Israel media review

My so-called coalition: What the press is saying about Lapid’s new government

Papers crow about the ‘success’ of the change bloc in actually agreeing on forming a government, but nobody is quite willing to count Netanyahu out, and Bennett in, just yet

Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are seen on Wednesday evening, as they inform President Reuven Rivlin they have succeeded in forming a government, June 2, 2021. (Courtesy)
Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are seen on Wednesday evening, as they inform President Reuven Rivlin they have succeeded in forming a government, June 2, 2021. (Courtesy)

1. Just did it: After days of will-they-or-won’t-they drama, Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and their band of not-so-merry coalition parties made it official Wednesday night, declaring just before the midnight deadline that they had a government in hand. Well, almost, nearly in hand.

  • “I have succeeded,” Lapid told President Reuven Rivlin over the phone, as well as by tweet, and in an official affidavit, and news outlets run with the wording, nearly all of them using identical headlines quoting the phrase, which taken together makes the Israeli politico-media sphere look like a version of Wuphf come to life.
  • “They succeeded,” reads the large front-page headline in Yedioth Ahronoth. “Lapid succeeds in forming a coalition; Bennett to serve as prime minister first,” reads Haaretz’s top headline online.
  • Channel 12 — and it’s not only one — runs an item with nothing other than a video of Lapid telling Rivlin over the phone that he did it! The headline? You guessed it.
  • Not everybody is on the bandwagon. Israel Hayom, the paper of record for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will ostensibly be squeezed out by this coalition of friends, enemies and frenemies, finds fit to downplay all this coalition hubbub. The paper makes Lapid’s announcement only the second-largest headline on its front page — behind Isaac Herzog being elected president — and shunts the story to page 6. However, once readers get through five pages of Herzogmania, they are faced with one phrase in big block letters taking up nearly a whole page: “I succeeded.”
  • While “I succeeded” is truly an amazing quote that will be remembered by the history books (is my sarcasm thick enough?), it tells readers bupkis about the drama that led to the creation of the uber-unlikely coalition, to say nothing of the import and ramifications of the now-likely ouster of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. And it’s not exactly neutral language, if that’s a thing that matters, more akin to a campaign slogan than news content.
  • Of course, it can always be worse, as the Shas party mouthpiece Hadarech demonstrates with its front page, showing Lapid, Bennett, and Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas signing on the dotted line, covered with the headline “Faces of shame.” Many note that Shas itself was only too happy to join up with Ra’am when the Islamist party was negotiating with Netanyahu.
  • While there is little coverage of what’s actually in the coalition deals, how people are reacting to the new coalition, what the deal means for Netanyahu’s legacy, etc., some news sites do at least play up the drama that there was before the flood of success, noting that Lapid did it with just 30 minutes to spare before his mandate turned into a big ol’ pumpkin. And most are sure to note in the fine print the fact that the coalition is not yet a done deal.

2. Almost there, but not yet: In fact, news outlets might have been justified in running headlines reading “I succeeded?” given the cavalcade of caveats they append to the coverage. It’s worth noting that while these caveats, stemming from the fact that coalition discipline must remain intact until the swearing-in, are sometimes mentioned in relation to the formation of governments, they rarely command so much attention. If nothing else, that’s a nod to the thrall Netanyahu has the country under, that after 12 years of never failing to surprise, journalists and others still can’t quite believe that his era may be over.

  • “He succeeded, but the question is whether the swearing-in will happen next week, and if the shaky majority will hold it together,” Army Radio host Efi Trigger tweets as a preview to his morning talk show.
  • “Judging by the extraordinary strains and complexities that attended the last few days of nail-biting negotiations on this so-called ‘change government,’ the process of securing Knesset approval will be extraordinarily fraught,” writes ToI editor David Horovitz. “And Netanyahu can be relied upon to make it as difficult as possible, as he battles desperately to retain power.”
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer writes, “Bennett is to be prime minister for two years if this government is ever sworn in, but of the eight parties in the coalition, his own is most at risk of falling apart before that happens. He needs to do everything in his power to keep that from happening because having come so far and burning every bridge with Netanyahu and his supporters, the only way he can save his political career is by becoming prime minister and doing at least a decent job of it. He has gambled every last bit of his political capital.”
  • The question of getting the coalition to the actual finish line ends up coming down to one of timing, with a number of reports looking at whether Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin will hold the confidence vote to swear in the new government or drag his feet.
  • Channel 12 reports that the coalition may try to oust Levin if he refuses to play ball and indeed, shortly after midnight, Ynet releases a short news bulletin stating that Lapid is not waiting around and is pushing for him to be replaced by Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy ASAP. Strangely, Ynet itself ignores the bulletin rather than work it into its coverage, and no other outlets report on the move (and Yesh Atid provides no help to this befuddled writer), but by morning, the party miraculously has the 61 signatures needed to submit for Levin’s removal.
  • Kan reports that the move to rush the swearing-in along had little to do with worries about Yamina members breaking free, but about Ra’am, calling it a “test of Ra’am’s seriousness.”
  • “Sources in the Lapid-Bennett coalition want to make sure Ra’am head Mansour Abbas is with them, before they finalized agreements on the Kaminitz Law [regarding illegal building in Arab towns], and are asking them to vote to switch out the Knesset speaker before the new government is sworn in,” the station reports.

3. Things fall apart: A good chunk of the news also skips ahead to where this government may be headed and if it can survive, given its unique makeup.

  • “I hope I get what was agreed to and I serve as Diaspora minister,” Labor’s Nachman Shai tells Army Radio. “We’re on a very unsure path, a bumpy path, and it doesn’t telegraph too much stability.”
  • Kan’s Maya Rakhlin opines that “every day there is a vote, for a government like this — a government of 61, which can fall with a single MK rebelling, will be a challenge.”
  • In Politico, Dan Kurtzer, Aaron David Miller and Steven Simon note that “the government may well collapse at some point under its own weight,” but they predict that for at least the first few months, its lack of functionality should give US President Joe Biden a break: “Bennett, will be preoccupied with managing an unwieldy coalition. He’s likely to lower the temperature with Washington, temporarily subvert Netanyahu’s obsession with blocking the Iran nuclear accord, and try to refrain from provocative actions toward Palestinians certain to rile his centrist and left-wing partners and collapse the fragile government.”
  • (A less cogent take on the US-Israel nexus comes from the Daily Beast, which tries to envision a Trumpesque refusal to concede power on the part of Netanyahu, noting his closeness with the GOP: “The earlier announcement by Netanyahu’s rivals Lapid and Naftali Bennett that they were prepared to form a government was met with derision, disbelief, and menace by Bibi’s staunchest supporters much the same way as Trump howled that the November 2020 election was stolen, with Sidney Powell, his one-time lawyer, proclaiming that Trump will somehow be returned to the White House this summer, presumably riding atop a Kraken.”)
  • In Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord uses that coalition gridlock to attack the nascent government: “If the government gets sworn in, it will be weak, and prime minister Bennett won’t have any authority over the finance minister, and certainly not over the defense minister; it won’t be able to put together any policies beyond retreating from the barricades of Zionism.”
  • Just as cheery is Haaretz’s Gideon Levy, who takes for granted that the government will survive but carps that it will be just as right-wing as the old government, with only a few scraps tossed to the left-wing members of the coalition.
  • “Over everything hovers a black and oppressive cloud: The right is replacing the right,” he writes. “A right without Netanyahu will replace a right with Netanyahu, and both are cruel. No serious leftist can rejoice in this.”

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