Bennett's short term as premier unmasks real Israeli political divide

Opinion: After leading a coalition made up of parties from all sectors of Israeli society, including the religious right, November polls prove to be about democracy vs. Netanyahu's political survival and not over ideology

Dr. Baruch Leshem|
Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett always thought highly of himself.
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  • When former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent allies to urge Bennett to agree to become his bureau chief, they reported back that the candidate for the job, instead of describing how he would be suitable to serve Netanyahu, asked if Netanyahu was the right fit for him?
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    ישיבת ממשלה
    ישיבת ממשלה
    Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
    (Photo: AFP)
    This level of self-confidence may explain why Bennett chose to become Prime Minister while he was head of a party consisting of only six members of Knesset. He most likely believed the title along with the pomp and ceremony it provides, would suffice.
    The result was dismal and both his party and his coalition, crumbled, making his term as premier the shortest in Israel's history.
    This should have made him a candidate for the past year's political flop but instead, I believe he deserves to be named man of the year in Israeli politics because he had unmasked the true and ruthless face of the political divide.
    Israelis have long believed, that the major political positions, present the “left” and “right," who were too far apart to bridge the gap on two separate sides of the political spectrum. Bennett, in the coalition he led, proved this idea to be mostly mistaken.
    Since he first came to power in 1977, then-prime minister Menachem Begin drew the line between Israelis vying for control of the West Bank and a greater Israel, between the river and the sea - and those who were willing to exchange land for peace.
    Today, there is in fact a near consensus among political parties, that neither the greater Israel option, nor a two-state solution that would see a Palestinian state beginning just outside the pre- 1967 borders, are unrealistic options.
    Despite Lapid's recent speech in the UN, when he backed a two-state solution, and earlier comments made by others, including Netanyahu in his now infamous 2009 Bar Ilan speech, It is clear that the proposed solution is no more than empty words.
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    ראש הממשלה יאיר לפיד נאום בעצרת הכללית של האו"ם
    ראש הממשלה יאיר לפיד נאום בעצרת הכללית של האו"ם
    Prime Minister Yair Lapid at the UN General Assembly
    (Photo: AFP)
    Bennett showed a coalition made up of supporters of both positions, can exist, provided it advances other policies the parties can agree on.
    This time - the coalition lasted just over a year, but next time - a similar political partnership may last longer.
    Another point in contention between the “left” and “right” deals with matters of religion and the state. Ultra-orthodox parties and the Likud – which is supported by many religious Israelis, are right-leaning, but after members of the religious right took part in the outgoing coalition, their belief in God did not prevent them from backing legislation that weakens the hold of the rabbinate on daily life.
    Former Religious Affairs Minister Natan Kahana - a religious man himself, not only opened the door for more liberal religious institutions to decide how to enforce dietary law on businesses, he even took upon himself the massive task of assisting Israelis, the rabbinate branded not Jewish - particularly among immigrants from the former Soviet Union - to gain recognition as Jews, by the state and marry under existing laws.
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    ח"כ מתן כהנא באולפן ynet
    ח"כ מתן כהנא באולפן ynet
    Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana
    (Photo: Shaul Golan)
    “I believe every citizen in Israel must be able to marry legally,” Kahana said.
    The outrage expressed by the ultra-Orthodox factions, who partner with Netanyahu - claimed Kahana was destroying Judaism. The argument was proof that the feud was over political power and not the Jewish faith.
    As the November elections near, the true character of the political dispute is revealed. It is not a battle over world views or ideologies. It is a battle between liberalism and democracy on one side and the survival of a man under indictment for corruption, on the other.
    Netanyahu who is the unchallenged leader of his parliamentary bloc has gathered around him the support of those who would discard democracy, to ensure his survival.
    Bennett, perhaps unwittingly, exposed the rouse of politicians claiming to champion religious or secular positions and left or right ideologies.
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