Under Pressure

It has been 10 months since the current government of Israel was sworn in, practically an eternity in the current political environment. The odd coalition, including parties representing the entire political spectrum – secular and religious, Jewish and Arab, left and right – has been relatively stable. No one expected the government to be able to pass significant legislation or make dramatic decisions given the complexity and delicacy of its composition, but its mere survival has been a surprising success.

Now it seems we have come to the beginning of the end of this unity government as a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s party jumped ship and abandoned the coalition. With a razor thin margin of 61 votes out of 120 before this latest crisis, Bennett has now lost his majority. While the coalition will not be able to pass laws, it still can stay in power as a minority government.

The precipitating controversy that caused the party member, Idit Siman, to defect was over the question of whether to allow non-Kosher for Passover food into hospitals during the holiday, but political observers doubt this was the real reason that she jumped ship. An analysis in the Times of Israel suggests that the right-wing politician has been the subject of a sustained campaign of pressure since the formation of the government.

On social media, in newspapers, even at the gas pump, Silman has felt the anger of her community. Her relationships have been damaged and friendships have been lost. In the end, she couldn’t take it anymore. Perhaps she will also receive a better position with the opposition Likud party as a result, but trusting Binyamin Netanyahu is a dicey proposition. He has broken many promises in the last few years.

In fact, Netanyahu may not be able to reward her with a choice place in the Likud list in the next election. Because she defected, Bennett has the option of preventing her from running as a member of an already existing party. It may be that Silman’s actions were not caused by political ambition, but by a successful pressure campaign by activists.

Israel’s divisive politics often mirror that of the United States. Both countries are bitterly divided along ideology, ethnicity, religion, and culture. The difference is that American politics is winner-take-all. You either win an election or you lose. In Israel, the multiparty parliamentary system requires rivals to work together. In some ways, this is what we say we want, for politicians to reach across the isle and do what is best for the country.

One could argue that the current Israeli government is a sterling example of compromise where leaders have put the good of the nation ahead of the good of the party. While that is laudable for many, other more ideologically minded opponents find it intolerable. It is an important lesson for us in America. Getting politicians from opposite ends of the spectrum to work together is really hard, not just because they are true believers. They also have lives. They don’t want to be harassed at the supermarket or lose relationships they care about. In the end, we want to fit into our group, and that desire just might sink a government.

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