Opinion

Unity Government? No, Thanks

People walking by election campaign billboards in Tel Aviv for Likud and Kahol Lavan, April 3, 2019.
Oded Balilty,AP

“Unity now” was the headline of an op-ed jointly written by journalist Hanoch Daum and singer Aviv Geffen that appeared on the front page of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth after last week’s election. In an op-ed in Haaretz in Hebrew last Friday, Ravit Hecht also asserted that “the people chose a unity government.”

Commentator Raviv Drucker went even further, urging Avigdor Lieberman to condition his entry into Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on Netanyahu agreeing to form a unity government with the Kahol Lavan ticket.

It seems the left – instead of digesting its huge loss, withdrawing into itself, engaging in some introspection and asking itself why, in election after election, it wins in the pre-election polls but loses at the ballot box – has chosen the easy way out: outflanking the prime minister from the inside and embracing him so he will commit to the center-left’s positions.

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Throughout the campaign, Netanyahu promised that if he won, he would set up a government of the right and the ultra-Orthodox and keep faith with his natural partners. The heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties also declared from every possible platform that they’re unswervingly committed to a Netanyahu-led government.

Under cover of the dense fog of politics, the ultra-Orthodox managed to win what from their perspective constitutes a huge victory. The fact that the election’s big question was yes to Bibi or no to Bibi, and that it didn’t deal with issues of religion and state, helped them conduct a quiet, professional campaign that turned them into the surprise of the election.

A seasoned network of volunteers and activists ferried hundreds of thousands of Shas and United Torah Judaism voters to the polls. Earlier, the parties had staged huge rallies that drew tens of thousands of people. These rallies created a sense of urgency among the ultra-Orthodox community that spurred people to go out and vote.

For three months, the ultra-Orthodox politicians worked tirelessly under the public’s and the media’s radar. While everyone else was busy with the submarines and Netanyahu’s catered meals, or with an Iranian hack of Benny Gantz’s cellphone, Arye Dery, Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman were crisscrossing the country and amassing votes.

Now, it’s payback time. The heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties will seek to reap the rewards and provide a long list of achievements for their voters, including a revised conscription law, requiring conversions to be performed according to Jewish law, preventing public transportation on Shabbat, and providing public housing and welfare allowances for families with many children.

There’s no reason why Netanyahu, who knows who his loyal supporters are and even said so in every interview, should betray the trust they gave him and instead form a governing coalition with Gantz and Yair Lapid. How could Netanyahu sit in a government with people whom he described, until a week ago, as “insane” and “unqualified”? And how could Gantz – contrary to all his campaign promises – sit with someone who is facing serious indictments?

A unity government at this stage would betray the true desires of Israeli voters, who sought to exercise their democratic right by electing a government of the right and the ultra-Orthodox. Yes, Israeli voters wanted Netanyahu as prime minister, Dery as interior minister and Bezalel Smotrich as education minister. Any attempt to change the result through shady maneuvers and dirty deals would wrong Israeli democracy.

The left must understand what the right has long since grasped: The path to victory and power runs through the support of the ultra-Orthodox. The center-left parties currently have neither the Arabs nor the ultra-Orthodox. And until they do, they will be sentenced to sit on the opposition benches and honor the voters’ decision.