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October 3, 2019 6:23 am

Unity and Compromise Are Needed in Israel — and Everywhere

avatar by Martin Oliner


The results of the exit polls are shown on a screen at Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party headquarters, following Israel’s parliamentary election, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 17, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Amir Cohen.

There are those who see compromise as surrender, weakness, or defeat. But that could not be farther from the truth.

Wednesday marked the 2,600th anniversary of the tragic murder of Gedelia Ben Ahikam, the governor of Judea, by a Jewish assassin named Ishmael Ben Netanya. The murder, which ended Jewish self-rule until Israel was founded, is marked by a minor fast. But its message is anything but minor. Tzom Gedalia has been increasingly marked as a kind of Jewish unity day — an antidote to the assassination.

That message resonates more than ever now, with unity talks going on among Israel’s politicians to form a new government and end the political stalemate in the modern Jewish state. Political compromise seems more elusive than ever, yet also more essential than ever for our future.

If handled properly, compromise can reinforce ideology, and lead to strength and victory. That is what should be done now in the coalition talks that are just getting started. Every party should be able to stick to principles if they have them. But it is a pity that not too many parties have them anymore.

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Likud has not published a platform on key issues in Israel in 20 years. Blue and White does have a platform. They even translated it into English. But most people think it has only three words: Anyone But Bibi.

The party that called itself Yamina in the election spoke very firmly in favor of joining a Netanyahu-led government, and has agreed to form a united bloc of 55 MKs headed by the prime minister for coalition negotiations.

This raises the need for parties to have a manifesto explaining their views to Israel and to the world. They can then stick with the platform or explain that they prioritized one aspect of their beliefs over another to take the practical step of implementing some of their policies in the government.

If platforms were more clear, taking steps that were far away from what a party believes in would be harder to sell to their constituency, and would likely not be attempted. Still, wanting to be part of the governing coalition should be seen as acceptable for any party. The political horsetrading that takes place to build a coalition is perfectly normal, and should not be a matter for criticism.

At the time of this writing, President Reuven Rivlin has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government, but chances are seen as very low that he will succeed. Centrist and left-wing parties are refusing to join a government led by him.

These parties should look at the current moment from a historical perspective and keep in mind that the most important goal right now needs to be reuniting the people after months of political turmoil.

Rivlin rightfully called upon all the parties to stop disqualifying each other. Bereaved mother Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons in battle and was wooed unsuccessfully by many parties, made an impassioned plea for a unity government.

Yamina’s leaders expressed willingness to join a broad unity government that includes Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. The parties in the center and center-left should be saying the same about a government led by Netanyahu.

It would send a powerful message to Israel’s allies and enemies around the world if Netanyahu and then Gantz rotated as prime minister and governed together. It would distance Israel from the political messes in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain, and let the healing begin.

What better time to start that healing than Tzom Gedalia, our national day of unity — the day where Israel tells the world that our Jewish state will never self-destruct again.

Martin Oliner is the co-president of the Religious Zionists of America and chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and serves as a committee member of the Jewish Agency.

A version of this article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post.

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