David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz lead a weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem)
Our three dozen ministers didn’t turn up for work on Sunday morning.
The various components of our “emergency” unity government — cobbled together in May with the solemn pledge to ensure Israel effectively faced down COVID-19 — proved unable to summon even the minimal concern for the well-being of the country as to sit in the same room together for their weekly cabinet meeting.
Instead, the “leaders” to whom we have entrusted the destiny of the nation spent much of the day, as they have spent much of many recent days, accusing each other of betrayal, hypocrisy, self-interest and further insults more traditionally traded between government and opposition. (This bickering also continued into a meeting that some of them did manage to attend, a session of the 10-minister so-called Coronavirus Cabinet on Sunday afternoon.)
If the disconnect continues until August 25, and the coalition’s warring Likud and Blue and White parties cannot pass a state budget by then, the government will automatically dissolve, and Israel will be plunged into general elections — apparently in mid-November — for the fourth time in 19 months. (Blue and White’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz is pushing for the two-year budget their coalition deal stipulated; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists only a shorter-term budget is viable amid the pandemic.)
Failing to pass the two-year 2020-2021 budget is said to represent Netanyahu’s last opportunity to avoid the rotation agreement under which his Blue and White rival, turned partner, turned rival, is supposed to automatically take over as prime minister in November 2021 — a process Netanyahu swore he would honor with “no tricks.” (I stress “said to represent” because the indefatigable Netanyahu is perfectly capable of finding further such pathways in the interim.)
The prime minister is said to be maneuvering back to the polls with the hope of putting together a more convenient coalition, one which might even enable him to evade his ongoing trial. If so, it’s a high-risk strategy, given that the public is overwhelmingly unhappy with his handling of the pandemic and its economic fallout. Likud is slipping in the polls, and his right-wing nemesis Naftali Bennett is gaining ground.
For his part, Gantz, who abandoned a three-time election promise to Blue and White voters not to sit in government with a prime minister on corruption charges, has now been reduced to complaining that Netanyahu (shock!) never intended to honor their deal.
The only word for all of this is “pathetic.” The members of the largest, costliest, and to date most ineffectual government in Israeli history should be ashamed of themselves. Except, of course, that they are quite evidently shameless.
Having put them in power, the ill-served Israeli public cannot currently determine how its elected representatives choose to use or abuse the privilege. There will doubtless be many more twists and turns before August 25; the election die is not yet cast.
But should our MKs sentence us to yet another election — an act of sheer contempt in the midst of a pandemic, with over a fifth of the workforce unemployed — it will fall to us to utilize our democratic choice with clarity, self-respect and the experience gained from the political chaos and cynicism of recent months. If the representatives we elected in March essentially reject the decision we made then, we should heed them. They are not obligated to support the unconscionable resort to new elections; they have all the power they need to prevent it. If they insist upon giving us yet another choice regarding who should lead us, we should take them up on the offer, and rethink.
At the very least, we should deny those who spit in the face of the electorate the opportunity to do so again. In Election 4 — the sequel to the sequel to the sequel we never wanted — anything else would be masochism.
Two minimal conditions we might insist upon when determining how to place our vote: Leaders who don’t lie to us. And leaders who, once in office, manage to turn up to work for us.