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Israel media review

Whack-a-pol: What the press is saying about the new coalition’s new battles

The Bennett-Lapid government has managed to work out its crinkles and is now set to be sworn in, though more squabbles await, and the opposition-to-be appears raring for a bust-up

Shas head Aryeh Deri gives a press statement (together with UTJ MK Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman) at the Knesset, June 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas head Aryeh Deri gives a press statement (together with UTJ MK Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman) at the Knesset, June 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. In like Elkin: While last week the new “change bloc” government was on its way to power with a big question mark hanging over it, it now appears to be inevitable, with could-be rebels seemingly staying in line and inter-coalition crinkles getting smoothed out.

  • All three major dailies (even Israel Hayom) run front-page headlines declaring that the new government is “on its way to being sworn in.”
  • “The swearing-in: Sunday,” reads the top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, noting that the straw that bolstered the camel’s back was Nir Orbach’s “difficult decision” to support his party’s entrance into the coalition.
  • Reports did turn up later in the day that MK Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope) could put the kibosh on the whole thing, but they were swiftly dismissed as spin, and Elkin appears to have been placated over a problem he supposedly didn’t have with a sweetheart ministerial job as liaison between the government and the Knesset.
  • Haaretz reports that Elkin even got to sit in on a meeting between party leaders, and notes that a statement put out saying Elkin’s experience is needed for the “young coalition” smells fishy. “The statement was relatively abnormal due to the praise heaped upon Elkin, and due to the denials of the reports about problems brought up with the negotiations.”
  • But wait, there’s more. Israel Hayom reports that Elkin and Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked, “under especially aggressive pressure from the Yesha settlers council,” are beefing with Labor’s Merav Michaeli over funding for roads in the West Bank. While the sides are only a mere NIS 1.5 billion ($425 million) apart, the paper says that “this is a central dispute with far-reaching implications, since road paving is seen as a step toward sovereignty.”
  • Walla notes that Yesh Atid has only a few days left to finish hammering out its agreements with all seven coalition parties and the base-line platform, with a weekend deadline looming ahead of a confirmation vote in the Knesset on Sunday. But it says most of the agreements have already been inked and with a swearing-in date now set, Yesh Atid and Yamina are hoping to finish theirs up on Wednesday.

2. What squabbles may come: But the wide-spectrum coalition’s problems won’t disappear then. In fact, they may even get worse.

  • Channel 13 reports that thorny policy in the West Bank may not bring down the coalition before it can be sworn in, but still could quickly test the nascent government, specifically with the evacuation of the Evyatar outpost looming and worries that US pressure to freeze settlement building will expose deep-seated rifts.
  • In Israel Hayom, Nadav Shragai writes that Bennett’s first test will be telling the Biden administration “no” on its demands regarding Jerusalem. “This ‘no’ to the insolent American demand — behind which stands a detailed plan to divide Jerusalem — needs to echo from one end of the world to the other,” he writes.
  • Meanwhile, Channel 12 news reports that Likud is getting ready for its own infighting over whatever crumbs the government throws it, which in this case appears to be three Knesset committees, and party MKs don’t plan on letting party leader Benjamin Netanyahu decide who gets what.
  • “The issue has raised much tension within Likud and internal battles between senior party officials,” the channel reports. “Those who were used to controlling half the government, 17 ministers, will have to split a pittance between them now. This is also the reason there is criticism and anger at Netanyahu, who will already get a position — opposition head.”
  • Likud members may have good reason to not believe Netanyahu. As ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes, he authored his own looming political downfall by burning every bridge he came across. “The simplest explanation for Netanyahu’s downfall, the simplest catalyst of the unlikely new alliance that has emerged to oppose him, is Netanyahu himself. Or more precisely, the way Netanyahu’s past behavior and treatment of political rivals and allies alike have robbed him of the capacity to negotiate and maneuver.”
  • But he still may have some tricks. With the cabinet deciding to reschedule a controversial nationalist march two days after the swearing-in, rather than while Likud still holds the rudder, Haaretz notes that Netanyahu is already acting as opposition chief by “roll[ing] the hot potato into the hands of prime minister-designate Naftali Bennett.”
  • Unfortunately for him, Blue and White head Benny Gantz insisted on giving the final say to the police, which party sources tell the paper should help defang criticism of Bennett from the right. “The decision, as worded, would remove the parade from the agenda and allow Bennett a quieter entry into office.”

3. Speak much evil: Bennett should not expect too much quiet, if a bash-Bennett blowout by the ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties is any indication.

  • An attack by Shas head Aryeh Deri and UTJ chief Moshe Gafni on Bennett gets wide coverage in the press, with the two throwing out wild accusations that the new government will be awash in figurative pork, and they don’t mean inflated state contracts directed toward specific districts to win over voters.
  • Bennett “is going to destroy and ruin everything we have maintained for years. A government headed by Bennett will destroy Shabbat, conversion, the Chief Rabbinate, kashrut and will tear the people of Israel asunder,” Deri proclaimed in one prong of what this news outlet calls a “stunning assault.”
  • Even Israel Hayom, which is normally leading the boo-Bennett birds, can’t get totally behind the broadsides. The Haredi parties don’t care about religion, only about losing power, charges columnist Yifat Ehrlich in the paper. “From their strong government position, they didn’t care about the Israeli public, didn’t try to improve their security or welfare. They looked only through the thin pinhole at their constituents and cared about them and only them,” she says.
  • (Not to get too carried away, the paper also runs a column by Caroline Glick accusing Bennett of acting to serve “anti-Zionist Reform Jews.”)
  • Kan chides the Haredi politicians, saying they “were in competition to see who could curse the Bennett-Lapid government most harshly.”
  • In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea writes that the rants were a “panic attack” by the Haredi parties who realized they screwed up by turning down the governing coalition to-be.
  • Along similar lines, Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes that the outburst came after ultra-Orthodox politicians realized they had followed Netanyahu into a “political deathtrap.”
  • “Just like he dragged them into four consecutive elections, he’s now dragging them into the opposition, who knows for how long. He is their collective punishment even though they don’t think they sinned. This makes their subdued conduct [when the coalition was taking shape] even more puzzling, an obligatory class in studying the ‘March of Folly’ of political action. And they were considered sagacious Jews,” he writes.
  • Ill-considered or not, the Haredi parties appear to be sticking with their stance, and doubling down: Bennett “is someone who tries to put on a kippa and make an ‘exit’ for religious Zionism in order to get to the podium first; it seems putting down the Haredim is his way of life,” Shas MK Uriel Busso tells Army Radio. “This is fraud. Bennett stole the mandate from the people.”

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