A Pandemic Can’t Stop Israel’s Political Crisis
Only a coronavirus-sized global pandemic could break Israel’s political paralysis — but not for long.
Just a few months after the formation of the government, political feuding and paralysis is back, yielding to nobody and nothing, including the coronavirus crisis, potentially bringing us to the cusp of national elections — once again — within a year.
One of the clearest signs of this new phase is the escalating political battle between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. The number of issues on which they clash only continues to grow.
Netanyahu is insisting upon an annual budget due to rapidly changing conditions. Gantz, meanwhile, seeks a bi-annual state budget, saying it will provide greater stability.
The budget argument is also governed by the political interests of either side. Netanyahu wants short-term political arrangements that would allow him to dismantle the government if he feels the need to do so. Gantz, on the other hand, wants to safeguard his position as future prime minister, in line with the coalition deal. The absence of a budget would serve Netanyahu’s goals and undercut those of Gantz because it would amount to a pretext for dissolving the coalition.
For many of Gantz’s initial supporters, recent months have been a resounding disappointment. One would expect that a politician for whom an entire role was invented — that of alternate prime minister — would work day and night to prove himself, and generate new, creative ideas, in order to justify his position.
He has failed to do so. His decision-making is extremely slow. Off the record, some of his associates have been increasingly critical of his drawn-out demeanor. Instead of being at the forefront of responses to Israel’s multiple crises, he often appears to be absent.
While many of his voters remain disgruntled by his violation of his pledge not to form a government with Netanyahu, Gantz could have redeemed himself in the eyes of those voters if his commendable step toward national unity in the face of an emergency had been followed with a demonstration of leadership.
Unfortunately for Gantz, that is not what has happened. His spokespeople often release anemic media messages expressing how difficult the situation is; but leadership, not commentary, is what is needed from him.
As a result, in a political reality divided firmly between pro- and anti-Netanyahu camps, with no middle ground, Gantz’s Blue and White Party has plummeted in the polls to a mere nine mandates, making it difficult to imagine how he can assume the position of prime minister next year.
Gantz has been careful not to aggravate Netanyahu or to break new political ground. The result is that he is now politically paralyzed.
Even in his role as defense minister, a position from which he could demonstrate leadership and experience, he is subsumed by Netanyahu, seemingly of his own will, leaving the Israeli people wondering why he seems so absent — even in what is a flagship role in Israel.
Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid and chairman of the opposition, is filling the void of alternative leadership created by Gantz. Lapid, now polling at 16 seats — a leap forward for him — is capitalizing upon his role as opposition chief. Gantz would do well to emulate that example.
Lapid has already launched his 2021 election campaign, and is gaining the support of voters disappointed in Gantz.
This month witnessed another example of leadership, one that promoted gender equality in the political system. Three women, from three different political parties, who sit on the Knesset’s coronavirus committee, cancelled a government decision.
The committee chairwoman, Yifat Shasha Biton (Likud), and Yulia Malinkovski (Yisrael Beitenu) and Hila Shay Vazan (Blue and White) boldly challenged the government’s desire to shutter public pools and close down beaches on weekends, citing the lack of data supporting the idea that such places are transmission hubs and that, during the pandemic, allowing people to be active in such places creates an outlet for mental well-being.
Their ability to band together and challenge the government is an example of how to prioritize the needs of our citizens, above and beyond our coalition politics. The contrast between their conduct and the conduct of Gantz could not be more stark.
Shasha-Biton made her decision knowing that the punishment ultimately doled out to her from the Likud for her “rebellion” was in the offing, but she acted nonetheless. Ultimately, she was removed from her post as a result.
Gantz seems to be steered primarily by what best ensures the safety of his political seat. And despite the ongoing, severe challenges posed by the pandemic, a return to political crisis is in full swing in Israel.
The possibility of yet another round of elections is back on the agenda.
Danielle Roth-Avneri is a publishing expert at the MirYam Institute and is currently a leading political correspondent and editor for the Israel Hayom/Israel Today newspaper, the most widely circulated publication in Israel.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.