Count back to the formation of the current right-wing coalition at the very end of December and see a time that has been extraordinarily difficult for Israel.
Five months during which we struggled with a shifting – an unstable – national dynamic. Sometimes it seemed as if nothing, but nothing, was simple. Tensions never evaporated, and every issue was infused with a hundred diverse implications.
Many of us felt weighted by chronic unease: There were serious worries for Israel’s future.
Five months that sometimes felt like forever.
Israel has pulled through some very tough times in her 75 years. Yet was this an extraordinarily difficult period because for the first time, there was an opposition that would not accept the election results. And that, at its core, was a challenge to Israel’s stability.
For the first time, instead of disputing the government through accepted procedures and practices, the left chose to go to the street by the tens of thousands, again, and again, and again. They chose to disrupt the country, again and again, and again – disturbing neighborhoods with their noise at night, blocking main roads.
The hook on which they chose to hang their protests was judicial reform, which is badly needed and was a major plank in the platform of the incoming coalition. No one – certainly not the primary promoters of the reform, MK Simcha Rothman (RZ) and Justice Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) – claimed that there was no room for adjustments in the proposed legislation. But what the mobs demanded was no reform.
They claimed that it was anti-democratic. But rule by mob, when there is a governing coalition with 64 mandates, is what was anti-democratic.
Soon it became apparent that what the opposition sought was not just a way to block judicial reform. They wanted to take the government down. Anyone who watched with eyes open was able to see that other issues were raised by the mob: haredi draft, and, very significantly, the budget (we’ll come back to this).
What, I thought, everything they don’t like will be dealt with on the street now? A very dangerous time for Israel and true democratic process here. This smacked of anarchy.
There were other causes of deep, deep concern. It was revealed that far-left progressive groups in the US were helping fund the demonstrations. They were eager to mold Israel society according to their lights. Recognizing that Israel stood alone in an international climate that was decidedly left, I found this scary as hell.
Add to this the fact that the behavior of the head of the opposition – Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) – was ugly, infuriating and terribly out of line. Not only did he incite. He went to America and encouraged left-wing Jewish organizations to stand against our government. This had never been done before. Shameful is what he is.
One other factor caused unease during this time – tensions within the governing coalition, tensions that the media were only too pleased to report upon. Were the government to fall (rumors projecting this possibility were shared regularly), it would have been a major crisis.
It is time to come to a better, more stable place. And what I will suggest is that we are, please God, headed there.
What has changed the situation is the passing of the budget.
By law, the budget for 2023-24 had to pass by May 29, or the government would fall, and we would go to elections. There were some tense moments in recent days, with one faction of the coalition or another refusing to support the budget unless certain allocations were made. In some cases, these were allocations promised Netanyahu when the coalition was established.
The worry, of course, was that the refusal of these factions to support the budget vote might bring the government down. But these disputes were resolved. I believe that the leadership of each government faction understood that the worst possible outcome – the nightmare – would be seeing the government fall, with the need to go to elections and the specter of a left-wing government in which Yair Lapid played a role.
Rather than waiting until next week, the government decided to hold a marathon Knesset debate on the budget and called for a vote very early on Wednesday.
And the budget passed 64-55. There were 530 item votes and zero losses to the coalition. Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana ran the entire 10-hour Knesset marathon vote session entirely by himself.
Here you see some jubilant members of the coalition:
This morning, Finance Minister Smotrich greeted the country with the message (emphasis added):
“There is a budget!
Good morning citizens of Israel,
Good morning to the State of Israel,
Good morning to the government of Israel.
Good morning Knesset of Israel.
We received the tools, we’re rolling up our sleeves and we’re continuing to work for the citizens of Israel.”
And he said more (emphasis added):
“The state budget for the years 2023-2024 is an excellent state budget. It is biased towards growth, infrastructure, encouraging capital investments in high-tech, in agriculture, a huge investment in the health care system that has been neglected for years, a huge investment in governance and the security system, a huge investment in higher education and in the education system on all levels.
The Israeli economy is a strong economy. Our economy is one of the best and most stable economies in the world…
“The approval of the budget reflects the stability of the government. We will continue to work for you.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu enthused after the budget passed that “This is the dawn of a new day. A good day for the citizens of Israel.”
“A new day” carries with it very positive implications. The way the coalition cooperated and worked effectively to pass the budget before the deadline is empowering. The government knows it can do what needs to be done. The specter of a government collapse has passed, and members of the government are energized.
Netanyahu said, “The Coalition will be here for four years.” Amen!
He promised that the judicial reform “certainly” will be back on the agenda. And that is a positive approach. The opposition has blocked government efforts for long enough. This, too, is a test for the governing coalition.
And so the question is how long will he let them stall before advancing the legislation? There was a vagueness to the prime minister’s statement, some are suggesting to mollify the opposition. MK Rothman has said that the negotiations in the president’s house are on the verge of collapsing.
The final phrase cited below suggests that there will be limits to the government’s patience. Here is his qualifier.
“We will of course continue with our efforts to arrive at a broad consensus agreement, to the extent possible…
Certainly, many members of the coalition will demand action.
The judicial reform is one of a host of issues I will be tracking in coming days and weeks.
May the Almighty watch over our current coalition and keep it strong, so that it may function in a positive fashion to bring blessings upon Israel for its full four-year term.
Thursday night and Friday is Shavuot, a pilgrim festival that marks the wheat harvest and celebrates our receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai.
To all who will be celebrating, I wish a Chag Sameach. There will be ample time for study through the night. And for the eating of cheesecake, which has become traditional. (I have heard a dozen reasons why dairy foods are traditional on this holiday, but I just enjoy the cheesecake.)
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.