Israel Loses a Real Opposition

Protest Leaders Wary of Coalition Between Bibi and Mofaz

Happy Partners: Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz seem happy about their new coalition deal. But some Israelis worry that the new government has little incentive to be accountable to anyone except itself.
getty images
Happy Partners: Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz seem happy about their new coalition deal. But some Israelis worry that the new government has little incentive to be accountable to anyone except itself.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published May 11, 2012, issue of May 18, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bombshell of a governing deal with Israel’s major opposition party leaves the government with no other faction in parliament of significant size opposed to it. After Netanyahu consummated his coalition agreement with the Kadima party on May 8, in the dead of night, he coolly canceled the early election that he had called for the coming September just a few hours earlier.

The Israeli leader’s surprise tactic effectively rendered the Jewish state a parliamentary democracy without a significant parliamentary opposition.

As a consequence of Netanyahu’s grand bargain, a historic 94 of the Knesset’s 120 seats will be in the hands of the now expanded governing coalition. The remaining 26 are split up among a variety of tiny factions, including the once-mighty Labor Party, which through factional splits and loss of voter support, now holds just eight Knesset seats.

“When you have a coalition vote of almost 100, on the face of it, it reminds me of a kind of dictatorship,” Zahava Gal-On, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, told the Forward. The defection of Kadima’s 28 Knesset seats to the government’s side, she said, “affects the ability of the opposition to be critical of the government.”

Ben Gurion University political scientist Dani Filc predicted that the radical shrinking of the opposition will be felt most powerfully in Knesset committees, where a large amount of the chamber’s business is conducted. Representation in these committees is assigned in proportion to party strength.

“In practical terms the government will have complete control over every parliamentary committee, and this means that any role left for the opposition, which was already weak in this Knesset, will be a renunciation role — like the prophets of the past saying, ‘This is not good.’”

Stav Shaffir, a leader of the social protests that rocked Israel’s streets last summer, convened 2,000 people in three locations to demonstrate against the unity government on May 8. She told the Forward she fears that the now tiny parliamentary opposition will cause an intensification of what she calls undemocratic legislation. Citing the so-called Boycott Law, which penalizes individuals who voice support for campaigns to boycott West Bank settlement businesses and some other controversial legislation, she said: “Even before the unity deal shrunk the opposition there were lots of anti-democratic moves, and now it will be easier for the government to push even more.”

Shaffir worried in particular that the government will use its strength to ramp up what is widely seen as its attempt to weaken the power of the Supreme Court.

Last summer’s protests mobilized hundreds of thousands of Israelis, and at their height polls indicated that 87% of citizens supported them. In the new reality, Shaffir claimed, the government has a carte blanche to ignore this public pressure. “To not have an opposition in a place where the feeling on the streets is so against the social policy that everyone expects the unity government to adopt is terrible,” she said. Her movement is now “probably the only opposition,” she claimed.

Israel does have several precedents for its new political arrangement. Most were emergency unity coalitions during wartime. But in 1984, Likud and Labor, under Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres, respectively, formed a peacetime governing majority even larger than the one Netanyahu now commands: 97 seats out of 120.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.