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Follies Within Israel's Coalition

Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz
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Israeli lawmaker Michael Biton, in 2021.
Israeli lawmaker Michael Biton, in 2021.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz

The good news started arriving in the afternoon: Lawmaker Michael Biton, who was promised that the reform in the price of public transportation would be re-examined, was placated and will return to voting with the coalition. A sigh of relief could be heard all the way to his Negev hometown of Yeruham.

This happened shortly after lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi got what she wanted, reversing, for now, her intention of leaving the coalition. Meanwhile, lawmaker Nir Orbach doesn’t stop broadcasting about his suffering, about the pressure he’s under, and hinting that he might follow Idit Silman, who did depart the coalition. Each of them, in turn, manages to get his or her dose of media attention, and the attention of the heads of the government of change, which is trying to continue governing, on a good day, with a flimsy roster of 60 lawmakers. Threats of decamping come from right, left and center, the latter thanks to Biton. These serve to show us that there is no shortage of dissatisfied members in this coalition, but not because it veered excessively to the right or left.

From their own perspective, they may be doing the right thing: They get their hour in the limelight, appearing as influential lawmakers distinguishing themselves from the others, who are more disciplined (for now) and don’t cause a fuss. But this is the wisdom of the individual and the folly of the collective. These threats, be they real or imaginary, have corollary effects that undermine public trust in this government and hasten its demise.

First, when a lawmaker scores an achievement by means of extortion, it immediately invites extortion by others. Biton may have climbed down the ladder he was on, but already there are others wishing to get on it, and rightly so from their perspective: How else would the public know they are doing something for its benefit? At this stage, the achievements these lawmakers are extorting are reasonable ones, not leading to a blow-up in the coalition. But at some point a lawmaker will demand something that will tear it apart. After all, from extortion to extortion, one’s appetite grows.

Second, these repeated threats make even the coalition’s supporters grow weary, and given the small gap between this bloc and the one headed by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s enough for a small group to switch sides and make this government lose its legitimacy. After all, from its very first day, its legitimacy has been questioned, with incitement greeting the very idea of Arab-Jewish cooperation in government.

Third, every threat of defection by a Knesset member charges the opposition and its leader with renewed energy, thereby increasing pressure on the coalition. Thus, a volatile event such as the Flag March in Jerusalem was not only an occasion for racist incitement against Arabs (there’s nothing new in that), it also became an act of defiance against the Bennett government and its unique conception of combining left and right, Arabs and Jews, secular and religious, all trying to work together.

The last thing coalition members need, mainly the ones on its right wing, is increased pressure from the opposition. Right-wing lawmakers were its weakest link from day one of this government, since they began broadcasting stress and hesitation. Lawmakers Orbach and Abir Kara, as well as former member of Knesset Yomtob Kalfon, can only blame themselves for finding it hard to work under such pressure. Someone who is not vulnerable to pressure is not subjected to any. If they want proof of this, they can look at New Hope's members. This is a right-wing party no less than Yamina, but they have not apologized, deliberated or agonized over joining this coalition, and are therefore not contending with the intense pressure put on Yamina lawmakers.

In a week and a half, the government of change will have finished one year in office, with its ability to function gradually diminishing. It will take only one MK to topple it. This gives each one of them great heft, which could lead to extortion, or to an understanding that he or she is serving some higher purpose, the cooperation and joint effort to block forces that are poisoning Israel and threatening its internal stability.

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