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Catastrophe or Salvation? Israel’s Coalition Government

The following is a transcript of Episode 52 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: My name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. And this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. Our theme for today is why is this government failing to win the hearts of Israelis? Not the most catchy title, but actually one of the more important questions that we have to talk about today. In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem and myself discuss a current issue like this one, central to Israel and the Jewish world. And then Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America, explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue.

Let’s begin. The most improbable government in Israel’s history has just marked its first anniversary. It’s hard to think of a more diverse government, not only in Israel’s history, but anywhere in the democratic world. Seated around the same table are the hard right, Yamina, and the hard left, Meretz. The Yisrael Beiteinu party, which ran a campaign in the past questioning the loyalty of Arab Israelis, sitting together with the Ra’am party of Arab Israelis with roots in the Muslim brotherhood. 

Thanks to this strange coalition, the electoral deadlock that sent us into four elections in less than two years was ended. After a two-year hiatus, Israel now has an operating budget again, just like a normal country. Ministries are being run by competent politicians for whom good government is an operative value. Now, for its supporters, this government is a godsend, offering a model of shared Israeliness and dedication to the common good. 

But that is hardly the perception amongst a majority of the public. If elections were held today and they might be forced upon us any day, even between when we’re taping this and when this podcast will come out and certainly in the weeks to come. If elections would be held, this fragile coalition in all probability would lose to the opposition. 

Whatever our politics, we all care about the well-being of this country. Yet we no longer seem to agree on the basic ways of achieving that well-being. Why is there such a vast gap between those who see this coalition as a government of national salvation and those who see it as a government of national catastrophe? Are we losing our ability to function as one society? How do we begin speaking to each other in an atmosphere of growing mutual fear and rage? Is that even possible? And as the bitterness and the threats of violence grow, can we at all imagine a process of national healing? 

And before we begin, as I was reading these opening remarks, it actually sounds very similar to American politics right now. And that’s not a compliment. But in any event, Yossi, it’s great to be with you again. 

Yossi: Always

Donniel: Let’s just dive straight in, you know, national salvation, national catastrophe. For you, let’s let’s start personally. And then I want to start to dig in, to try to figure out what’s going on here. What can we learn about Israeli society?

So Yossi, starting with you, national salvation or national catastrophe?

Yossi: Yeah. Absolutely. I I’m in the increasingly embattled camp that sees this government as a coalition of national salvation and. First of all, when I think of the alternative, I’m just terrified. A coalition that would include Kahanists, far right, racists. It’s a nightmare.

Donniel: Could I stop you, Yossi, let me just stop you there. Cause I it’s really interesting the way you started because so many of us start that way. This is another way of the, just not Bibi lang. In other words, the reason why we love this government is the alternative would be worse.

Yossi: That’s, for me that’s the dayenu. 

Donniel: That’s the start. That’s the dayenu. 

Yossi: That’s, that’s dayenu.

Donniel: I know we have to, absolutely, we have to say that, it’s absolutely clear, but now I, and I stopped you and now please go on.

Yossi: But beyond that, there’s not only the fear. There’s also the aspiration value to this government. You know, for me, I see two crucial moves that this government has done. Two conceptual ideas of Israeliness that are actually very different from each other. And the government has brought both of these ideas together. 

First of all, there’s the idea of a shared Jewish Israeliness, and if you listen to prime minister Bennett, he speaks about this all the time. We on the right serve in the army with Meretz. They’re not beyond the pale, they’re not traitors, they’re Zionists. We share a common tent, a common tent, tarteim hashamayim, both in the literal and the metaphorical sense. And so the the first move that this government has done is, is make a statement that what binds Jewish Israelis together is ultimately more important than what divides us.

But there’s a second, one would almost say opposite conceptual move, that this government is doing. And that is it’s offering a model of a shared civic identity. It’s the first government bringing in an Arab party as an equal partner and we’ve never had an experiment like this. And what that statement is saying, is that what holds us together as Israelis, whether we’re Jewish or not, is pragmatically more important than what’s tearing us apart.

And if you look, and this is really, I, I, the, the, last point I’ll say about this, which is that if you look at the result of treating an Arab party as, as a political equal, as giving them a stake in the system, Mansour Abbas, the head of Ra’am made a public statement, first in Hebrew, then he repeated it in Arabic, saying that Israel was created as a Jewish state and it will remain a Jewish state and then challenging the Jews to own Israel as a democracy. 

And that’s the trade-off that this government is making. We, the Jewish majority will take seriously Israel as a democracy. And in exchange, we expect our partners to acknowledge the Jewishness of the state. So this government, for me, when I say government of national salvation, the dayenu stands, but it’s so much richer than that. It represents such an extraordinary dual opposing vision of Israel in the same coalition.

Donniel: You know, Yossi, I hate to say this, but everything you’ve said, I agree with, it’s it’s literally word for word.

Yossi: What are we going to argue about, Donniel?

Donniel: Don’t worry. We’re not, today we’re not going to argue. We’ll argue about them. It is, the two points you made, like the three points, the dayenu, and the two core statements are just beautiful. 

I want to add, like I’m thinking about how do I feel every day? I feel that I’ve exited a dystopia and I’m in a normal country. I’m in a country in which we are not vilifying each other every day. We’re not attacking the institutions, which are so vital to this country simply to delegitimize them for the sake of our own political purposes.

Forget, even, you mentioned the high ideology and I think you’re right on, there is no doubt that there’s something transformational, but that’s, I want to get to that in a moment, because what we feel is transformational doesn’t seem to be taking hold, but that’s, that’s what I want to ask you about in a moment.

But for me, it’s not even the high issues. It’s just waking up in the morning and the government is serving the people. You know, they’re, part of the problem is this government is so pale, there’s the charisma, but there’s something so powerful about a government which doesn’t see its purpose to preserve its own power.

And the compromises. What I find so fascinating is what people attack this for. And that is precisely the compromises. When the Islamic party votes for allowing settlements and the left-wing party, and like the left and the right and everybody is voting for ideologies that are antithetical to their party platforms and they are doing so clearly you know, knowing, and this is part of what Yair Lapid and Bennett have said. 

And I think this is what’s, is that when you sit in the coalition, you don’t, this coalition, nobody’s going to get everything, Bennet says over it again, if everybody’s upset a little bit, that means we’re doing our job. That idea is such a critical idea because you know, I’ve mentioned this before that one of my favorite mishnas is when two people, each one find a garment and this one says, kula sheli. And this one says, kula sheli. This one says it’s all mine and this one says it’s all mine.

And the destructiveness of trying to build a society in which one group thinks that they can have a claim for everything. As distinct from a coalition, which lechatchila, from the first step says, it’s not going to be all mine. That’s the way you build a country, Yossi. That’s the way you build a country with Jews who you disagree with. That’s the way, which for the first time you could start talking and seeing Arabs as present. It’s not about winning. It’s about something bigger. And for me, Zionism, you know, it is it’s. I love being an Israeli, uh, most of the time.

And I love being in Israel, especially this last year, because it’s a call to bring forth the best of you. Not to bring out your yetzer harah, your need to vilify, and to frighten people from everybody who disagrees with you. And so, so much of this, that this is, this is not really national salvation. This is for me national existence. This is at the core.

But Yossi, I want to push us now because both of us agree. And now, so let this not be about what we agree on. This government hasn’t convinced anybody who didn’t vote for it to see some of the enlightenment that you and I are speaking about. Nobody. I’ve done a careful analysis together with the people in our Center for Judaism and State, who are professional analysts of political trends. And we look at the various polls and we see a shift.

There is a shift of approximately five, six seats between the current polls and the previous elections. By the way in almost every poll, Netanyahu still can, we still are deadlocked. But this government has lost about seven seats. Now, half of those seats are just because the last election, which was the fourth election, a lot of the supporters of Likud just didn’t turn out to vote.

That was half of the loss. And the other loss is about four seats, four seats from the right side of this government have moved to the right side of the opposition. So four seats, that’s not a huge thing, but what is huge is that there’s not one single vote.

I would think 10, 20% would get up and say, you know, security, this government, we have quiet in Gaza. We’ve been really clear with Hamas terrorists. We were unbelievably aggressive in fighting terror, extremely effective in maintaining order during Ramadan, Jerusalem day still went on, there are constant operations. It’s clear that this government isn’t compromising at all on issues of security. Iran. Globally. We are better off security-wise, COVID-wise, economically, government is over-performing. How come

Yossi: Those are facts, Donniel. Those are facts.

Donniel: Exactly. So now what I wanted to,

Yossi: And facts don’t matter.

Donniel: That’s what I wanted to turn to you. So why is it that something or your argument or my argument, how come 10% of the political right-wing hasn’t come along and said, you know, I could see, we could, this is a good idea. Why are we stuck, Yossi? What’s your take?

Yossi: Look, I think before we get to the negative factors,  and they’re quite pronounced. Let’s give the opposition its due, which is that, not only is this a strange coalition, but Bennet is a very strange prime minister. And he heads one of the Knesset’s smallest parties, and we’ve never had a prime minister representing a party of six seats and it’s not at all clear that he’ll even get back into the Knesset. And not only does he represent a minor party, but he’s lost two Knesset members. They’ve defected. 

So there’s a basis for people to question the, if not technical legitimacy, the legal legitimacy, and he has 60, well, he had, he did have 61. Now he’s down to 60, but he does have the technical legitimacy. I understand those who raise that. 

Donniel: Let me ask you about that. Cause I don’t understand it, frankly, but that’s okay. And we’re not going to get into deep political that’s you know, you and I, you know, w we want to get into the values, but even on that, how come five people who didn’t, five seats that’s what is that? Each seat is 40,000.

How come 120,000 voters on the right didn’t say, you know, he’s doing a pretty good job. So I know he didn’t have that. So why isn’t the record or why aren’t the values of what I spoke about or you’re speaking about, the right wing are the carriers of liberal democracy in our country, they were the ones who supported Supreme Court, and so, so what, where are they? Why is, I know he was small, but his record could overcome that, Yossi.

Yossi: Yeah, but when you speak to people on the right, what they’ll tell you is this government does not represent the will of the country. Look at the arithmetic in the Knesset. 80 seats are really part of the right-wing block. And so what Bennett did was according to this version, hijack a number of right wing seats who thought they were voting for a right wing government and created this strange hybrid with left-wing Meretz and worst of all from their point of view, with Ra’am, with an Islamist party. 

Donniel: Fair enough. Fair enough.

Yossi: That is an understandable argument. The problem is that it’s not a clean argument. It’s tinged with de-legitimizing of Arabs as citizens. It’s tinged with personal hatred for Bennet’s, the the kinds of things I I hear when I speak to people on the right. 

Donniel: So could you, let’s give the opponents of this government a little more chance. I wanna push you one more time. Let’s see, you’re right, ah, you’re argument, that, that is an explanation, but it’s not the most phenomenal, let’s be clear.

Is there another argument that you could give here to help explain what’s going on? If not, I wanna offer one, but I want to give you a chance to go first. 

Yossi: Yeah, look, I think that the key here, what has allowed Netanyahu to so affectively de-legitimize Bennett on the right is Ra’am, is the Islamist party. Now what they’re missing is that historic breakthrough moment of Abbas being the first major Arab Israeli politician to accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.

I don’t understand why the country didn’t sit up and take notice. Why this wasn’t major headlines? And so what you’re left with Donniel, what you’re left with is an Islamist party, not all of whose Knesset members have aligned with the spirit of Abbas’s endorsement of a Jewish state.

Uh, you have people in that party who have in the past been at the very least, uh, lukewarm on terrorism and Netanyahu has succeeded in obscuring the historic accomplishment of this government. 

Donniel: I want to build on what you said, and I think we are in a transition period. And I think the fear and the discomfort is actually understandable. Israeli society traditionally had two outsiders to the Zionist enterprise. One of them was the Haredi community and the other one was the Israeli Arabs. Now the Haredi community used to be the anti-Zionists who weren’t coalition partners, but over 20 years or 30 actually, they have become an integral part of the Zionist narrative. 

So today, when you choose to sit with the Haredi party, no one’s saying to you, oh, how could you sit with the Haredi party? This person, he didn’t celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, or his person, I, you know, I saw him walking on Yom Hazikaron, his kid didn’t serve in the army. You know, they’re not working, they’re creating an existential threat for the future of the country. All the stories. 

There is a baggage that Zionism carried towards the Ultra-Orthodox for decades, but slowly but surely over time, through the Zionification of the Haredim themselves, they shifted from being outside of the boundary to being inside of the boundary. But that takes time, like it used to be that if you wanted to gain votes, I dunno if you remember when Yair Lapid;s, there was a party Shinui, you know if he wanted to get to 18 votes, all he had to do was take a dramatic anti-Haredi stance. 

Lieberman takes an anti-Haredi stance, at five seats. Anti-Haredi-ism doesn’t win votes because they used to be the group that you feared. But now you know them and you know how to work with them and you know what they want. You walk money. Great. You want to be left alone. Great. You want to keep the status quo on Shabbos, okay, I don’t like it, but my big issues, especially if I’m in the right are security and settlements, et cetera. You vote with me like little tati, you’re right with me. Then I’m okay. 

And so part of what happened is there this outsider group transitioned. What we are facing now is a new group moving, but it’s too early. It takes time. We don’t know if you could trust them because you could go and look at what Mansour Abbas said a year ago, or you could look at this party member of his, what they said a year ago. 

You know, right now he’s trying to get rid of one party member. I forget the names. I apologize. Who was not voting with the coalition and the most prominent political analyst, who’s a very right-wing thinker, who says, who’s the new person coming in. This is the person who said that Hamas legitimate in firing missiles at Israel. So they’re past is still present.

You know, at that moment, when Sadat comes to Israel and creates a tipping point, and says what I did, I felt I wanted to destroy you, and no more, than you’re moved. But here sitting in our government, we aren’t, we don’t trust it yet. I do. You do. We’ve been waiting for this moment, but the fact that most Israelis don’t yet feel comfortable. It’s not racist. It’s not a mistake. 

It actually takes time and this government is hyper speeding a process. And so the fact that the people on the right don’t necessarily see it, or haven’t been moved yet, is I think we have to, they they’ve been trained for 70 years, a hundred years. To feel that this group of people is my enemy and to shift so quickly, I think maybe in another government or another gov, in two governments that might, it might be able to take hold. That’s my best attempt to explain the right wing. 

Yossi: You’re putting your finger, Donniel, on the great challenge internally that faces Israel, which is how do we incorporate into the mainstream our two outsider communities, the Haredim and the Arab Israelis. Now, I agree with you in part, certainly about the transition that the Haredim have made to legitimacy for the right, the Likud today sees the Haredim as their preferred ally. They no longer trust people like Bennett, religion, religious Zionists aren’t trustworthy. The Haredim and the Likud, we are seeing, if this alliance holds, a deepening of this historic shift.

But that’s true only for the right. What this government represents are those large numbers of Israelis like myself who see the arrangement that we have with the Haredim as an existential economic. And not so much in the long-term. Really in the middle term. Whether they serve in the army or not at this point, I don’t care.

I’m not even sure I want Hareidm in the army, especially when you see how far right young Haredim are turning, that’s part of the Israeli-ization. It’s a negative side of Israeli-ization that’s happening there. But you know, what’s interesting about this government is that it represents all parts of Israeli society. 

You have the left, the right, the center. You even have the Arabs. Who don’t you have in this government? The Haredim. And I don’t think that’s an accident. So there is a large part of this population that sees the relationship that we have with the Haredim as something that has to change.

And this government expresses that. The problem with the Arab Israelis and, you know, you mentioned the Knesset member in Ra’am coming in who in the past, justified Hamas attacks. This goes way beyond non-participation in the army or non-participation in the economy. This is an enemy.

And if you factor, and this is something else that we really need to bring up in why so many Israeli Jews are hostile to this government. A year ago, we had riots in Israeli cities. We had Arab Jewish riots, lynch mobs. And this is a very deep trauma. And I think that it’s playing out in part in the de-legitimizing of this government, even though for people like us, this government is the healing process.

Donniel: See like Yossi, but our, you’re right. Our question though, that we’re struggling is not why we support and why we could reconvince ourselves. Our whole question is, and you’re right, why is it that the other side hasn’t joined, is because of a very le, uh, when is it that you trust that a person has changed?

And we know that people have changed and it’s not that we don’t accept that change is possible, but you got to convince me a little more and the Haredim proved to the right-wing that they’re good coalition partners. That they’re loyal, they always vote. Here it’s just, we’re still in the midst of that process.

But there’s one last thing that I want to raise, give you a chance to comment, and then we’re going to turn to Elana. There, to what extent is Israeli society yet ready to recognize that the greatest danger we face, is not on our borders, but is inside our country. And it’s interesting. Bennett speaks about it over and again, over and again, about how Jerusalem was destroyed because of senseless hatred. 

So leaving aside, we spoke about the Arabs, the ability to live with difference within the Jewish community, within Israeli Jewish society, that healing, the feeling of the existential need to actually engage with each other in a new way, that our greatest danger is if we don’t, it’s not Iran, but it’s from mutual delegitimization. When you see that, then this government is national salvation. When you still concentrate on the external fear, then this government, I could solve it. You know, I don’t need this government to deal with this.

I’ll, give me back by right-wing coalition. I don’t need Meretz in order to defend against Iran. I don’t need Labor in order to defend against Iran. Maybe give me Blue and White. Give me Gantz, he seems to be a decent, give me him, and now, and and we’ll have a big coalition. I don’t need the left for that. 

But, but part of the reason why we see it’s a salvation and for others, it’s not, is to the extent to which the internal healing of the Jewish people is a primary concern of yours. And we understand it’s always tempting to see the greatest danger as outside. You know, it’s much better to point to someone and say, that’s the problem and to join together and to use fear, to recognize, you know, all of that story is very compelling. To look inside and to see a cancer that we have within ourselves. 

Cancers, by the way, this partisan political discourse exists all over the world. But the one thing that we recognize is we’re too small and our existence is too precarious to allow that to exist. So I think that’s part of the shift. Yossi, last comment. And then we’ll turn to Elana.

Yossi: Donniel, you have just defined the Israeli divide of 2022. The new Israeli divide is between those who see the greater existential threat coming from without, and those who see the greater existential threat coming from within. That’s exactly the line that runs through the debate of whether this is a government of national salvation or national catastrophe.

Donniel: Yos, we agreed again. Let’s take a short break and then Elana.

Yossi: Let’s take yes for an answer. 

Donniel: Let’s take yes for an answer. Love it. Let’s take a short break and Elana will join us. 

Elana, really nice to be with you. Travel with me 6,000 miles from where you are. And one of the fascinating things about this government and you know, both Yossi and I, we live in two countries and you also in a certain sense live in two, but you live much more than we do in America. 

And one of the interesting things is how, if Yossi and I feel that this government is national salvation, the amount of North American Jews who, who just feel like this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened. You know, this is like, this is, you know, this, this is Israel’s version of app of motherhood and apple pie. Like great. Wow. This is, and then to see Israeli society, so much of Israel not being convinced.

But how do you, when you look at this, you look at so many North American Jews loving this government, or at least now feeling they, you know, we could defend Israel. We could talk about Israel. We could feel there’s hope. And this sense that nobody on the right has shifted from seeing this government as a national catastrophe, to seeing it as national salvation. Where does that take you and, and how does it, how does it touch you?

Elana: Well, so let’s start with the fact that I think for today’s podcast, we should rename from, For Heaven’s Sake to, I’m in Heaven, with the two of you just agreeing with everything the other one says, I really hope that that doesn’t happen anymore. I just want to say that. But it is actually very refreshing and lovely.

I, look, I think that one, one, like little wrinkle that I want to add is that there are a lot of North American Jews who are super excited about this coalition. And there’s still a conversation between the generations, you might say, about whether this would be the United Colors of Benetton coalition that they would choose, right? Like,

Donniel: Okay. I love, I love that one. 

Elana: Wait, what, one second. 

Donniel: The United Colors of Benetton. Oh, Elana. 

Elana: Of Benneton. Guys. I didn’t do it on purpose. 

Donniel: You didn’t do it on purpose, you didn’t prepare that the whole week? 

Elana: I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear, it’s subconscious, meaning, it happened subconsciously. It happened subconsciously. 

Donniel: Oh my god, we just gotta stop for a moment and recognize genius when we hear it. Elana, it’s recognized, carry on please. 

Elana: So I think it’s also interesting to consider that even admist like the euphoria and the excitement of a lot of liberal Zionists in America, there’s still this argument or this question that’s going on of, you know, would you choose Bennet, you know, would you want to have the far right? Is this the, you know, is this the Arab party that you would want involved? 

Meaning, I think there’s still, I think there’s a lot of excitement, don’t get me wrong, but I do think that there’s more going on, but I think that there’s a, what you’re really talking about is the difference between symbol and existing and living under a government, right. 

Like for American Jews, it’s like, what a great symbol, like the symbolism here is magnificent, but what you guys are experiencing, is like, can they govern? Can they keep the will of the people? Can they represent the people? Do people think they represent them? 

What I want to add to the conversation is really just thinking about these questions of like, is your biggest threat internal or external. And by the way, I think external could be Bibi, could be their biggest threat externally, even though that’s internal to Israeli society. And who’s part of the fabric of your society, right? Like how much loyalty is required? How do you know that people are loyal? How do they have to prove themselves?

Right. Which I think both of those issues have come up very strongly here. And I, they resonate with me thinking not as somebody who lives 6,000 miles away, but if you actually try to get into the hearts and minds of people who are actually living in Israeli society. 

So the first thing I gotta bring up is, I mean, there’s these incredible series of letters between Simon Rawidowicz, American UK German philosopher, the 20th century, and Ben Gurion, in 54 and 55, where they’re arguing over what the name of the state of Israel should be. And of course, like only Jews could argue after six years after the state already exists. Are we sure this is the name that we want to have? Right. 

So Rawidowicz is very upset. He’s like you can’t call it Israel. And in his letter he says, you know, when Bialik wrote his poem, Daughter of Israel, he meant the daughters of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And perhaps one day when one of his successors will arise, and will wreath a crown for a daughter of Israel, he will mean a Jewish Israeli or an Arab Israeli or a Christian Israeli. In other words, what Rawidowicz, who in general, I, I don’t subscribe to his philosophy. He’s, he’s a major critic of Zionism. 

But what he was basically trying to say is once it’s Israel, it’s not for Jews, it’s for Israelis, that’s who it’s for. And I think one of the things that I’m hearing with the Abbas conversation, Ra’am, is really a question of Israeliness versus Jewishness, of how comfortable are people with this idea of civic Israeliness. And it’s not just Jews in the coalition.

So that I’m just hearing loud and clear. But I think even among the Jewish participants in the coalition, the idea of being able to contain multitudes as it were, I mean, you don’t have to go far to look for you know, interesting negotiation of this question, given that we just finished Shavuot. I mean, we look at the character of Ruth, the Moabite, and here you have this woman who essentially married into this Jewish family who was living in her land and she, herself is part of the Jewish people.

And when you look through her book, right. The book of Ruth. It’s so nice. It’s so short. It’s four chapters. It like really gives you the succinct consolidated experience. You could follow, you could trace the loyalty tests and how well everyone’s integrating, by just following where in the book she is called Ruth and where in the book she is called Ruth the Moabite.

So first chapter of the book, she’s never called Ruth the Moabite. Cause they’re still in her homeland. Verse five, one daughter in is named Orpah. The second one is named Ruth, no mention of Moabite. Verse 14, Orpah kisses her mother-in-law, Naomi, and she’s leaving, but Ruth is going to cling to her. No mention that she’s a Moabite. Verse 16, this is all chapter one, Ruth says don’t push me away. She’s not called Ruth the Moabite. 

When they get back to the land of Israel, however, ooh, is she called Ruth the Moabite. Everybody knows, who is that? Ruth the Moabite. Who is that? The Moabite woman. Right. You know who doesn’t call her Ruth the Moabite? Boaz. The guy who’s going to marry her.

He just calls her Ruth. Right. So there’s something different about this guy who kind of, he believes in the potential here of what could this, this could look like. And to me, like the, the high point of the story, i’s actually in chapter three where she calls herself just Ruth. You know, earlier on in this story, she keeps saying, but I’m an alien, I’m a foreigner, of course you don’t want me here. 

And then finally, in chapter three, verse nine, she says, I am Ruth, right? She doesn’t say I’m a Moabite. And amazingly after that sentence, her mother-in-law says to her, Ruth, who are you? Right. Who are you? Tell me who you are. Which is sort of a way of saying, like, tell me, are you the Moabite or are you part of what this is, right?

And of course the fourth chapter ends with Boaz saying, look, I’m going to marry this woman. She’s Ruth the Moabite. But then when he marries her, she’s just called Ruth, right? There’s this whole elaborate negotiation going on of how do you, how do you maintain the difference and where is maintaining an awareness of the difference actually counter to what you’re trying to achieve.

And I think you have that with this coalition. Like, where are the places form today, isn’t this amazing? We can all sit together. You’re a this one and you’re a that one and you don’t fit and you don’t fit. And where’s that saying like, oh gosh, how are we going to sit together? You’re a this one and a that one and you don’t fit and you don’t fit.

Right. I mean that’s what I’m seeing reading the news. Right. I’m reading the question of who’s going to be the one who’s willing to renew this law about, past the green line, martial law, versus just regular citizenship law. I’m reading things about who’s willing to talk about what’s going on at Al Aqsa and who’s not willing to talk about what’s going on.

All of these things are bringing all the differences to the fore and then yes, Bennett is saying no, no, no, but we’re all together. It’s not Ruth the Moabite, it’s just Ruth, it’s just Ruth. But then it keeps coming back. Nah, Ruth the Moabite, right? So it’s, it’s really difficult. And what I would say is, you know, it reminds me of like, it, we kind of have two models for how this works.

Now, everybody celebrates this beautiful, beautiful line in the book of Ruth, where Ruth says to Naomi, Naomi, could you stop telling me that I should leave you? I don’t want to leave you. You know why? Because wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people. Amech ami. Your people sha’ll be my people. Your God will be my God. It’s beautiful, amazing. And then we see, okay, she’s excited to do this, but there’s going to have to be a negotiation, it’s going to go back and forth. 

Do you know there’s another place in the Bible? Cause there always is. There’s another place in the Bible where somebody says my people are your people and guess what? It doesn’t end quite as well. 

If you look one version of it is in the first book of Kings, chapter 22. Another version is in the second book of Chronicles, chapter 18, verse three. It is two Kings of the Jewish people who are trying to make a merger. They’re trying to make a government, a joint coalition as it were.

One is Yehoshaphat, Jehosaphat, King of Judah and the other is Ahab, King of Israel, Achav. And guess what? Achav says, we have this external threat. I need you to help me against this external threat. You’re going to help me and look at what Jehosaphat says to him. He says, I will do what you do. Your people will be my people and my people will be your people and they will accompany you in battle.

And you know what happens after they go to battle together. Yehoshaphat realizes, what am I doing with this guy, Ahab. He is not the right ally for me. I don’t want to be in coalition with him. So to my mind, I’m looking at this and I’m saying, is this going to be the Ruth model where you’re going to have a lot of fits and starts, sometimes you’re going to have to call her a moabite. Sometimes you’re not, sometimes it’s good to call her a Moabite. Sometimes it’s not. 

Or is this going to be these two Kings of Israel where it’s like, yeah, we’re going to do this. My nation is your nation. Your nation is my nation. But then when they get down to the business of actually trying to do this, they realize like, hmm, this doesn’t really, it doesn’t really work.

So I’m not even thinking about what other people are thinking. Right. What the general audience in Israel is thinking. I’m wondering for the people in this coalition themselves, which of these are their, are they experiencing and when?

Donniel: Elana, thank you. I, when I heard your analysis, do you know what I was listening to of the difference between Ruth and Kings? Yehoshafat and Achav were trying to create a coalition on self-interest. When you, when you say your people are my people, you know, we’re all going to walk together, it’s cause it’s self-interest and self-interest only lasts so long. 

The difference between Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, while there was some self-interest going on. The beauty of Ruth’s personality is that there was a sense that it wasn’t about self-interest. There was a, there was a shared journey that they were embracing together.

And maybe what you’re saying, and this is, you know, this is the problem. With politics, is it always about self-interest? Well, if that’s the case, then you never really trust because you’re always worried about yourself. You don’t really see the other it’s about whatever short-term something you want to achieve.

When is it that we allow the other to truly change? You know, just like is Ruth the Moabite or not, is Mansour Abbas, has he changed? Are the left wing and the right wing, are we still the enemies or can we join together for some larger vision? That, that comes down to the question and some of us are frightened from this change and we don’t want to see it.

And some of us use the lenses of self-interest, but is there something bigger in building a country and building a coalition, which doesn’t only have to do with self-interest. Maybe we’re growing. At what moment do we say that what was yesterday is not going to necessarily define us for the future. And those two stories in many ways are presenting those two different options.

Elana: Well, the only thing I would mirror back to you is a question of, or do you need to make the issue of Israeli society having some cohesion into a sense of self-interest? Meaning if politics is ruled by self-interest yes, one model is to say there needs to be more chesed, there needs to be more kindness, like in the book of Ruth, in what we’re doing here, because it’s not just about interest. Another way to say it is, there’s an interest here. The interest is that we want this society to actually cohere. Right. 

Donniel: Beautiful. Beautiful. Yossi, last thoughts. 

Yossi: Well, listening to you, Elana. I realize I’m dreading our version of a moment. And that’s the moment when this government falls, which is really becoming increasingly inevitable. But you know, whatever happens, the very fact that this government was formed and managed to sustain itself for a year or however long it continues, to my mind already presents an alternative model for this country’s future, an alternative system of values of what it means to be an Israeli. And this government will continue to give me hope.

Donniel: Amen. For Heaven’s Sake, my friends, is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by M. Louis Gordon. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at 

We want to know what you think about the show, you can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. You can also write to us at, [email protected]. Subscribe to our show in the apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else that podcasts are available.

But you want to know something, last week I started a Hebrew podcast, it’s called Ben Shamayim V’aretz, between heaven and earth. It follows a very similar model. And Yossi and Elana who are my partners here. In my Hebrew podcast, if my partners are Dr. Shraga Bar On, who heads the Kogod research center and Rabbi Tamar Elad Applebaum, who is the rabbi and founder of the synagogue Zion and one of the heads of our rabbinic school. 

And it’s interesting for the first two podcasts, the themes are the same, but the perspectives are very, very different. If any of you speak Hebrew or are practicing Hebrew and want to find us, it’s Ben Shamayim V’Aretz is what it’s called. My friends. See you in two weeks. I hope the government is still here. And to all of you, thank you so much for listening.

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The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics