Understanding the politics of Israel
The Knesset HaGdola was a gathering of one hundred and twenty scribes, sages and prophets, who sat in “Great Assembly” in the period between the end of the age of the prophets, those fiery beings who walked the earth as ordained by Yahweh to communicate the message of warning, dire consequence, anger, or hope, as befit the time and condition, and up to the time of the development of Rabbinic Judaism, that explosion of Jewish intellect predicated on the belief that Moses was the original rabbi to whom Jehovah imparted both the Written Torah as well as the Oral Torah.
The Knesset of old was a religious, completely unelected body, and there is therefore no identity, aside from the number of members, with the legislative body born of a secular polity that rules supreme over the modern State of Israel.
Dear reader, I was inspired to turn my thoughts for this edition to the Middle East only because of the rather explosive name attached to a person who has stormed onto the center stage of Israeli politics.
Oh, how the name rolls off the tongue, what a sense of satisfaction, not dissimilar to the feeling of being on the receiving end of a firm handshake. Naftali Bennett, of bald pate and deep-set eyes, strangely reminiscent of Vladimir Putin with a dash of an Indian guru whose portrait adorns many commercial establishments of Gurgaon, today serves as the thirteenth prime minister of Israel.
Accomplished, talented, and wealthy, Bennett presumably epitomizes the ideal of the modern Israeli individual forged in the backdrop of how their country is positioned in the world economy.
The son of immigrants from the United States, Bennett served with distinction in special force units of the Israeli Defense Forces, only to subsequently become a software entrepreneur and richer by several hundreds of millions of dollars through the sale of companies that he founded as a result of this entrepreneurship.
In the chaos of a parliamentary democracy built on the foundations of strict proportional representation of all political parties which achieve a minimum threshold of votes as prescribed by the 13 Basic Laws of Israel, Bennett has experienced all the vicissitudes of political fortunes to eventually come to occupy the most powerful post in Israeli politics through a unique power-sharing formula.
On June 2, 2021, Bennett agreed to a rotation government with Yair Lapid who, as leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, with 19 votes, controls the second-largest formation in the unicameral house.
Bennett is slated to serve as the prime minister until 2023, after which office would be relinquished to Lapid who would enjoy the top job till 2025. Bennett was sworn in on June 13, 2021. It says much about the philosophy of inclusion of all threads of political thought under the auspices of the Knesset that a politician who controls a mere seven seats of a right-wing alliance known as the Yamina can reasonably aspire for and even obtain the highest political office in the land.
An analysis of the prevailing attitude in Israeli politics is founded on the truth and attendant fear that language is the social unifier above all. I had my epiphany on a trip to the National Prayer Breakfast one early January morning decades ago. In a breakout “friendship session,” a Lebanese Arab woman, of the Maronite Christian faith and wife of a wealthy businessman, and a young social worker and activist from Syria, of the Sunni faith, were brought together in the course of the string of informal introductions.
It took no time for the newly acquainted to discover the cadence of the mother tongue, after which nothing else seemed to matter. What, therefore, is anathema to mainstream Israeli politics and especially vis-à-vis the sizeable minority population within its borders is the realization that if Christian Arab and Shia Arab and Sunni Arab and Atheistic Arab and Agnostic Arab are brought together, human nature will demand that they quickly shed the patina of personal belief and swiftly seek out the common identity forged on the foundation of a shared language and, eventually, race.
There is a touching simplicity attached to Judaism, and this is built around the notion that life involves an understanding of scripture and its commentaries, an understanding achieved through a process of learning by the teacher alongside the pupil that has no beginning and no end.
It is the tradition of enquiry, deliberation, academia, and lively argument with the sole and ultimate objective of gaining truth that underscores what is arguably the oldest continuous religious tradition that human civilization has been witness to.
The man with the super-impressive name is credited with reasonable worldview and political experience beyond his years, and his far-right positioning belies both a deep understanding of the state of affairs and a surprisingly moderate stance. Perhaps, then, the present political dispensation in Jerusalem will pause to breathe in the collective wisdom of their forefathers and strive towards achieving a workable compromise based on constructive coexistence with neighbours and the various constituents, political, ethnic or otherwise, that constitute the modern State of Israel.
Sumit Basu is a corporate lawyer based in India and is a freelance contributor.