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AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro and Ran Porat interviewed on Israeli political developments on ABC NewsRadio

Jun 22, 2022 | Ahron Shapiro, Ran Porat

Naftali Bennett (R), Yair Lapid (L) and former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (credit:Haim Tzach / GPO)
Naftali Bennett (R), Yair Lapid (L) and former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (credit:Haim Tzach / GPO)

AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro and Ran Porat were interviewed separately on Israeli political developments on ABC NewsRadio on June 21. 

 

Glen Bartholomew [00:00:00] And Israel is heading to its fifth election in just three and a half years after the country’s coalition government decided it could not survive and agreed to dissolve parliament once more. Seen as something of a political experiment, the coalition government had made history by becoming the first to include an Arab party. But in a nationally televised news conference, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it was not easy for him to move to disband the government, but did say he thought it was the right decision for Israel.

Naftali Bennett [00:00:30] I held a series of talks with officials and I realized that in ten days, with the expiration of the West Bank regulations, Israel will experience serious security damages and legal chaos. We spared no efforts to galvanize whomever was needed to pass the regulations, but our efforts bore no fruit. Therefore, my friend, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and I decided to act together to dissolve Parliament and set an agreed-upon date for elections.

Glen Bartholomew [00:01:05] Naftali Bennett. Not surprisingly, some election-weary Israelis have expressed a bit of dismay about the move.

Israeli 1 [00:01:11] It’s really, really very sad for me. I think that initially we don’t need elections. We have to be together like brothers. To go ahead is the first time in the history of Israel that you have a good government with Arabs, with religious, non-religious, working.

Glen Bartholomew [00:01:27] Well, Ahron Shapiro has seen it all before. He’s a senior policy analyst with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and joins us once more. Ahron, hello again. Why oh why is this happening again and why now?

Ahron Shapiro [00:01:41] Well, hi, Glenn. It’s good to speak to you again. This isn’t a big surprise. You know, when this government was put together a year ago, it was a far-fetched government that you couldn’t imagine in any other country in the world. And, you know, what brought them all together was the idea that – and these are eight parties from the far left and including, as you said, an Islamist Arab party and all the way to the right of Likud – and they all had one thing in common: they wanted to keep Netanyahu from being prime minister. And that’s the glue that kept them together. But it was always going to be difficult. So a lot of people didn’t expect them to last this long in some way. So the truth is they’ve outperformed and exceeded and actually coming home with a lot of achievements.

Glen Bartholomew [00:02:30] Well, let’s look at that then. While for some Israelis, they were a bit shocked by the news of yet another election, others did sound pretty relieved.

Israeli 2 [00:02:38] I think it’s been way too long in coming. That’s what I think. We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. Well, who’s going to be next? I don’t know. But I do know that this wasn’t working.

Glen Bartholomew [00:02:50] This wasn’t working. So what do you think? Was it working? How do you view the performance of the government this past year?

Ahron Shapiro [00:02:56] It was an unusual government that will be very difficult to assemble again just because of the unique parameters. Look, a lot of people weren’t happy with it because it was counterintuitive to to their political views. We wound up with a prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who had a party that was minuscule. And then how does that happen? But he’s going to be handing over the reins to Yair Lapid. And it was a transitional government, according to their agreement. But the point is is that this government was based on the principle that Israelis could agree on about 70-80% of the issues and the contentious issues they could try and avoid and just put them aside. And it turned out after a year that it was too much to try and expect everyone to put those contentious issues aside forever. And little by little people on the right and people on the left started getting too uncomfortable for the government and it did come apart eventually. But a lot of people were really uncomfortable with the way the government was set up. They’d rather like to see a traditional government that is more in line with the previous governments, and maybe we’ll see that in the next election. Or maybe not.

Glen Bartholomew [00:04:24] Yeah, indeed. Alright. And it was seemingly forced by this looming expiration of laws around West Bank settlers and some of the right-wing parties feared a moderate response to that issue, it seems. As you say, Mr. Bennett has switched places with the Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, in the interim. That was the deal, wasn’t it, that they were supposed to share power. So where does that leave Naftali Bennett? Is he finished? Who stands at this next election?

Ahron Shapiro [00:04:49] Well, that’s a good question. You know, all the parties had smelled election. There was a smell of election in the air because the government was slowly losing numbers and confidence and losing votes and losing majority. The writing was on the wall. So some parties are already in election mode. Now, the interesting thing about Naftali Bennett, as you say, is that he had really the most to lose in the election because he was the lightning rod for all the rightwingers who said, no, you shouldn’t join a government that has Meretz and Labor in it. These are parties on the left wing of the spectrum. They don’t reflect their views and they blame them for taking this political risk. And so his party never… The incredible things that his party, for all the risks and all the achievements they’ve done and all these really good things and passing good legislation, the budget. But none of that came to him in voters. The right wingers, except for only a small group of supporters, most people blamed him for being a right winger, joining a government that didn’t reflect their views. And the left wing said he wasn’t left enough for them. So he sacrificed himself. You know, it’s a tragic figure. But he actually did a political sacrificial move, as we say in baseball the sacrifice bunt, to get Israel one year closer to, you know, achieving a budget, which they got, and making laws that benefited the Arab community, which was tremendous.

Glen Bartholomew [00:06:35] All right. Two quick questions with about a minute to go. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already vowing to return to office. As you say that the previous four elections were largely referendums on his ability to rule while on trial for corruption. What happened with those charges?

Ahron Shapiro [00:06:50] Okay. Well, they’re moving along. But I guess recently what comes to mind is that the prosecution asked to change the indictment on one of their charges on bribery, I believe. And they went to the judges asking if they could make a modification to it. It would appear that they overstepped what they had. They overplayed their hand. And the judge said, no, you can’t do that. So that seems to be a case that is now looking better for Netanyahu, but he still has other cases that are problematic. The wheels of justice are moving, but slowly.

Glen Bartholomew [00:07:28] All right. So not resolved is the bottom line there. Finally, as you suggested, either way, how likely is it that a more stable government could be the outcome of this latest election if there remains no clear majority for anyone? Is this just a recipe for continued instability and yet more elections?

Ahron Shapiro [00:07:44] Well, it’s interesting. This will be an interesting election with the dynamic that we’ve never seen before, and Netanyahu most likely will be the candidate on the right and the one on the left will be Yair Lapid, who has never stood to be the challenger. So this will make it interesting. We don’t really know how this will go, but I will say that the polls over this past year, what was really remarkable to me is that hardly anybody changed their vote. Nobody was convinced during this election, during this government, they may have liked something, they may have not like something, but nobody really changed their political perspective. So if you ask me, I think that it’s impossible to read how the election will go. It’s all the way in October, but it could very well equal more cycles of instability because people really haven’t changed their minds.

Glen Bartholomew [00:08:35] Okay, so we might speak again, Ahron. Thanks a lot. Ahron Shapiro joining us from the Australia /Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

 


Thomas Oriti [00:00:00] Israel to head to its fifth election in less than four years after the country’s leaders agreed to dissolve the parliament. And that is how we will begin this half hour. Israel’s coalition government – this was news that broke overnight – it’s announced it will dissolve parliament and call new elections. And it set the stage for the possible return to power of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or another period of prolonged political gridlock. The election will be Israel’s fifth in three years and it will put Mr. Netanyahu, who has been the opposition leader for the past year, back in the spotlight, already seeing him on our screens this morning. For more, we’re joined now by Dr. Ron Porat, Research Associate at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Good morning. Thank you very much for your time.

Ran Porat [00:00:48] Good morning.

Thomas Oriti [00:00:49] The Coalition government, led by Naftali Bennett, who you know is a former ally and aide to Mr. Netanyahu, for people who might be following this closely, can you tell us what’s happened here? Why are they in this place now?

Ran Porat [00:01:02] Well, this government had its days numbered from day one because it was made of eight different coalition parties, and most importantly, the only thing that actually connected them is the will or the desire to make sure that Netanyahu doesn’t regain power and continue as the longest-running PM in Israel’s history. And so the coalition was made from the parties, from the left, from the right, from the center. And for the first time in history, inside the coalition was an Arab Islamic party, Ra’am. So they had to find a way to work together. But from day one, there were clashes, there were questions about political issues that, you know, very volatile places, legal issues regarding the West Bank, legal issues regarding the contribution of the Arabs into the state. So it was very shaky. And one after one people actually inside Bennett’s party left deserted, as they say, and said that they will vote against the government, that that actually happened on Monday from the first day that the government was sworn in. And after that, they were joined by others, other members from the left. Eventually what happened is that the latest Member of Parliament to leave was Nir Orbach, and he actually was threatening to vote against the government and was successful in blocking the renewal of Israeli law, applying the Israeli law on Israeli residents of the West Bank. And that could have created real legal chaos. So Bennett decided if he quits the law is renewed automatically. That’s what he did. Yeah.

Thomas Oriti [00:02:59] Yeah. I mean, and as you say, always, I guess a challenging time considering really the only common ground was not seeing Benjamin Netanyahu continue as prime minister, but the foreign minister, Yair Lapid, will take over as prime minister in the meantime. Before we look sort of further ahead, what can you tell us about him?

Ran Porat [00:03:18] Well, he’s worked his way up for many years. He came from a television journalist, a writer, a reporter, even an actor, his father was also a politician, Tommy Lapid. His greatest achievement as of now is that he was able to build himself through coalitions with other politicians and slowly, slowly getting up to that position where he becomes the alternative or the interim PM and proving to Israel that somebody else can be prime minister other than Netanyahu, that he can be that prime minister. He’s a centrist, but he always talks more to the right than to the left. He is left leaning from his sort of civil, civil point of view, civil rights, etc. But he is more to the right when it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians, for example. So he might appeal to a wider audience, and he has proven himself to be a good politician, which Bennett actually did not. Bennett failed in putting things together with all these challenges ahead of him.

Thomas Oriti [00:04:32] So given that, do you think Benjamin Netanyahu has a shot of regaining power here?

Ran Porat [00:04:39] Absolutely. Netanyahu never left the building, as we say. Netanyahu was always plotting and working behind the scenes, even as an opposition leader, even as the trial is going on with the meetings, with the, you know, overtures with ties to deserting members of the Knesset, suggestions he was working relentlessly and eventually he identified the point where the government is broken down, which is the core issue of the West Bank and the Palestinian issue. This is where the government just could not hold it together and was breaking from left and right. So Netanyahu is lurking in the shadows. He’s doing well in the polls. But who knows? This is going to be a completely new ballgame in the upcoming election.

Thomas Oriti [00:05:29] Yeah, we’re almost out of time. I just want to ask, though, I mean, the fifth election in just a few years. Can you give us a sense or based on your discussions with people, what do everyday Israelis make of this? Is there any political fatigue among voters?

Ran Porat [00:05:44] Exhaustion. But at the same time, they are looking sort of favourably on the government, many of them, not all of them, of course, it’s very divisive. But I would say that the sort of centre, mainstream Israelis will give this government a passing mark because it was able to integrate, as you said, an Arab party. It was able to function, get a budget through, which was, you know, stuck for two years. And it was able to see the exit out of the COVID pandemic challenges. So, yes, there is exhaustion. But there is also hope because the political map might be or is expected to be very different from last time.

Thomas Oriti [00:06:33] Ron Porat, thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate your time.

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