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Why the emerging Israeli coalition makes me hopeful

The answer is not in the government – which would deepen inequality and won’t be willing or able to end the occupation – but in the unusual alliances that could be formed in the opposition.

Yair Lapid (second from the left) and Naftali Bennett (to his left) at the West Bank outpost Kida. A new alliance between the settlers and the Israeli center. (photo: Yesha Council)

Benjamin Netanyahu has until the end of next week to introduce his new government. All indications show that it will likely include Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party (19 seats), Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home (the settler’s party, with 12 seats), Kadima (2) and perhaps Tzipi Livni (6). Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu is already part of the Likud, so it will also be in the coalition, which will include 64 or 70 of the 120 Knesset members, depending on whether Livni will be included. For the first time since the second Sharon government, the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism will be left out (I estimated a month ago that this is the most likely outcome of the elections).

This would be a terrible government, which won’t be willing nor able to pursue any meaningful action on the Palestinian issue, let alone end the occupation, meaning that the world will need to apply a lot of pressure to allow any improvements vis-a-vis the status quo. Instead, the government will seek to impose a military draft on the Orthodox and continue to isolate Palestinian citizens. But there is also hope in the latest political developments, which break some of the traditional coalitions that have shaped Israeli politics since the late 1970s.

Historically, the State of Israel has found ways to compensate low-income Jewish citizens based on their identity. The exemption of the ultra-Orthodox – the poorest Jews in Israel – from military service, which was accompanied by various subsidies to yeshiva students, is the most prominent example. Other benefits for Jews include preference in zoning plans (i.e. better access to land) or various compensations to military professionals (only Jews are drafted). The army is the single most important institution which has traditionally enabled the social mobilization Sepharadi Jews living away from the metropolitan centers.

All of these aforementioned elements make it in the interest of low-income Jews to keep the state very Zionist and very Jewish – i.e. one which gives more resources and better services to Jews. Low-income Jews are the most right wing in Israel because the right offers them material and cultural compensations that have to do with their Jewish identity. Those often go hand in hand with the occupation and the disfranchisement of the Palestinian population, like in the case of the ultra-Orthodox cities built in the West Bank. In exchange for cheap housing, 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Israelis became settlers.

Some of these arrangements seem to have run their course. If the ultra-Orthodox are drafted or if they cease to receive special payments from the state (that latter is most important) in the long run some of them are less likely to support right-wing, Jewish-only policies. The pact between Lapid and Bennett already made the ultra-Orthodox parties threaten to support the immediate evacuation of settlement outposts. For now, these are empty declarations, but if the state was really to change all the arrangements with the ultra-Orthodox parties, major things could happen.

In other words: Lapid and Bennett, as well as their spoiled voters, hope that by forcing the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army, cutting their social benefits and interfering with their separate education system, they will make them more Zionist. But the ultra-Orthodox were already loyal members of the Zionist order, and taking away those benefits could dramatically change their political behavior.

A left-Haredi opposition will be less effective in the short run, but in the long run it represents some real opportunities for change.

The smarter people on the right understand that, and they have been warning the settlers that the new coalition is a dangerous game. Danny Dayan, the head of the Yesha Council, even resigned from his position before the election and has since been attacking Bennett every other day. I think Dayan is one of the most sophisticated leaders that the settlers ever had; they made a serious mistake in letting him go.

This all sounds very abstract, but there are cracks in the coalition that brought the right to power. Whether they will lead to a real transformation of the system is anybody’s guess.

What will the third Netanyahu government look like, and how will it deal with the Palestinian issue?
The ethnic vote and the ‘white coalition’: 7 takeaways from Israel’s elections

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    1. XYZ

      Typical quasi-Marxist analysis….everything boils down to economics. If the subsidies to the Haredim are cut, they will decide that they are really on the side of the anti-Zionist-non-Zionist-post-Zionist “progressives” like we see here at 972. The assumption is that things like Jewish national identity, love of Eretz Israel and solidarity don’t mean anything to them. Well, I hate to be the one who breaks it to the ‘progressives’, but not everyone in the world thinks like they do.

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        As a progressive, I have to agree with this. The ultra-orthodox may be motivated mainly be economic incentives, but as far as their world-view is concerned, they are definitely right wing.

        Shas is perhaps one of the most right-wing, xenophobic and outright racist parties in Israel. There is nothing to expect from them except for more of the same (even in opposition).

        Just like last time, they will sit in the opposition and wait patiently for Lapid’s party to self-destruct (here’s hoping it will do so without haste), after which they will easily slide back to their natural place in the government.

        Eli Yishai is already having his suit sown.

        Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        “love of Eretz Israel?” XYZ must not know how to spell “yeshivas.” Plenty of haredi politicians have stated that they’ll leave Eretz Israel if the state forces their lads out of the yeshivas.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          You mean they will use their already meager resources to move elsewhere in order to leave the yeshivas and get jobs? It doesn’t sound like a terribly serious threat.

          Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Not the point, K9. Point is that if XYZ were right about haredi “love for Eretz Israel” they wouldn’t say a word about leaving. They’d say something like, “For the sake of Eretz Israel, we’ll release the captives from the yeshivas and take up a greater part of the burden.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Sure. The land isn’t as important to them as their yeshivas.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides


            “It is clear and simple that religion cannot exist without the holy yeshivot, without any limitations.”

            Religion, Torah, yeshivot – that’s what matters. I don’t hear anything about land.

            These are the people who despise the Zionist seculars because they’ve chosen land over Torah.

            Reply to Comment
      • Mitchell Cohen

        I would add to that, even if the Haredim would want to “exact revenge” for their stipends being cut, where would the ones living in settlements move to? Jerusalem? Modiin, Bet Shemesh, the Tel-Aviv area? There is no way they could afford any of these places. And they sure as hell aint going to be moving to development towns in the south. Most likely, they will just stay put where they are (the ones living in settlements) and whine about the government being “anti-semitic” or “Torah hating”, but not more than that. I for one am happy to see Shas and UTJ out of the coalition. I (as a right-winger) have more respect for Meretz and Yakimovitch at this point.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9


          It would be fine if they were honest and said they only care about money for yeshivas and avoiding army service, but they sell themselves as some kind of right-wing party. What right-wing party gets left out of the government and starts talking about evacuating settlements and boycotting settlement goods? Let them deflate a bit in the opposition.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Isaac Blachor

      I respectfully disagree. Shas has the most to lose by staying out of the government. Eli Yishai runs (ran) a major ministry, employing many competent Shas supporters, including women, who are well educated and most have served in Tzahal. His efforts to create a system of schools with a high rate of bagrut studies for Shas teen students, which has already created positive waves among Shas families, will be sidelined were Shas to be in the opposition. Military service and/or sherut leumi could be a positive step for the charedi world, were it not so demonized in the cherid media/press. The charedi world in Israel is some 25 years behind the charedi world in the US and the rest of the diaspora, and economic realities demand that the leadership of the charedi community in Israel move towards a reasonable solution which includes getting a secular or more open education, and serving in Tzahal and/or sherut leumi. I believe that Lapid and Bennet have played their hands perfectly, and they both deserve crdit for their willingness to join forces to create a more responsible government structure, even in the face of attacks from the old line political pundits.

      Reply to Comment
    3. annie

      very intriguing. it’s almost unfathomable for me to imagine a whole movement flipping away from supporting an extreme right ideology due to economics. but then i don’t know israel like you do. thanks for the report, much appreciated.

      Reply to Comment
    4. rsgengland

      This article seems to miss the point.
      The last election was touted as the first Israel has had where security and the Palestinians did not feature.
      The election was about internal Israeli politics and economics.
      Lapid and Bennet were elected on fairly specific policies, and unlike most other politicians , they are sticking to their positions.
      If internal politics can bring stability and more equality to every day life in Israel, it could also improve the chances for peace.
      In the meanwhile the Palestinians should hold elections to replace their two ‘past their sell date administrations’, with legitimate representatives who can negotiate in good faith with Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Giora Me'ir

      Shas was part of the Rabin government in the 1990s and it’s votes were crucial in getting Oslo
      through. So an alliance with the center-left would not be unprecedented. Already they are begging Labor to the join the government with them. And are promising to vote against money for the colonies if they are kept out. UTJ would be a less likely partner.

      It would be a marriage of convenience. But, so what. If that’s what it takes to end the occupation, it will be well wotth it. The problem is uniting the center-left in one party and finding a leader who could appeal on both economic and peace issues.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carl

        ‘Marriage of convenience’ describes the actions of Israeli politicians, while sectoral describes the nature of politics. Akin to that in Lebanon – but for different reasons – Israeli politics is becoming more and more about politicians protecting their particular constituencies power and status on an ad hoc basis. Consequently you see incredible political gymnastics whereby previous enemies collaborate based on judgements of what they can secure for their sector, be it Orthodox, Russian, national religious or whatever.

        It’s certainly not as extreme as in Lebanon, nor does it describe the entirety of the polity. That said, Israel is certainly moving in that direction and if I were Israeli, I’d have a good look north to see where that path leads to.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Carl

      I think Noam’s point about how changing political realities may redefine Ultra-orthodox parties’ attitudes to the state is spot on.

      There’s always been a tension between the Israeli state and much of the Orthodox world: the Orthodox depend on its largesse, but in the main reject its legitimacy and hence much of its authority. Were the political representatives of the ultra-orthodox excluded from government, it may move them towards resolving this conflict; if the benefits which made the state tolerable to them are removed, how will they react? I’m settling for ‘anyone’s guess’.

      Reply to Comment
    7. If anyone doubts Noam’s analysis, take a look a Merav Michaeli’s (Labour) “maiden” speech in the Knesset and Moshe Gafni’s (UTJ) response. It is a veritable love fest!!

      UTJ could care less about the territories. Shas is split – between the hawkish (and racist) Yishai faction and the more dovish accommodating Deri faction.

      For the haredi parties the territories are not essential to their raison d’etre. They care more about protecting their religious institutions and freedom, about social programs – of which their public are huge beneficiaries – and about the state not violating religious laws or sanctioning those that do. Two of these three interests should not be antithetical to the left, (The last one, to be true, is a problem for the left.)

      With very few exceptions every government in Israel since 1977 has included the haredim. If “the left” ever hopes to win power it will need to split off the haredim from their historic alliance with the right. Thankfully Lapid and Bennett are helping to do this job.

      Reply to Comment
    8. XYZ

      Noam says:
      Low-income Jews are the most right wing in Israel because the right offers them material and cultural compensations that have to do with their Jewish identity

      Again, straight out of Marx and Lenin. We see how well the societies that were supposedly based on their theories worked out…they all collapsed. People have values other than just economic ones, as important as they may be.
      Noam is, as they say in Israel “Discovering America”. This supposed alliance with the Left was already proposed in the 1980’s and has been partially implemented. The Left has supported the Haredi take over of the state rabbinate. Haredi functionaries prefer the Left because the Left, being traditionally viewed as “anti-religous” can give the Haredim more (“for the sake of the peace process”) than the Likud.
      The hostility of many Haredi leaders to the Religious Zionists goes back more than a century. SHAS supported Oslo and United Torah Judaism supported the destruction of Gush Katif. The Haredim were left out of Sharon’s gov’t formed in 2003.
      Yes, there is a significant minority of anti-Zionists within UTJ and SHAS but this does not mean they like parties like Labor, MERETZ and HADASH nor do they feel kinship with the Arabs. Haredi anti-Zionists primarily identify “Zionism” with Labor Zionism and the Left, viewing the Likud and the Right as being closer to Jewish tradition.
      Yes, tactical alliances between the Haredim and the Left have been made in the past and can be made in the future, but don’t assume that there is a basis for a “natural alliance”.

      Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        @XYZ, there’s nothing Marxian about this analysis. It’s not about some economic infrastructure determining some political superstructure or anything like that. It’s about something much simpler: buying votes. That’s a democratic tradition, probably as old as democracy itself.

        Reply to Comment
      • William Burns

        You clearly know nothing about Marx and Lenin, so stop invoking their names.

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          XYZ is a throwback to the 1950s red baiters. His bete noir is the “commies” whom he sees under every bed.

          Reply to Comment
    9. XYZ

      Regarding the possibility of an alliance between the anti-Zionist branch of the Haredim and the Left to stick it to the settlers and the political Right, you have to keep in mind that these people tend to be MORE extremist in religous matters than the more Zionist Haredim and thus you can forget about them supporting dismantling the Rabbinate, civil marriage, homosexual marriage, ending Shabbat restrictions on transportation and public activities and other such pet policies of the “progressive” Left.
      Better keep this in mind.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Aaron Gross

      An interesting and very provocative post, the best one I’ve read here in quite a while.

      I agree with a lot of it. The Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox votes seem to go to the highest bidder, in shekels. Peres, for one, understands that and behaves accordingly, which is why the haredim like him despite his obvious disrespect for their world view.

      Not so sure about Shas. I think that if the Shas leadership switched horses, a lot of the non-haredi Shas voters would “return” to the Likud.

      I’m skeptical of Noam’s most provocative (his italics): Low-income Jews are the most right wing in Israel because the right offers them material and cultural compensations that have to do with their Jewish identity. I think that even if, per impossibile, the Israeli left started treating the Mizrahim like human beings, the Mizrahim would still reject that world view and refuse to vote that way. Comparatively, we see poor or at least working-class people in other countries rejecting the beautiful-soul left even when it’s against their financial interests to do so (What’s Wrong With Kansas?. On the other hand, who knows, maybe Noam’s bold claim is largely true. Lots of food for thought either way.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Zephon

      Nothing more horrific than debating which right wing party is more right wing and how much more useless both will be.

      *sigh* this is going to be such a drag.

      Reply to Comment
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