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!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • 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.