Israel's Lapid as the Old Netanyahu

The Yesh Atid leader has transformed the protest against inequality into an economic and moral blow to Israel's two poorest communities.

Lev Grinberg
Lev Grinberg
Lev Grinberg
Lev Grinberg

Is there any possibility that a “Rabin coalition" – one of leftists, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs – could be created under Likud’s leadership? Apparently this is the only answer to the “alliance of thugs” that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett have forged.

Whereas a Rabin coalition should be called a Democratic coalition, the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett should be called a Republican coalition.

Although this sounds like science fiction, we should be ready for surprises after what has happened in Israeli politics since the summer of 2011. When then-Minister Haim Ramon coined the term Big Bang to refer to what could happen in Israeli politics following Rabin’s handshake with Yasser Arafat, he couldn't have imagined the Big Bang of the last election. Nothing new was built, nor is it clear why any member of any party couldn't easily be a member of any other party. Partisan loyalty will gradually unravel and we will discover that many politicians have much in common beyond the boundaries of party discipline.

Who could have imagined that people like Yael German, Ruth Calderon and Ofer Shelah would raise no protest as they stood behind the alliance of thugs that their chieftain Lapid has created with Bennett, the leader of the thugs of the Land of Stolen Hills? Thus, no one can claim that the idea of Netanyahu heading a democratic coalition is pure fantasy. What has happened over the past two years is pure fantasy.

The chieftain of the tribe of those who champion equal responsibility (that is, a universal draft) has written on his Facebook page that he wants to teach the ultra-Orthodox parties what democracy means. How will he teach them? His reply: “Let them sit in the opposition in the Knesset.” The great democratic educator created a party without any internal election and is holding his MKs on a very tight leash, taking his cue from Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, because they know he could easily throw them out of the party before the next election.

In any comparative study in politics and government, this is called dictatorial democracy.” The dictatorial-democratic educator did not tell his voters that he would establish an alliance with Habayit Hayehudi and prioritize construction in the West Bank over construction within the Green Line. The job of democracy educator will be given to someone who wants to boycott the ultra-Orthodox and politicians like MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad), without even bothering to talk to them about what's important to them. And he seeks to force them to abandon their way of life through legislation and the tyranny of the majority.

The members of the Shas party understand what Lapid wants. And what he wants is nothing new: His father Tommy Lapid did the same thing in 2003. He inflicted heavy damage on ultra-Orthodox Jewish families and Arab families, making Israel a world leader in inequality.

But Netanyahu also knows what Lapid wants, and he realizes that what he wants amounts to a trap.

Netanyahu realizes that an economic blow to the Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox could lead to another popular protest, this time with the participation of the really poor and a weakened middle class. Lapid will hamstring Netanyahu, force him to adopt Habayit Hayehudi's positions and push him into a confrontation with the United States at a very inopportune time, to put it mildly. As former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said, things look different from up close.

What has happened in Israel over the past two years is unprecedented and shows how little Israeli politicians understand the public. The social protest of 2011 was sweeping, turbulent and better reflected grassroots participation than the protests in any country with democratic elections – that is, better than the social protests in Spain, the United States, Russia, Greece and Chile.

Only the social protest in Egypt surpassed what happened in Israel. But when the tent city on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard was dismantled, the protest vanished after Hamas' release of Gilad Shalit and amid the manipulative use of the threats from Iran, Sudan and Gaza. The social agenda was utterly forgotten, even after people immolated themselves in city streets in 2012's summer of despair.

In the reality that has been created, it's no wonder that Lapid has transformed the protest against economic inequality and the demand for equal rights into a protest for equal obligations and an economic and moral blow to Israel's two poorest communities. The summer protest proved that democracy in Israel is imaginary and cannot be implemented. The election is a reality TV show where survivors compete and the nation is forced outside, where sudden stars demand to run the country.

Under such conditions, it's not surprising that the ultra-Orthodox parties desperately seek an alliance with Labor, perhaps even with Meretz. They should also enter into a dialogue with MKs Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash), Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List – Ta’al) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad) about a democratic coalition. By doing so, they would teach Lapid a thing or two about the laws of Judaism and democracy.

Only then will the ultra-Orthodox parties – and perhaps the white middle class – understand that they have partners they can talk to. After all, the boycotted poor of our city take precedence over the domineering lords of our land.

Lev Grinberg teaches political sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University and is the author of “Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine: Democracy vs. Military Rule” (Routledge, 2010).

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, center left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony of the 19th Knesset in Jerusalem, Feb. 5, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman

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