“Schlaglicht Israel” offers an insight into internal Israeli debates and reflects selected, political events that affect daily life in Israel. It appears every two weeks and summarizes articles that appeared in the Israeli daily press.
Main topics covered in this Publication:
- New Government Ends the Netanyahu Era
- Fear of Violence from the Right in the Run-up to the Change of Government
- Isaac Herzog Elected as President by a Large Majority
- Selection of Articles
A government of fumigation and purification
The mad panic gripping Likud – the despairing cries, the curses and invective, the unbridled incitement (…) all provide the clearest possible evidence of the urgent need to oust this gang of rioters from government. If these are the people who define the political right (…), then they must go. All of them, not just Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (…) The emerging government (…) won’t fulfill any voter’s dreams. Had such a government stood for election as a single unit, rather than being a makeshift contraption built on spare parts that don’t match, it probably wouldn’t have gotten the same number of seats as it has now. It managed to do the impossible only thanks to the sole common denominator among its component parts – the will to oust Netanyahu. It’s a coalition of the many against a single man who is the essence of corruption, egotism, falsehood and fraud. (…) ousting Netanyahu wasn’t just a personal matter. It’s a national, ideological, democratic and cultural necessity. Netanyahu created a political culture that sanctifies the supreme leader. He dictated the rules of a popular dictatorship and contempt for the legal system. He imprisoned half the country in a traitors’ ghetto and created three Jewish peoples in a single country – one in the territories and two, traitors and rightists, inside Israel. (…) And we haven’t even mentioned his corruption trial yet. (…) Even though a government led by Naftali Bennett will be run by ideologues – each member according to his or her own values – it won’t be an ideological government. It cannot be ideological if it wants to survive. Rather, it will be a government created to fumigate and purify, so that we will be able to breathe here. (…)
Zvi Bar´el, HAA, 02.06.21
What prospects, challenges await Israel’s ‘change’ coalition?
(…) Yes, the new government (…) has the potential for survival. A government with a small party in the driver’s seat is certainly not desirable, but there is no doubt about its constitutional and democratic legitimacy, as long as it enjoys the Knesset’s confidence. (…) minority governments, especially one that is based on such a heterogeneous coalition, tend to be less stable than other governments. In addition, a small ruling party finds it difficult to steer the government’s course and to initiate and implement systematic policies. In fact, it will not even pretend to do so, and will evidently agree in advance to leave the hard issues aside, at least for the first two years. But a government that is so heterogeneous will also have the potential to restore the principle of consociationalism to our political system – the voluntary sharing of power and cooperation among parties that represent different electorates. (…) a minority government can enhance the representation of a minority group, if the parties that represent the latter support the government from the outside (…). It is how its members behave, with modesty, humility and above all with a sense of public responsibility that will determine its character, stability and lifespan. (…) If the change government holds together, it will not be due to ideological consensus, but rather to its leadership. In personal politics, good personal relationships are no less important than ideological consensus.
Assaf Shapira, Gideon Rahat, JPO, 03.06.21
Finally, a government that will work for us
This is a festive day, a day when a government of change has finally been formed. (…) The government of change is actually a government of mending and healing. It is exceptionally diverse. (…) This is a government that will not work just for the benefit of one person, a person whose only aim is to escape justice. (…) Flowers should be sent first of all to Yair Lapid, who truly put his ego aside, succeeding in this complex venture. Along with him one should favorably note Avigdor Lieberman, who was the first, back in 2019, to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. Lieberman is thus the “slayer of the king.” He is also extremely lucky. (…) Lieberman, the next finance minister, (…) will assume his post at the best possible moment, with the economy in a deep pit but showing the first signs of recovery. Thus, if he adopts a bold, correct policy, he’ll lead the economy to rapid growth, which will be credited to him. (…) The economy has over 100,000 jobs waiting for these people. (…) anyone striving to achieve growth must terminate these unpaid leaves. This is something Lieberman wants. (…) It’s still hard to imagine, but we are at the end of the Netanyahu era. As soon as he leaves the official residence at Balfour Street (…) polarization will decline and courts and economic activity will return to functioning normally. Suddenly, we’ll see that there are other politicians, ones who work for this country’s citizens, not only for themselves.
Nehemia Shtrasler, HAA, 04.06.21
A national emergency government worthy of praise and support
After four elections filled with slander, incitement, twisting of the law and the violation of civil rights, a government has been formed. (…) This isn’t the dream government of Israeli voters, neither from the left nor the right. But it reflects a broad desire to end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reign of evil and corruption. That is a national mission that is more important than any ideology or vision, because in the Netanyahu era Israel reached the verge of losing the ability to change the government, and almost joined the list of dictatorial regimes that masquerade as democracies. The political movements and their leaders that came together and rose above egotistical considerations deserve high praise for seeing the danger and taking a stand against it. This is a national emergency government, which, if it is successful, could return politics and public discourse in Israel to the path of reason and levelheadedness. (…) This is a government whose very formation has shattered the toxic walls of separation that pushed Israel’s Arabs beyond the state’s political fence and prohibited all contact, much less cooperation, between left and right. (…) The members of the new government (…) are deserving of every public support. It is vital for this government to succeed, because there is no alternative to it. This is the grave responsibility that has been entrusted to each of its members, individually and collectively.
Editorial, HAA, 04.06.21
God bless this government
When Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett called the president of Israel in the presence of Mansour Abbas to declare success at forming a government-in-waiting, many of us let out a collective sigh of relief. (…) Just having a government, for many of us, was enough. When the smoke cleared, however, many started to attack the composition of that government, declaring it an affront to democracy, an unholy mixture (…). While the reasons for these denunciations were myriad, a common line existed throughout them from the right and the left: the belief that a government so ideologically diverse and fragile in voting blocks will be hobbled and ineffective in carrying out its responsibilities. (…) For too long have we thought of democracy as one team versus another, of winners and losers, of battles and wars and campaigns. These biases have led us to back demagogues who pursue populist politics, who play to their base and oppress their opposition, who seek power through divergence instead of collective action through convergence. Democracy should not be a winner-take-all game. Democracy should be the ongoing governance of the people, by the people, recognizing the needs of all the people, in all of their diversity. The proposed government would be bound by the need to perfect coalition building, the need to survey the needs of all represented parties and find solutions that bridge the common and minimize that which sets us apart. (…) The opportunity we have before us is to have a government that debates daily the diverse and multifaceted needs of the people who elected it from across the socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic rainbow. (…) The opportunity we have before us is a government composed of representatives who respect each other enough despite their ideological differences. (…) We are now at a moment in which we may finally have a government that understands its responsibility towards the public, works towards common ground and common good for all of Israel’s diverse ideologies, and establishes a covenant with Israel’s Muslim and Christian citizens, who have been for too long pushed to the sidelines because they were deemed not as politically valuable to appease. (…) We need to have a government that serves all of Israel’s citizens. (…) The diverse, multipolar dynamic of the current government is probably one of the best coalitions we can hope for. (…) God bless this government, and God bless the dignity of difference it represents.
Ariel Beery, TOI, 04.06.21
Five challenges for Israel’s new government
(…) Israel’s incoming government has one basic problem: it is very heterogeneous (…). In order to survive, it will have to avoid dealing with controversial matters that represent core promises of individual parties, from LGBT rights to change in the religious status quo to diplomatic issues. (…) With Ra’am and Meretz in the coalition, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will have to find a cast-iron solution to prevent a further wave of disturbances in the mixed cities (…).The chief issues for Meretz, Yisrael Beitenu, and Labor in the last election campaign were social ones: imposing the core school curriculum on haredi (…) schools by making this a condition for receipt of state funding; legislation to advance rights for the LGBT community; and public transport and open stores on Saturdays. (…) Islamist party Ra’am will certainly not support legislation on LGBT rights. (…) The Bennett-Lapid coalition has just 61 supporters in the 120-seat Knesset. (…) For any legislation or budget that the government wants to pass it will have to find the 61st finger. Any such vote could in an instant turn into a vote of no confidence. (…) Within 140 days, the coalition has to pass the 2021-2022 state budget. (…) Lapid and Bennett will have to navigate skillfully between the main demand of the coalition parties, while it will be Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman who holds the reins, and he has not up to now been wont to appease his partners. (…) When the new US administration wants to promote a peace plan, as every US administration does, it will set the cat among the pigeons in Israeli politics. A construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, evacuation of settlements, a summit meeting between Bennett and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas – any of these could be the straw that breaks the backs of the right-wing partners in the government, who in any case look as though they have been dragged into it unwillingly (…). If US President Joe Biden wants the elected government in Israel to last, he had better shelve any peace plans.
Shirit Avitan-Cohen, GLO, 14.06.21
This government can beat expectations and even achieve historic change
(…) After two and a half years of political paralysis, the inauguration of the new government is a festive day, holding out renewed hope and a chance for stepping off the treadmill of stagnation and depression. Political insiders know all the reasons why this government has a short life expectancy: a very narrow base in the Knesset, an impossibly diverse coalition, and a parliamentary opposition led by the country’s most experienced politician do not seem to be a recipe for a long tenure. But precisely because expectations are so low, the incoming government may turn out to be a pleasant surprise. (…) First, it must pass a budget for 2021–2022 without delay. (…) Second, it will need to make dozens of senior appointments in the public service. (…) Third, the new government must calm the winds of hatred and incitement and restore a sense of calm to the political discourse. In (…) order to survive, the parties that make up the new government will have to adopt a totally different moderate tone. Since continued escalation will threaten the very existence of the coalition, they will likely opt for a unifying dialogue aimed at finding compromises and common ground. If the new government satisfies the Israeli public’s yearning for unity and an end to the mutual attacks, it will gain legitimacy and popularity. (…) While the Netanyahu governments preserved macro-economic stability, the country has been desperately crying out for major structural and micro-economic changes that would increase productivity and deal with infrastructure disparities and issues of human capital and the labor market. The new government has an excellent chance to reach a new consensus that will put the economy back on the path of growth and create economic opportunity for all Israelis, both in the center of the country as well as on the periphery. There are also opportunities in the area of constitutional law and governance. According to the new government’s basic guidelines, committees will be established or arrangements made to examine the enactment of a Basic Law: Legislation, and to consider changes in the electoral system. (…) The incoming government has the potential to restore normalcy to our political and public conduct. If the leaders of the parties making up the Bennett-Lapid coalition understand the magnitude of the hour, the coalition will be able to address several of the fundamental problems that currently threaten the country’s future. (…)
Yohanan Plesner, TOI, 15.06.21
2. Fear of Violence from the Right in the Run-up to the Change of Government
Don’t let Netanyahu’s manipulations fool you
Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the growing incitement against politicians that Shin Bet security service chief Nadav Argaman warned against (…) in effect gave the prime minister’s supporters a green light to continue it. (…) Instead of denouncing the incitement and the threats against public figures in general and against Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and the rest of their Yamina party’s lawmakers in particular – whose only sin is to join a government of change – and stating loudly, clearly and unambiguously that this is not the way, Netanyahu in effect rebuffed the accusations of incitement, gave incitement a green light and even deemed it legitimate to “lay into” journalists. (…) This is a criminal manipulation of the facts whose goal is to divert attention from the source of the incitement and danger. Contrary to what Netanyahu said, physical political violence in Israel goes in only one direction – from the right to the left. (…) Argaman and the police must use every tool at their disposal to prevent bloodshed and protect members of the change bloc, who are being threatened, from the people making the threats – members of Netanyahu’s bloc.
Editorial, HAA, 07.06.21
Israel is in danger. We need to be vigilant – comment
A peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of democracies. It is a sign of stability in the system of government, and trust in that government’s institutions. What happened on January 6 with the storming of the US Capitol was an attempt to stop Joe Biden from becoming president; and what Benjamin Netanyahu did (…) was his attempt to stop Naftali Bennett from becoming prime minister. (…) While he did not openly call for people to storm the Knesset, he did everything he could to delegitimize the government that Bennett and Yair Lapid plan to form (…) almost every member of the Yamina Party is under 24/7 security detail due to the surge in threats against them and their families. (…) Netanyahu’s comments came less than a day after the head of the Shin Bet issued a rare public warning, sounding the alarm that the level of incitement in Israel today could end in bloodshed. Did that stop Netanyahu from delegitimizing the new government, or calling on his followers to attack (…) the media and members of Knesset? Sadly, no. (…) If, God forbid, violence should occur, Netanyahu will do what he does best: wash his hands of any responsibility and replay his call for the resistance to be within the boundaries of the law. (…) When your head of internal security warns of bloodshed and you ignore that call and speak the way Netanyahu spoke, you are responsible for what happens next. Sometimes, it is that simple. (…)
Yaakov Katz, JPO, 07.06.21
Why is the Right so furious?
(…) No one who hasn’t acknowledged the “trick” will understand the magnitude of the crisis with the government now being established, a government that I will loyally support the moment it is official and whose fall I will eagerly await. Anyone who hasn’t followed the opposition to Netanyahu closely, going back to the start of the last decade, and identified the blatant political process that hides within it won’t really understand what all the fuss is about. (…) The story is the insanity that has enveloped us for years already, making life in Israel, at a time that could have been the best in our history, hell. The essence of the insanity is the determined decision by a certain social sector – whose distress, we can say, is understandable due to the changes taking place in the country – to restore power to its hands at any cost. The plan: to focus on Netanyahu as a dangerous, negative entity and enlist voters en masse to support this position while knowing that it is the only way to create a draw or even a majority in a country where the majority is right-wing and traditional. The methods: demoralization and demonization. “It’s very bad here – all because of him – let’s change things.” How simple. How catchy. How brutal and false. And damn it, it worked. (…)
Kobi Arieli, IHY, 08.06.21
Rabin’s murder didn’t change Netanyahu
(…) This week I was reminded of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. At that time, there were protests against him every day. (…) the incitement against him knew no bounds. It pursued him everywhere and peaked at the rally in Zion Square where the fanatic inciters stood on a stage, led by Netanyahu. (…) After Rabin’s assassination, it seemed that Netanyahu and his friends learned their lesson and this would be the first and last assassination to happen in Israel. We thought that we knew Netanyahu. None of us imagined then that he would resume his incitement (…). The people protesting outside the homes of Yamina lawmakers are confident that they are opposing traitors, those who are dealing the country a fatal blow. Extremist rabbis, including Rabbi Haim Druckman, issued an appeal for their followers “to do everything to keep the government from coming into being.” (…) Rabbis have become an immoral arm of the Bibi-ist right. Their role in this prime minister’s political fight for survival is turning this into a dark religious struggle (…). The current atmosphere is more combustible than in 1995. Social media is greatly amplifying the intensity of the incitement and the head of the Shin Bet has warned about its dangers. (…) There is a strong whiff of physical aggression in the air that could put politicians, jurists and law enforcement personnel in danger. (…)
Uzi Baram, HAA, 08.06.21
End religious incitement before it’s too late
(…) as the incoming government has taken shape, we have witnessed a vicious campaign of incitement directed against the coalition, especially at Naftali Bennett and his Yamina Party. (…) This kind of religious hate is sowing the seeds of division that could motivate misguided people to violence. (…) The incitement emanating from the haredi political sector has now reached a crescendo of hatred. (…) this is an attempt to use religion to target politicians. Its goal is to radicalize and alienate the Orthodox community to create a potential for strife and more division in society. (…) It appears that over the last 10 years under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there has been impunity for incitement and rising sectarian divisions. This has manifested itself in the rise of the extreme Right and also the tendency to enable the ultra-Orthodox to be a state within a state. (…) At times, it seemed that secret deals were being made. Unfortunately, our history teaches us where this could lead. Baseless hatred has divided the Jewish people in the past and led to the destruction of our holy institutions and the destruction of our country. Baseless hatred is what is being directed at Bennett. (…) Israel must take a step back from further division. (…)
Editorial, JPO, 09.06.21
Netanyahu’s incitement is an invitation to murder
(…) As Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government have diminished, the messages he and his supporters have been voicing in an effort to delegitimize his political opponents have increased. Public criticism is the lifeblood of any democratic society. No one can be protected from this type of criticism. (…) Left, as defined by Israel’s prime minister, is a group of traitors. (…) Bibi was the staunchest instigator of incitement against Yitzhak Rabin. (…) Netanyahu didn’t worry about the ramifications of his incitement. However, he encouraged the extremists and gave them legitimacy. (…) Netanyahu will no longer be able to use the same defense he used last time. Then, he could get away with arguing – and we could believe it – that he didn’t think that portraying Yitzhak Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform could encourage people to murder him. But that’s what happened. It leads to bloodshed. (…) We must take drastic measures against the instigators and the rioters. We cannot just sit back and wait for another incident to unfold, after which everything will deteriorate. We need to take immediate action. (…) Netanyahu – you won’t be able to say you weren’t warned. What you do in the coming days in all practicality is a call to return to the incitement that led to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. The people of Israel do not forget and will not forgive.
Ehud Olmert, JPO, 10.06.21
A violation of the Jewish spirit
(…) The ultra-Orthodox public has been supported financially by the outgoing government and their leadership feels it is being pushed aside (…) but the Haredi politicians have been taking their legitimate protests to baffling extremes by claiming the new government represents the end of Israel as a Jewish state and that their members are on the verge of persecution the likes of which were only seen in pre-state times. (…) With their attacks on Bennett, the Haredi political leaders have shown how far they are disconnected from Israeli society, living up to the accusations against them that they claim to have sole authority over the Jewish faith and how it must be practiced. (…) Bennett’s crime is that his intended government does not include the ultra-Orthodox parties. His political conduct may be worthy of condemnation, but his yarmulke should remain where it is. The new government (…) does not have a Haredi contingency, but nor does it intend to wage war against this sector of Israeli society. The wailing chest-beating of the Haredi party leaders is pure political theater and likely driven by their own interests and not those of their voters.
Yuval Karni, YED, 11.06.21
3. Isaac Herzog Elected as President by a Large Majority
Why I support Isaac Herzog for president
(…) The choice is between Miriam Peretz and Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog. Both candidates are good choices. Mrs. Peretz is a bereaved mother who lost two of her sons in battle, reminding us of the price that, as a society, we sometimes have to pay in order to live in a free Jewish state. Her story is indeed heartbreaking. Mr. Herzog is a seasoned politician with an impressive pedigree. He currently serves as the chair of the Jewish Agency. He is the son of Israel’s sixth president (…) and the grandson of our founding chief rabbi. (…) Herzog (…) can heal Israel’s painful relations with our ultimate ally, the American Jewish community. (…) It is true that the president of Israel does not hold a lot of executive authority beyond granting pardons and receiving ambassadorial credentials. Nonetheless, the president can set the tone and create the atmosphere among the people of Israel as well as of the entire Jewish people. Based on his background and experience, I believe Yitzhak Herzog has what it takes. (…)
Barukh Binah, TOI, 01.06.21
Isaac Herzog’s presidential candidacy leaves a bad taste, but he is preferable
(…) At this difficult moment, Israel needs intensive care. It needs change like it needs air to breathe. But political change could also ignite the flammable material that Netanyahu, in criminal fashion, has systematically spread. In an explosive situation like this, the president, who is ostensibly “above” the political system, is of crucial importance. It’s within his power to try to calm tempers and reconcile the tribes while also upholding the national ethos and protecting Israel’s commitment to democracy and its founding values at a time when they’re under assault (…). Neither of the candidates rouses enthusiasm. Peretz is a candidate not because of her own actions, but because she is a bereaved mother. The way she coped with her bereavement is admirable, but that doesn’t make her qualified to be president. Herzog, the son of a former president, was born to the job in both senses of the word, and this leaves a bad taste with regard to equality of opportunity. Nevertheless, he’s a well-known public figure, accepted and admired, who doesn’t arouse antagonism among any of the tribes. (…) During his many years of public service, he accumulated a great deal of knowledge and experience and formed ties across the political spectrum, as well as with global leaders. All this has made him qualified to do the job. Given these two candidates, Herzog is preferable.
Editorial, HAA, 02.06.21
A message for President-elect Isaac Herzog
Herzog has his work cut out for him if he intends on serving as the president of all Israelis, rather than using his post to pass judgment on whether we’re living up to his moral standards. (…) On this score, there is reason for optimism. Though he is no less of a political animal than Rivlin – having been a Cabinet secretary, Knesset member, minister, Labor Party leader and head of the opposition – his conduct at the Jewish Agency indicates that he’s capable of rising above the fray. A good start would be for him to shed the moralizing that’s characterized the President’s Residence since 2014 and focus on presenting and representing the beautiful face of the country and its people.
Ruthie Blum, JPO, 04.06.21
4. Selection of Articles
Flag March in Jerusalem’s Old City
No to Jewish and Arab provocation in Jerusalem
Nearly all the right-wing pundits have recently found themselves indignantly demanding why we can’t wave Israeli flags in Jerusalem. Some of them have even taken it one step further, asking why can one wave the Palestinian flag in the heart of Tel Aviv but not the Israeli flag in Jerusalem? (…) they all already knew the answer to their questions: There is no prohibition on carrying, holding or waving the Israeli flag in Jerusalem. (…) The parade has little to do with strengthening Jerusalem and everything to do with causing chaos. And if some blood is shed along the way, then the provocation can be claimed as a success. If there is one city in Israel whose Jewish and Arab residents fail to intermingle and coexist, it’s Jerusalem. (…) People who had not for years set foot in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City were suddenly insisting on marching there as part of the Flag Parade, in the hopes of embarrassing the right-wing party leaders who are members of the nascent coalition that aims to replace Netanyahu’s government. (…) We also all know it is nothing but provocation when right-wing extremists insist on parading through the city’s streets, even if in the current insane reality, they have the support of several government ministers.
Ben-Dror Yemini, YED, 07.06.21
Violence behind Bars
A chronicle of prison brutality in Israel
The shocking video from Wing 3 of Ketziot Prison should have set off an earthquake in the Israel Prison Service, police and the State Prosecutor’s Office: Scores of Arab security prisoners were forcibly thrown down onto a concrete floor, sometimes on top of each other, as guards passed between them for long minutes, beating them with batons and kicking them randomly, without any resistance from their victims (…). The unrestrained violence is believed to have been carried out in revenge for the stabbing of a guard shortly beforehand near the wing. (…) But the evidence clearly shows there was no riot, just the abuse of prisoners. (…) Top officials had viewed the video and knew exactly what occurred but acted as if nothing happened. The Prison Service knew that Ketziot’s officers turned a blind eye while at least 10 guards brutally beat the bound prisoners. (…) National Prison Investigation Unit did as little as possible to probe the affair: Only one guard was questioned and even though he admitted that he had engaged in gratuitous violence, it wasn’t enough for the police or prosecutors to proceed with an indictment. (…) It’s hard to believe that the investigation would have ended this way if the prisoners had been Jews. But in this case, the victims were Palestinian terrorists and security prisoners belonging to Hamas. Therefore, not only was the case closed (…) but the warden on duty at the time (…) was promoted to the rank of major general. The other guards allegedly involved in the incident remain at their jobs. Now, when the evidence has been revealed to the public, the (…) state prosecutor must immediately order a thorough investigation (…) and bring indictments. Any other outcome will only prove that from the state’s viewpoint, security prisoners don’t deserve to be treated like human beings.
Editorial, HAA, 11.06.21
HAA = Haaretz
YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: June 2021.
Dr. Paul Pasch,
Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel