A healing start for Israel’s new leaders

A broad coalition that ousted a divisive prime minister puts gratitude, generosity first.

Reuters
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, gestures to his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, following a June 13 vote in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in support of the new coalition.

The opening speech of a newly elected leader can not only set a new tone for a democracy, but can also help to heal its broken politics. On Sunday, for example, when Israel’s lawmakers chose Naftali Bennett as the new prime minister, his talk to the Knesset was one of gratitude and generosity, just the necessary antidotes for years of hate-driven divisions within Israeli society.

Mr. Bennett began with a prayer of thanksgiving and then proceeded to praise the very person that he and his coalition partners so badly wanted to oust as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “Expressing gratitude is a fundamental principle in Judaism,” he reminded Jewish Israelis, and then thanked Mr. Netanyahu for his years of service and for emboldening Israel’s political, security, and economic strength. And he said this even after Mr. Netanyahu vowed to bring down the new government, and his supporters heckled the new prime minister in parliament.

That turn-the-other-cheek aspect of the speech may seem unusual in politics, which often focus on a person over deeper social trends. But as the founding editor of The Times of Israel, David Horovitz, wrote, “The new coalition can only be a government of national healing. Otherwise, it will not be a government at all.” As part of that healing, Mr. Bennett asked those supporters who might celebrate his coalition’s victory to not “dance on the pain of others.”

The new prime minister also praised the “political generosity” of his coalition partner, Yair Lapid of the centrist, secular political party, Yesh Atid, or “There Is a Future.”

Mr. Lapid’s humility in allowing Mr. Bennett to become prime minister first – even though Mr. Lapid’s party won 10 more seats than Mr. Bennett’s party – was crucial in forming the diverse coalition of eight parties. Only if the coalition survives the next two years will Mr. Lapid become prime minister. For his part, Mr. Lapid (who is now foreign minister) said “friendship and trust” were foundational for the coalition to govern.

The coalition’s survival depends on how well it focuses on common-ground actions that can unite Israelis rather than taking the usual course of many politicians to take advantage of policy divisions for temporary political gain. Such actions include passing a state budget – after two years of stalemate. On issues that divide Israelis, the coalition says it will practice restraint.

“We will do all we can so that no one should have to feel afraid,” Mr. Bennett said. “We are here in the name of good and to work.” Other democracies riven by politics can take note of this new tone in Israel.

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