By Chava Stein May 20, 2020
Prime Minister Netanyahu (r) and Alternate Prime Minister Gantz (Photo: Knesset Spokesperson Adina Walman)
On Sunday, May 17, 2020, after more than a 500 day standoff, a new Israeli administration finally was sworn in. This makes the nation’s 35th government and Benjamin Netanyahu’s fifth term of leading the Israeli people. Although, this new coalition has been touted as a “unity government,” one which the majority of voters demanded, representing both sides, in effect, the internal makeup of ministers and the doling out of ministry portfolios has ended up being far from a balanced and multi-position distribution of leadership.
Case in point – the Interior Ministry will remain in the hands of Shas leader Arye Deri, an avowed defender of the present ultra-orthodox rabbinical position that Messianic Jewish-born believers are not eligible under the Law of Return to become citizens of their own homeland. This is not representative of other more progressive-thinking and inclusive parties which would be in favor of recognizing Messianic Jews as possessing the ethnic pedigree which would afford them the same rights and privileges as any other Jew who wishes to make Israel their home – especially now at a time when anti-Semitism has, once again, become a great global threat.
Additionally, the plethora of ultra-orthodox parties has not only kept their positions but has, even, in some cases, upgraded their roles. An example of this would be former health minister Yaakov Litzman, of the United Torah Judaism party, who was forced to leave his post after a major mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak. He failed to convince members of his ultra-orthodox community to seriously heed health warnings of social distancing and no longer meet in masse for daily prayers and community events which often numbered in the thousands. At the same time, Litzman, himself allegedly disregarded those same warnings, resulting in his contracting the virus. Israeli citizens viewed his actions as those which completely disqualified him to remain health minister and vigorously voiced their dissatisfaction, calling for him to immediately step down. While he did, he made it clear that it would be solely on the condition of being granted the housing and construction portfolio. Under the guise of solving the housing shortage, many believe his intent is to oversee and control the segment of government which would determine which housing projects go forward and who gets to benefit from them – a clear path to favoritism and a very one-sided partiality for Litzman supporters. Of course, such policies would never help Israel’s believing community by affording them equal access.
With a whopping 36 governmental ministers and 16 deputy ministers, larger than any other coalition in the country’s history, there is a fear that given the vast difference in their polarized societal positions and opinions, it is more than likely that most decisions would be stalemated due to the potential inability of the parties coming to any mutual agreements. Consequently this would paralyze the country from moving forward with any meaningful or needed changes that would enable more democratic policies.
On the other hand, Blue and White party head Benny Gantz, serving as alternate prime minister is due to take over the helm in just another 18 months, and that change in leadership could have major ramifications for the whole of Israel’s population. Gantz, portrayed as a moderate who has no special loyalties to the ultra-orthodox community, could effect significant changes in the status quo which has flourished under Netanyahu’s regime, one which has perpetuated governmental stipends for the vast majority of ultra-orthodox families whose husbands, instead of being part of the workforce, study Talmud endlessly, in their government subsidized institutions, on the backs of taxpayers as well as receive monetary allowances for each additional child born into their already enormous families. Military exemptions, for this segment of the population, have also been notorious during Bibi’s time. Hiddush – Freedom of Religion head, Uri Regev’s article, “A Coalition that will Escalate Jewish Disunity, JPost, 5/19/20), states, “80% [of the Israeli population] supported requiring yeshiva students to perform full or partial IDF or national service. Less than 20% accepted the ultra-Orthodox rhetoric of “Torah is his craft” as reason enough to exempt yeshiva students from sharing in the security and economic burden.”
The rabbinical stronghold monopoly on decisions of marriage, birth, burial and immigration has been carefully guarded. Regev, in speaking about the coalition says that not only will Gantz’s Blue and White party’s promises not be realized, but that promises made to the ultra-Orthodox parties could possibly “Undo Supreme Court decisions by ‘override legislation.’ At stake are such core issues, currently on the Court’s docket, as the Conscription Law, ‘Who is a Jew?’ the Kotel [Western Wall] compromise and public transportation on Saturdays.” (Ibid)
Regev goes on to say, “No doubt, Gantz is aware that some 90% of his voters expected Blue and White to finally abolish the ‘status quo’ and promote freedom of religion and equality in Israel.” (Ibid) While a Gantz administration could ostensibly change all these policies, since the rotation of ministers would also change, this remains an unknown quantity. Yet, Regev seems to be less optimistic that real change could happen, citing, “Blue and White will probably not be able to promote progressive and pluralistic legislation, but one can hope that it will at least serve as a barrier to prevent any legislation that would add to the damage done by perpetuating religious coercion and disregard for equality of the civic burden.” (Ibid) Indeed, many significant changes need to occur, especially those which would result in the relaxing of what has been years of a barely tolerant, but mostly non-acceptance of Jewish believers within the land of Israel. Of course, it’s possible that change could come much faster than that since Netanyahu’s trial for suspected bribery, fraud and breach of trust is scheduled to begin on May 24. If found guilty, the man who has served as Israel’s longest-running prime minister could see his role in politics come to an end. This would then catapult Gantz to the top position and, once again, change the face of things.
In summation, Israel’s believing community is focused on a government which can deal fairly and equitably with them. They will support of a coalition which will advance freedom of religion, biblical principles, security and prosperity for her citizens as well as the furtherance of the Zionistic dream of a homeland for Jews. If those aspirations turn into reality with the 35th government, then the faith community of Israeli believers will, undoubtedly, feel that God has intervened in the place where He, Himself calls home and also because He has heard and answered their cries!