Israel – and suddenly, it all went silent
As Israelis gathered around their Sabbat meal tables this weekend, as the newspapers were read and as people met up in Synagogues or on the beach, one theme seemed to dominate. We all noticed how quiet everything was.
Let me explain.
For nearly three years, Israel has been dogged by political fission. Debates have been acrimonious. Add in corona, a war with Gaza and the Iranian threat, and life has been loud and stressful. Last Sunday, 13th June, an new government was sworn in, on the back of a one seat majority.
That debate was noted for the anger of the outgoing government. The vote was never a forgone conclusion. And since, the Prime Minister and his family have refused to leave their official residence of 12 years In Balfour Street until 10th July.
But what happened next has caught everyone by surprise. The new Prime Minister, Naphtali Bennett has hardly made a single public comment. The new ministers have been seen at their desks, rather than talking to journalists and berating their opponents. Some have even announced initial policy programmes, and clearly that have not required the prior approval of the PM. Israel’s “most diverse and complex” government is just trying to get on with it.
Phrases abound like ‘unity’ or ‘cooperation’ or ‘ we will work something out’.
The people who have “suffered” the most from this fall out are the political journalists. By definition, they thrive on division. Without claiming that the 28 ministers from 7 different parties are all close buddies, the language of hate and divisiveness has suddenly vanished, at least for now.
Netanyahu’s opponents have long accepted that their political enemy is a brilliant person. There were times when he excelled in his economic policies. His grasp of diplomacy – without necessarily being diplomatic himself – has been outstanding. For example, just look at how he has convinced sceptics about Iran. Above all, domestically, he became the undisputed champ of retaining power by repeatedly frightening enough of the electorate.
And there in lies the rub. Enough of his friends and allies gradually abandoned that approach. There was a fundamental breakdown of trust, while in parallel Netanyahu’s rhetoric grew noticeably in volume. Let me explain through an anecdote.
Arguably Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, published a series of short reflections this weekend from tens of people who have known Netanyahu over the years. One was from Shimon Shiffer, a doyen of the local press community. Shortly after Netanyahu became Prime Minister first time round, he went to visit President Clinton, taking along his wife , Sara, and their two kids. Shiffer wrote an item, which referred to the children and for which he was praised by many colleagues. Sara Netanyahu interpreted the report totally differently, was furious, and let Shiffer know what she thought, no holes barred.
Shiffer observed that since that day he has never mentioned her again in his writings. And it is known that over the years, she has become more than just a voice behind the royal throne in Balfour Street. Her word would secure appointments.
Sara Netanyahu has not been seen in public for days. The silence, the clarity, and the calm continues into a second week for most Israelis.