The two things that happen most quickly in Israel are horns honking when the light turns green, and calls for a unity government when the elections end. Both are equally irritating and unacceptable, but the damage from a unity government is somewhat greater. Unity in Israel means toeing the line to the right; it means whitewashing crimes by those considered moderate; it’s a sure recipe for perpetuating the status quo; a permit for more of the same, but in a shiny new wrapper.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Photo Ariel Schalit/AP
There was an election, the right wing won, the center-left lost, the call for unity emerges. It always begins by sending up a trial balloon – “Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman meet in Europe” – which is immediately denied, and then the chorus of the ultra-Orthodox chimes in about the fate of the people and the state with a song of unity. This time the song was more hypocritical and self-righteous than ever. It came mainly from people who only yesterday saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the devil incarnate, a monster to eliminate. Now they want to join that call, “to limit its damage.”
No, my friends, if Netanyahu is what you say he is, you have no right joining forces with him the day after the election. There is no greater fraud than that. And if he really is closer to your positions than you have let on, that’s also serious fraud. A call for unity in fact says: Everything was for show, the truth is that Netanyahu is not as bad as we told you he was.
A unity government is undemocratic. True, some people claim that the people want unity. But while the treacly Yiddishkeit of we’re all one people may be nice for taxicab conversation, at the ballot box the people showed no sign that they wanted unity. They showed that they want Netanyahu.
They want the right wing. Nationalism. Jewish superiority. The will of the people should be respected. If you want to fight the right wing, you should let them put their victory into action. That’s the only way to spark opposition. Let them annex, let them censor, let them close off and imprison people – and then perhaps we’ll wake up. It’s true that the difference between Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz and Netanyahu is much smaller than it seems, but if we want to get rid of “Bibi-ism,” we have to distance ourselves from it, differentiate ourselves from it, not draw closer.
The main claim of unity-government supporters is that this is the way to neutralize extremists. A government without the ultra-Orthodox, the fondest desire of Yair Lapid’s voters, and without the likes of the Bezalel Smotriches, the dream of enlightened people. But such a government will stymie any chance of opposition. If the fifth Netanyahu government is a unity government, the only opposition to it will come from the extreme right. The extreme right has long ago shown its power to shake down any government. The land of the settlements is the most concrete proof of that.
If Gantz-Lapid show signs of willingness to join a unity government, we’ll know once again that the end has come for an alternative to the right wing. Look at the United States: The rise of Donald Trump led to a rise of the American left as never before. Nests of opposition suddenly arose. New and daring voices were suddenly heard. The New York Times became more of an opposition to the government than ever before, and added a million new subscribers. Unprecedented radical voices were raised in the Democratic Party. A good many of its presidential candidates are extreme leftists in American terms, and certainly neither conform to, resemble, nor imitate Trump. None of them would ever dream of offering to join forces with him.
But this reaction has not yet been born in Israel. Netanyahu has won five times and the center-left persists in its efforts to imitate him and adopt his positions. Yes, Ehud Barak pledged Friday in Haaretz that the right wing was in for more than a massage workshop from the left in its next term in power. But Barak’s center-left has so far proven that this is the only thing it knows how to do. If anybody on the left is thinking about unity, the massage workshop will be open for business again. In fact, it never closed.
Would Gantz and Lapid express themselves the way Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke did, attacking Netanyahu over his attitude toward Israel’s Arabs and saying he supports racists? Don’t make me laugh, or Gantz and Lapid either.