This week marked one year since the establishment of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government, and it is heartbreaking to see how it has been disintegrating lately. That’s how it works in politics. Achievements have no bearing on maintaining a majority in parliament. If this government does indeed fall soon, it will be a victory of bad over good, of falsehood over truth, of toxic discourse and hatred over serious work on behalf of the citizens.
It is by no means a perfect government; there is no such thing. But it has many achievements to its credit, which are worth citing. The biggest one: saving Israeli democracy from a totally corrupt person who actively worked to undermine law enforcement and the justice system. Former Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said about him: “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu imperiled [Israel’s] democracy,” explaining that he planned to appoint Supreme Court justices who would rule in his favor, an attorney general who would submit to his authority and a police commissioner amenable to helping him, all to achieve his goal of getting his trial dismissed. Retired Supreme Court Justice Meni Mazuz said Netanyahu’s actions “were all intended to destroy the legal institutions, which created a real danger of the collapse of the country’s democracy.”
In the economic sphere, the Bennett government passed a responsible two-year budget filled with reforms that sustain competition, after the Bibi governments operated without any budget and with no reforms. This government was also able to intelligently and effectively handle the coronavirus situation, when Bennett decided that Israel would be the first country in the world to offer a third vaccine, and also greatly increased the number of tests. The lockdowns were eliminated and so was employee’s leave without pay, which enabled the economy to achieve high growth of 8.1 percent (after negative growth under Bibi), and led to a sharp decline in unemployment, bringing the deficit nearly to zero (after a frightening 9.9 percent deficit under Bibi).
In terms of security, it was a quiet year in the southern communities near Gaza, after thousands of rockets rained down on Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem under Bibi. Bennett decided to respond to every incendiary balloon, and thus created deterrence, contrary to Netanyahu’s policy of weakness and failure to respond.
In diplomacy, relations were repaired with Egypt and Jordan, whose leaders simply did not wish to meet with Bibi. Relations with the United States were repaired as well, and President Joe Biden will visit Israel soon. There was also the Negev Summit, in which a new regional alliance was established.
The struggle against Iran intensified. The army received a special budget to prepare for a possible strike, and the security forces also began operating on Iranian soil, not only in Syria, in the effort to stop the Iranian nuclear project. Bennett was also able to persuade Biden not to remove the Revolutionary Guards from the list of terrorist organizations.
In the sensitive area of religion and state, competition was introduced in the kashrut industry, important changes were made in the conversion process, a reform of the religious councils was introduced and the draft law passed its first vote.
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Another change of historic proportions occurred when, for the first time in Israel’s history, an Arab party – Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List – became part of a governing coalition, inspiring hope for a future of cooperation instead of hatred. This partnership yielded 28 billion shekels of funding for Arab society, to Bedouin communities in the Negev getting hooked up to the electricity grid, and to the implementation of a comprehensive program to reduce crime in the Arab community.
There was also one big mistake by Bennett: failure to pass the “defendant’s law” as soon as the new government was formed. The law would have barred a criminal defendant from being permitted to form and lead a government, and nothing could be more logical or ethical. As it is, a minister who has been indicted on criminal charges must resign from the government, so why should someone who is standing trial be allowed to run for prime minister? Imagine for a moment what it would be like today if Bibi were outside the political arena. A sign of relief would be heard from one end of the land to the other. And it might also have enabled the current salvation government to stay in power longer, to finish the good things it started.