological wilderness that Lapid is proposing it's hard to find a clear position on anything besides “sharing the burden.” That’s how it is in the center, where those who evade clear positions and decisions usually build a fence they can sit on. 

Suddenly tens of thousands of voters from the center have found themselves embracing – and not of their own free will – a leader of the extreme right wing. They are providing him with a cover and are enabling him to appear more “center” thanks to the alliance their leader forged with him.

Lapid’s supporters, like Bennett’s, are allowed to be astonished, and even furious: If there is no significance to ideological positions and if the People of Israel are united only by a fetishistic desire to see Haredim running in the hills – and reciting the Shema Yisrael while dropping during a drill – then why didn't Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi merge into one faction? 

Why have they agreed to this sham in which Lapid has let his voters believe they are the center, and Bennett has convinced his supporters they are the right – while both, in fact, are pushing the same slogan? Bennett and Lapid are like two alchemists presenting a new political invention: The “sane center” and the “extremist center.”

But there is no such thing. There can only be “right that tastes like center” or “center that tastes like nothing.” And apparently bluffing is allowed. "Sharing the burden" has turned into a sleeping pill of sorts. All the differences in policy – the budget, the Iranian threat, President Obama’s visit and, of course, creating a coalition that can manage the country – all these bow before this “burden.”

But what will happen if, one day, Netanyahu announces he accepts the partners’ conditions, or any compromise the two can agree on? Will they go their separate ways as both sides attempt to promote their own agendas? Or will the two, drunk with victory, continue their tango in economic and political matters? Will Lapid’s “center” embrace Bennett's extremism when it comes to the peace process? Will Bennett espouse Lapid’s economic theory? And what if Netanyahu stands firm and decides to join forces with the Haredim? Do the hundreds of thousands who voted for these two deserve to lose their grip on the government because of an important – but not critical – issue that created such an incomprehensible partnership?

Bennett’s extremist ideology will find enough supporters in a Netanyahu government, even if he is not a part of it. But what about the “center” that believed Lapid wasa prophet – only to discover his party's for hire?

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, left, and Habayit Hayehudi head Naftali Bennett at the swearing-in ceremony for new Knesset members on Feb. 5, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman

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