Israel’s ruling coalition splits at first time of asking

The coalition government that rules Israel is an absurdity. Cobbled together for the sole purpose of ousting Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s led by Naftali Bennett, a hard line anti-Arab, but includes members of an Islamist party.

That’s not the only absurdity, but it’s absurd enough.

The first real test of the coalition’s adhesion occurred yesterday. At issue was a law that, as I understand it, prevents Arab-Israeli citizens from conferring their citizenship rights — e.g., obtaining a driver’s license or a legal job — on non-citizen spouses who once lived in the West Bank or Gaza.

The law was passed in 2013 in response to the wave of bombings and murders that were occurring during the second intifada. It has been renewed annually ever since.

Bennett hoped to renew it again this year. However, his Arab coalition partners balked. In the end, by a vote of 59-59, the attempt to renew the law failed.

The law is intended to enhance Israel’s national security. It’s plausible to believe that it’s still needed for this purpose, but I take no position on whether it actually is.

My concern is that, with this government, Arab-Israelis may be in a position to block legislation needed to bolster Israel’s security. That they are in this position is partly the fault of Netanyahu and his party, though. If Netanyahu supports a security measure proposed by Bennett, there is no chance that Arab-Israeli and leftist members can block it.

But Netanyahu used the vote on this particular measure as a means of undermining the coalition government. Although his government always supported the ban in question when he was in charge, his party voted against it as a bloc this time. Indeed, Netanyahu tried to convert the dispute into a no-confidence vote, but lacked the votes to accomplish this.

Netanyahu stated:

With all due respect for this law, the importance of toppling the government is greater. This isn’t just a law. It exposes the fault lines in this government, whose purpose is to promote an anti-Zionist agenda.

Whether Netanyahu’s position is defensible depends on whether the law, which he has always backed, actually promotes the security of Israelis. If it does, then his stance seems irresponsible to me. (Netanyahu apparently plans to propose a more permanent version of the same law, thereby putting Bennett in the box. Why didn’t Netanyahu make that proposal when he was in power?)

There will be other opportunities to expose the fault lines of the bizarre ruling coalition and to try to topple it, without potentially putting security at risk.

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