Chairman Weiss: Israelis Must Believe A Politician’s Word Is Good

(originally published September 4, 2022 / 8 Elul 5782)

Israel is holding its fifth election in four years because of one person—Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman heads the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party and was once former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff. He served under Netanyahu as foreign minister and defense minister at various points.

After the 2019 elections, Lieberman recommended Netanyahu as prime minister to then-President Reuven Rivlin, which would have given Netanyahu’s Likud Party a 65-seat coalition. But Lieberman later changed his mind and decided not to join a Likud-led coalition, leaving Netanyahu unable to form a government. Thus, elections have been called again and again and again. We are about to face the fifth since 2019.

The absurdity of this situation is that opinion polls consistently show that Israelis prefer Netanyahu as Prime Minister by a wide margin, as do the vast majority of Lieberman’s voters. Moreover, Lieberman’s refusal to join Netanyahu in 2019 has started a ridiculous trend in which various parties have now made formal commitments not to serve with Netanyahu, something that has never happened before.

This is the case even among politicians who have served under Netanyahu in the past, including current Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Gantz is now running in a new party with Justice Minister Gideon Saar—a former Likud minister—who has also made it clear that he opposes serving in a Netanyahu government.

Many of those making this commitment do so as if it makes them morally superior. Yamina MKs Matan Kahana and Shirley Pinto cited their refusal to join a narrow Likud-led government as the reason they are leaving Yamina for Gantz’s party. Yet they had no problem joining a narrow government that relied upon the Muslim Brotherhood-connected Ra’am party. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett famously pledged not to join a narrow Lapid government or a government with Ra’am before the last election and broke both of those commitments. His excuse was that he wanted to avoid a fifth election.

The fact is that major commitments by previous prime ministers have often been broken. For example, the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defeated the Labor Party due to his opposition to a unilateral withdraw from Gaza. When Sharon made a 180 degree turn and decided to undertake such a withdrawal, he held a Likud party vote on the issue. Opponents of withdrawal succeeded in winning the vote, but the prime minister ignored the results, broke with Likud, formed his own party and the withdrawal went forward anyways. Before that, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak promised voters that he would never divide Jerusalem. Then he broke his pledge and offered to do exactly that in 2000, but the late Yasser Arafat rejected the offer.

What is amazing about both Lieberman and Gantz is that they received much more in coalition agreements with Netanyahu than was justified by the number of seats they received. Lieberman became defense minister despite having only six Knesset seats. Gantz was not only appointed defense minister, but was to serve as prime minister in a rotation agreement despite having one-third as many seats as Netanyahu. In addition, Gantz’s party received as many ministries as Likud. Such absurdities reached their zenith when Bennett became prime minister despite having only seven seats, of which he brought six into the government.

Politicians should not break major commitments because it is important for voters to feel a politician’s word is good. Furthermore, commitments should not be made based on personal animus, such as a refusal to serve under Netanyahu. Doing so leads to bizarre situations such as preferring to work with a Muslim Brotherhood party than with Likud, even though politicians like Lieberman and Sa’ar actually agree with Likud on the vast majority of issues.

Once personal animus is put aside, Israel will have a stable governing coalition, likely led by Netanyahu. Israel needs such a government, which will finally represent the will of the Israeli voter.

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