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Issues of the Day Israel's New Government: A Different Future?
 

I was out of the country on two successive trips from late February through mid-March, a period coinciding with the intense negotiations concerning the composition of the new Israeli government. While I always keep abreast of major developments affecting Israel when I am abroad, I make a concerted effort not to follow daily politics. This provides a break from the roller-coaster emotions that are evoked by the words and deeds of the national leadership, whom have long been characterized by a profound lack of high-mindedness and vision.

 

I broke my news vacation at the start of the long flight back from a personal visit in the US by reading articles about the cabinet that will apparently be inducted today.  Many of the prospective appointments are profoundly distressing, yet others suggest that meaningful change on significant issues might be on the horizon.

 

A Challenge to Elite Economics

 

Yair Lapid, leader of the reformist Yesh Atid’s slate, is set to become finance minister. This may portend a challenge to the elite economics that have been shaped by the Likud under finance ministers Benjamin Netanyahu (2003-2005) and Yuval Steinitz (2009-March 2013). Lapid has pledged to advance the concerns of the country’s middle class, though what he will do to help the poorest sectors of the society and produce structural change in the economy remains to be seen.  

 

Encouraging news can be found in the pending appointment of Rabbi Shai Piron as education minister. On the surface, having an orthodox rabbi take over the reins of the ministry would seem to further the clerical grip on the society. Yet the appointment of Piron, number two on the decidedly secularist-oriented Yesh Atid list, is a welcomed development. I heard  him address a Jerusalem rally during the social protests that flooded the country in the summer of 2011 and found myself identifying with the progressive values he expressed. Similarly, Yael German, a relative dove who has served as the mayor of Herzliya is now proposed to become minister of health. She would add a principled voice and another woman to the incoming cabinet. 

 

Tzippi Livni as Peace Negotiator

 

Tzippi Livni as justice minister and chief negotiator in talks with the Palestinians is a promising appointment, though her efficacy in the latter capacity will be severely limited by the influence of Naftali Bennett, the incoming minister of industry and commerce.

 

Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi faction has had its impressive electoral performance rewarded by assurances of support for a highly objectionable law that would exclude Arabic as one of Israel’s official languages, discount commitment to non-Jewish development initiatives in the country, and emplace a unit for Jewish identity (that will no doubt favor parochial rather than pluralistic approaches) as part of the government program.

 

This is an odious development (see Haaretz’s editorial today), and detracts from efforts to safeguard Israel’s democratic foundations.  Bennett’s principled support for the West Bank settlement project is no less worrisome.    

 

The elevation of Moshe Ayalon to defense minister is an expected if troubling development: He too is a supporter of the settlements project and a hawk on defense issues.

 

Foreign Ministry in Check

 

But perhaps most reprehensible of all the appointments is the one that has been promised but will remain pending when the new government is sworn in: Avigdor Lieberman, the most unsuccessful foreign minister in the nation’s history, a man who relishes belligerence and has done much to promote Israel’s international isolation has been promised the position in the new government -- assuming that he can extricate himself from conviction in his upcoming trial for fraud and breach of trust.

 

That Benjamin Netanyahu feels himself more constrained by partisan considerations than improving Israel’s international standing speaks volumes about the man who will head Israel’s 33rd government.

 

Israel’s January elections did not place the country on a more progressive course. It did, though, stop the wild veering toward the radical right. There is hope that among the hawks and benighted forces that will be present at the cabinet table, new and forward-looking ministers will block extreme policy and enact more beneficial ones. 


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