Opinion |

Bezalel Smotrich Was Right

עקיבא נוביק
Akiva Novick
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Right-wing lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich
Right-wing lawmaker Bezalel SmotrichCredit: Nir Kafri
עקיבא נוביק
Akiva Novick

The collapse of the government of change brings with it the particularly painful loss of its right side: Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Nir Orbach have been forced to admit that their fiercest opponents won the argument that has divided the camp for a year. Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party was right.

In retrospect, he demonstrated a political sobriety shown by none of his colleagues on the right. All of them, without exception, agreed to the establishment of a Jewish-Arab government: from Benjamin Netanyahu to the Haredi parties and all the way to the right-wingers who built and are now dismantling it in tears.

When Orbach yelled at the coalition’s Arab lawmakers “The experiment with you has failed,” he implicitly waved a white flag in the right wing’s Subway Series. The failure is not only of the very attempt to cooperate. Even before the vote on extending the application of Israeli law to West Bank settlers and issues of religion and state brought down the house on its inhabitants, the coalition’s right-wing partners suffered a massive failure. The experiment failed because they could not convince their voters that a government without Netanyahu was not the end of the state.

A year ago, Netanyahu’s son Yair and his claque announced that all of the settlers would have to start packing. They talked about the state’s imminent clearance sale. That didn’t happen, of course, not even when the cabinet approved massive spending for Arab communities. But the first failure followed that measure.

It seems that the former prime minister and current head of the opposition is the only one in Israel who decides when the United Arab List is a worthy and moving partner and when it’s a gang of terror supporters. And the internal failure in the right expanded to its present colossal dimensions.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Yariv Levin at a Likud faction meeting, in May.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

It was not solely on account of the national affiliation of the UAL’s lawmakers. If not them, it would have been Meretz, or the Labor Party, that was tied to the stake. The prime minister and his circle tried to forge a complex approach toward their government on the right, to point to its accomplishments.

Smotrich and Netanyahu managed to erase any complexity: black or white, with black being the only choice. The successes that Bennett enumerated in his open letter to the public, issued June 2 – relative quiet in the south, Jerusalem’s well-attended Flag March, economic recovery – did not win over Israelis.

The government’s final chord, of this, in the form of Orbach’s declaration, is the final admission of this failure. In retrospect, Smotrich’s prophecies of rage came true. They may have begun as wishes, or a campaign, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is the only politician on the right who knew precisely how this would end.

In the spring of 2021, when Bennett and Netanyahu dreamed, separately, of establishing a coalition with the UAL, Smotrich published a series of letters explaining why he wouldn’t dare permit a coalition of 63 MKs that included four from the United Arab List. Put aside for now the question of why he rejected the partnership: In fact, he was the only politician to forgo a cabinet seat and a hand on the tiller, in the name of principle.

In his letters, Smotrich wrote that his goal was not only to establish a government but also to succeed in governing the state afterward, and that is impossible with such an ideological chasm. A fundamental issue such as Judea and Samaria (that is, the occupation) is not something that can really be put aside, he argued, and such a government will have to be in constant negotiations over the core principles of the right wing. Because in the end, everything comes back to fundamental issues: religion and state, the state’s interference in citizens’ lives, equal rights and the territories.

And when Gideon Sa’ar, Zvi Hauser and Zeev Elkin are forced to admit their failure, after a year of arguing fervently that the experiment is actually important and successful, that says it all. And when Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of Meretz and Masud Ganaim are eliminating the chances for a future Jewish-Arab government, it’s Smotrich who chalks up the biggest win. Whatever his motives for writing those prophecies of rage, it must be admitted that he was right.

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