Australia/Israel Review, Featured


Editorial: A Government that looks like Israel

Jun 28, 2021 | Colin Rubenstein

Members of Israel’s new ministry led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sit with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem (Source: Israeli Government Press Office/ Flickr)
Members of Israel’s new ministry led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sit with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem (Source: Israeli Government Press Office/ Flickr)

There has always been a large degree of unreality in the distorted way Israel’s most unhinged critics have portrayed the Jewish state. Yet this unreality has arguably never been so apparent as it should be to all now, following last month’s installation of the new unity Government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.

In the midst of a Hamas war against Israel in May, US Congresswoman and outspoken member of the progressive caucus Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shamefully tweeted “Apartheid states aren’t democracies”, a transparent reference to Human Rights Watch’s recent distorted report accusing Israel of practising a form of Apartheid. We’ve heard similar ugly and ill-informed epithets hurled at Israel in Canberra, on social media, in print and in demonstrations.

Yet Israel’s political reality paints a clear and very different picture – a vibrant and healthy liberal democracy that is both representative of a complex and diverse nation and furnished with all the civil and political rights essential to any free society. 

Under an unprecedented coalition agreement forged between eight parties across the parliamentary spectrum – including, for the first time, an Arab Islamist party – Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of the Yamina party will exchange positions with Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party in two years’ time.

The composition of the Government is the most diverse in Israel’s history, not only politically and ideologically, but also in gender and multi-ethnic terms, in a way that boosts much needed support for Israel’s multicultural cohesion. An unprecedented nine of Israel’s 27 cabinet ministers are women, including one from the Ethiopian Jewish community. A third are descended from Mizrachi Jews whose ancestors lived in the Middle East. There are Muslim Arab and Druze ministers, observant Orthodox Jewish ministers, an openly gay minister, and a wheelchair-bound minister.

This is a government that looks like, and reflects the many faces of, Israel – not because anyone made quotas and picked people to fill them, but because it genuinely represents a diverse, democratically-elected Knesset.

Given its ideological diversity, the Bennett-Lapid Government’s focus will have to be on matters of national consensus. The almost fully-vaccinated country, after initially emerging stronger from the COVID-19 epidemic, is now having to battle a resurgent Delta strain like so many other nations. The new Government will also need to pass the country’s first budget in almost three years, address pressing needs in the sectors of housing, education and health, and implement judicial and economic reforms.

No major changes are expected in matters of national security. Hamas-ruled Gaza remains an Iranian-backed time bomb whose terrorist rulers effectively hold two million civilian residents hostage, whose danger constantly increases, yet would be too costly to realistically defuse. The only possible path forward is to deter and seek to disarm Hamas, while also trying to find mechanisms that provide the residents with the goods and services they need without facilitating a Hamas military build-up. 

Under Bennett and Lapid, Israel will continue to remain committed to stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons and oppose any dramatic weakening of sanctions against Iran in exchange for a return to the flawed 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. Indeed, this will likely be a first order issue for Bennett and Lapid since, very disturbingly, reports suggest the US may be on the cusp of rolling over and lifting sanctions without adequate Iranian concessions!

The selection of notorious mass-executioner Ebrahim Raisi – responsible for 4,000 or more summary executions of Iranians – as Iran’s next president only brings into greater focus the fact that Iran’s conventional and nuclear threat endangers the stability and security of the entire free world, not only Israel and its Arab neighbours.

Perhaps his selection – following a completely illegitimate, rigged and widely boycotted election – will cause the international community to reconsider its plans to empower the odious regime he represents through a nuclear deal that would provide it with a huge boost in resources. 

Meanwhile, the new Israeli Government promises to address problems that have arisen in Israeli Arab society, including issues of land rights and spiralling violent crime in many towns. The coalition agreement will also see a doubling of government investment in infrastructure in Arab cities, towns and villages that were already at record highs under the Netanyahu Government. 

Before the last election, Israel’s new deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Mansour Abbas – leader of Israel’s largest single Arab party Ra’am – broke away from the Joint List coalition of majority Arab parties over their continued refusal to back any realistic Israeli government. Abbas believed that the interests of Israeli Arabs could be best served from inside government in ways that they never could be from the long-preferred option of sitting in opposition. Should Abbas’ bold experiment succeed, it will positively transform the political role of Israel’s Arab citizens.

There is nothing more Israeli than using your democratic and equal rights, enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and its Basic Laws, to effect change, as Abbas has demonstrated. His political power and behaviour are not only inconsistent with the absurd allegations of Israeli Apartheid – it’s about as far removed from Apartheid as you can get.

Yet the purveyors of the Apartheid smear have doubled down on their falsehoods – for example, calling the new Government right-wing, when it clearly is not, or anti-peace, even though all parties in the coalition, including Prime Minister Bennett, have expressed at least an openness to a two-state peace paradigm under the right conditions.

Those who continue to work to delegitimise and demonise Israel employ a narrative that is built on a foundation of reflexive hostile emotion rather than empirical reality. 

For them, the words of the late US Senator and intellectual Daniel Patrick Moynihan still ring true: You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Israel’s new Government is living proof of a factual reality they desperately and dishonestly try to obscure and deny.

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