Opinion |

Bennett, Lead Like Nobody’s Voting for You

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset's opening session on Monday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the session.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

“Elections would be a terrible mistake,” United Arab List chair Mansour Abbas said Wednesday, announcing that his party won’t leave the coalition. There aren’t enough hats in the world to doff to this great man, who is leading a civic revolution before our very eyes and, in the process, teaching us all a lesson in political wisdom, in leadership and in all-inclusive responsibility.

Anyone who considers him a collaborator has a worldview rooted in cinematic images, and is missing what’s actually going on. Is participating in the government in a democratic fashion and exerting influence over policy a collaboration? Really, come on. Not only is being on the inside the best way to effect change, but for Israel’s Arab citizens and lawmakers, being on the inside is itself a change. Being in the government means having a share in power, state funding, the public conversation and the media. It changes the composition of the Knesset, its committees and the entire public sphere. Of course, one could say that all political cooperation is a form of collaboration.

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The truth is that it would have been extremely surprising had Abbas decided to quit. After all, nothing happening in Israel right now is new – the security tension and the challenges it creates, the religious and national tensions, the occupation, the settlements, the laws that enshrine Jewish supremacy. Had Abbas intended to quit every time a new land mine was discovered, he wouldn’t have entered this minefield to begin with. His actions aren’t naive, they are clear-sighted. He came in order to defuse the mines – and if that’s not possible, to go around them.

If it’s true that Naftali Bennett’s preferred scenario is for the Knesset to dissolve with the UAL’s support, since “that would enable [him] to remain in office” as interim premier until a new government is formed (Haaretz, May 9), then Bennett isn’t on the same level as his rhetoric. Moreover, he has completely failed to understand the significance of the change that he himself advocated. Lest there be any confusion, Abbas is the necessary condition for supporting this government, which from any other standpoint is hard to swallow.

If Bennett actually does want the UAL to quit, and achieves this goal through right-wing provocations that leave Abbas no other choice, he will never return to the Prime Minister’s Office. I hope his advisers are explaining to him that no one will ever vote for him again in order to advance an “unapologetic” right-wing policy. He apologized very nicely when he formed a government with leftists and Arabs, and people forgave him.

In contrast, the rightists in the opposition will never forgive him. If Bennett does not follow to its end the path of change he has advocated to the public, he will be finished politically.

Only as a leader who effects change does Bennett have a chance. And it’s impossible to advocate change without actually changing. The change at issue is Israel’s relationship with its Arab citizens. Bennett must not reject Abbas’ outstretched hand, because without it, and without the UAL, he’s just the leader of the “first Israel” (well-off Ashkenazim) in its battle against the “second Israel” (poorer Mizrahim). Nothing more.

Change also means bringing the Haredim into the government, as Abbas wisely suggested in an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily Thursday (and Yisrael Beiteinu chair Avigdor Lieberman and the Yesh Atid party need to stop with their childish hatred of Haredim).

“Dance like nobody’s watching,” goes the saying (and the song). Bennett should be told to govern like nobody’s voting for you. Govern like this were your one and only term in office, the end of your career. Do what is right, what is necessary, without any electoral calculations. You have no voters, but if(!) you manage to establish a genuine Jewish-Arab political partnership that can weather all of the political storms that Israel’s climate generates, then maybe, just maybe, you’ll have a chance.

Change means that everyone changes, not that everyone changes except me. You want to survive? Then change.

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