Netanyahu's dangerous balancing act
Opinion: Extremists from the religious parties are telling us that they represent the will of the people, but that's utter nonsense as they object to Israel's most basic values; but a cornered prime minister needs them to stay in power and is ready to give them whatever they want
Tens of thousands visited the beachfront promenade every night of the week-long festival, mostly families with children in the early evening, and a younger crowd in the later hours of the night. Popsicles and falafel at sunset and beer and falafel at midnight.
They came from far and wide — especially from afar, judging by the packed parking lots. They came to watch free shows, drink in the glamorous vibe, eat and spend money. The crowd grew every night, until the surrounding streets had to be closed off.
MK Miki Zohar from the Likud Party once said that, "Tel Aviv is a city that is against everything in the Jewish agenda of Israel." But the popularity of Eurovision Village proves that voters don't agree with him.
Ever since the April 9 elections, Zohar and his colleagues have been telling us that they speak for the majority; that the majority wants immunity for public servants suspected of corruption; that the majority wants to castrate the Supreme Court; that the majority wants to shut down the country on Saturdays; that the majority wants the ultra-Orthodox to be exempt from national service; that it wants to annex the West Bank; that it wants to pour millions of shekels into ultra-Orthodox and settler institutions, and religionize the army, the education system and entire the public sphere.
The message from the polls is much simpler: most Israelis are pleased with the existing situation. They want life to continue the way it is now: They want a strong economy that works in their favor, they want a sense of personal and national security, they don't want war — at least not the kind the crosses own their personal doorstep.
I disagree with them, but I understand and respect their vote.
Netanyahu is part of that package deal too. That's his strength and his weakness, though, since he has to both supply his voters with the bread and circuses they want, while also tapping into their sense of fear and victimhood from threats at home and abroad.
That's why Netanyahu was smart to push for a glamorous Eurovision over a bloody round with Hamas.
But Bezalel Smotrich is not part of the desired package. Not at all. Tkuma, his far-right faction within the Union of Right-Wing Parties and the political agenda he is leading are under the command of rabbis who preach against everything that was the Jewish state has achieved over the past 120 years of Zionist activity.
They despise the basic laws of Israel, the Israeli Declaration of Independence, the core values of the IDF and the democratic spirit. Smotrich can't speak for the majority. He's even more dangerous than Rabbi Meir Kahane's outlawed and extremist Kach Party, since his Kahanism is coated in honey.
The Rebbe of Gur is also not a part of that package. He leads a closed group of Hassids, whose customs are considered problematic and weird even within the ultra-Orthodox community. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, the political representative of this Hassidic court, is accused of pushing for benefits for convicted Haredi pedophiles, as was exposed last week in a the "Hamakor" (the source) television show.
No wonder that whenever the representatives of Ger had to face the polls without other Haredi groups backing them, they failed miserably.
The Rebbe of Gur, with his messenger boy Litzman, is now taking aim at two new and highly sensitive targets.
One of these targets is the Phoenicia Glass Works in Yeruham. I have visited that factory many times. Its industrial ovens can't be shut down at all, ever. On Yom Kippur, everything that the factory produces gets destroyed. Now Litzman is saying that what's good for Yom Kippur is good for all Saturdays — some 50 days a year.
Litzman also says that he spoke to Netanyahu, who is willing to cover for the loss of income caused to the factory. Sure, no problem. But wait. What about all the other factories that have a permit to work on Saturdays? They'll come next of course, and the damages will run into billions of shekels each year. No prime minister would be able to pay for that.
Most Israelis, both secular and religious, understand that a country that wishes to be part of the world can't shut down its factories on Saturdays.
The Rebbe of Gur also has an input about the new, diluted Haredi draft law, which Shas and United Torah Judaism agreed on. Despite the fact that it exempts the ultra-Orthodox from serving in the IDF, the Rebbe doesn't like it. And with no Rebbe, there's no Litzman. And with no Litzman there's no government.
Forming a coalition, any kind of coalition, takes flexibility. When a small party becomes powerful enough to tip the scales, it can ask and receive more than its actual size should permit.
During the last term, the balance was kept as the aspirations of extreme Likud members to destroy the legal system were thwarted thanks to Moshe Kahlon and Haredi extremism was blocked thanks to Avigdor Liberman.
But Kahlon isn't what he used to be - Netanyahu took most of his votes. The religious parties are also not what they used to be: Smotrich is no Naftali Bennett and Itamar Ben-Gvir is certainly no Ayelet Shaked.
The tail always wants to wag the dog. The novelty is that now the tail is saying, "I'm in charge."