A middle-of-the-way government can restore sanity to the system

The new “crisis” around the construction of the Ayalon pedestrian bridge in Tel Aviv is but the latest reminder that our current government all-too-frequently resembles a dysfunctional board of directors in which the basic rule of conduct is “catch-as-catch-can” rather than “the maximum welfare for the maximum number” (to rephrase Jeremy Bentham’s famous saying). The chairman of the board is motivated by his desire to stay in office for as long as possible – both for purely egocentric reasons, and in order to try to realize a controversial political agenda, with as little effective oversight and scrutiny as possible.

In any normal state (which the “nation state of the Jewish People” apparently isn’t), after it would be established that such a pedestrian bridge is actually required, and that the most efficient and unobstructive way to construct it is during weekends when closing the highway underneath the bridge will cause the least inconvenience and economic loss to its users, the body in charge of the project would set about implementing it. The government would have no say whatsoever in the matter.

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But in Israel none of this seems to apply. In the current case, the two bodies with the power to decide in this matter – the Tel-Aviv municipality, and Netivei Ayalon (a government corporation which manages projects in the sphere of land transportation and infrastructures, and the construction and development of urban arterial roads) – followed all the procedures required by law, including the receipt of all the relevant work permits from the Ministry of Labor, Welfare and Social Services.

What went wrong was that the haredi parties decided to turn the issue into another casus bellum, objecting to any work being executed on the project on the Sabbath. Minister of Transportation Israel Katz, who is not legally a side in this matter, decided that the project should be constructed on weekdays, or alternatively be put off for half a year, accusing Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai of political motives in the decision to start constructing the bridge now – two months before the municipal elections.

This accusation is ludicrous and hypocritical, since if anyone may be accused of having political motives, it is Katz himself, who is courting favor with the haredi parties toward the post-Netanyahu era, when he plans to contend for the Likud leadership, and with the religious members of the Likud, toward the approaching primaries in the Likud for its list to the 21st Knesset. As for Huldai, he will win the next municipal elections with or without the bridge.

What says the prime minister? He first issued a statement (just before boarding a plane on his way to the Baltic states) that “it is unreasonable to close the Ayalon road in the middle of the week,” but later issued another statement to the effect that “I trust Minister Israel Katz to deal with the issue of the work on the bridge and find the optimal solution.” Optimal solution to what? To another audacious, totally unjustified demand by the haredim, so that the malfunctioning government can continue to falter for a few more months?

In his first statement, Netanyahu was talking common sense. In his second statement Netanyahu was expressing his view that the issue wasn’t worth calling early elections for a date earlier than that which will suit his personal agenda, and his alleged inclination to establish a new coalition after the next elections (which he believes he has good chances of winning) with the same make-up as his current coalition – “the best government Israel can dream of,” according to its right-wing and religious supporters.

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The current government is a nightmare because of the various ideologies of the parties from which it is composed. No one there seems willing to do anything about the collapse of the fabric of the Israeli society and of the foundations of its liberal democratic system, or (with reference to Netanyahu’s current visit to Baltic states) about the prime minister’s inclination to collaborate with foreign governments that – if the year were 1938 rather than 2018 – most of which would have chosen to align themselves with Hitler and Mussolini rather than Churchill and Roosevelt, just in order to spite the liberal founders of the EU.

Leaving aside my complaints against and worries about our current government, in the current reality Israel should not have a government that is purely right-wing/religious, or purely left-wing with the support of the Arab parties.

This doesn’t change my opinion that the second Rabin government was one of the best governments Israel ever had. I am simply aware of the fact that his government’s policies did not enjoy the support of at least half the Israeli Jewish population, and this caused immeasurable damage to the fabric of the Israeli society – a situation that is being repeated today from the opposite direction.

The only chance of reversing the ruinous social and political developments in Israel is to have a government that combines all the pragmatic forces in the country – those that truly believe that the “Jewish people,” to whom the State Israel constitutes a “national state,” is a pluralistic people, in ethnic, religious and ideological terms, while leaving out all the fanatic dogmatists of every ilk. The million-dollar question is whether today’s Likud is still the pragmatic pluralistic party it once was, or whether it has joined the fanatic dogmatists.

It all boils down to a single question – whether Netanyahu is able to view Israel’s welfare only through the prism of preventing Iran from turning nuclear and obstructing the EU’s efforts to get the Israeli government to change its policy towards the West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinians (efforts which many in Israel sympathize with for patriotic and existential reasons), or whether he is capable of seeing the broader picture.

Netanyahu’s reaction to the Ayalon pedestrian bridge does not bode well. The issue of the bridge will apparently be resolved – like so many other important and less important issues these days – by the High Court of Justice. If Israel had the sort of government it should have, most of these issues would never surface in the first place, and the government would concentrate on solving the real and burning issues that trouble our society (including the haredim) such as appropriate services for children and senior citizens with special needs, effective safety regulation on building sites, and propping up our rapidly deteriorating public health system.

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