Contrary to the prevailing attitude in Israeli politics, being part of the coalition is not a prize and sitting in the opposition is not a punishment. A governing coalition is an alliance among political actors who seek to advance certain policies. "We will serve our nation from the opposition," Likud founder Menachem Begin, who was the Knesset's opposition chairman for almost three decades, used to say.
Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi have been accused of boycotting entire sectors of the Israeli public. But neither said they were rejecting the haredim (contrary to some newspaper reports which attributed such remarks to Lapid). Both men even clarified that they would not, in theory, reject any party. If Shas and United Torah Judaism are willing to come around and accept a transformative plan that addresses issues of mutual responsibility, integrating the haredim into society, economics and security, budget allocations for yeshivas whose students do not serve, and other issues, they will be very welcome coalition partners. But the two haredi parties have so far decided not to accept these basic guidelines or to come to terms with the new political reality.
The haredim must understand that the opposition is not a no-man's land. I personally hoped to see the Labor party in the government, but I respect the fact that Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich feels she has significant ideological disagreements with Netanyahu on socioeconomic issues, and has chosen the opposition for now. The haredim have ideological differences with Zionist Israelis over issues such as serving in the Israel Defense Forces and giving back to the state. In light of the recent High Court of Justice ruling on the Tal Law, among other things, our next government intends to tackle these very issues. Haredi parties appear not to be interested in forging this new path.
The claim that leaving Arab parties out of the coalition is racist is an argument that lacks all foundation. So too the idea that haredim sitting in the opposition is an expression hatred and a boycott against them is baseless. When a party sits in the opposition, it is an expression of basic ideological and political disagreement. Such disagreement is perfectly legitimate.
Why do the haredi parties view the opposition as a no-man's land, unlike other parties that alternate between the coalition and the opposition and feel that they are serving the nation in both situations? The answer lies in the sectarian nature of the haredi parties, which see joining the government as a means to advance the narrow interests of their sector. For the sake of their sectoral interests, they are flexible on larger issues that affect the nation as a whole. They tend to throw their weight behind the incumbent prime minister, giving him the security to implement his policies. They are therefore viewed as desirable and loyal coalition partners.
But one of the central goals of the next government is to minimize sectarianism and advance change on those very sectoral issues that are so dear to the haredim. If the haredim are unwilling to be part of this process they should not join the government. The problem is that as sectoral parties the haredim see no point in sitting in the opposition.
The choice is theirs. Assuming that Lapid and Bennett both join the coalition, the haredi parties can also join the government and take part in the process of social change, carrying out the will of the people. If this does not appeal to them, they can sit in the opposition, which is a respectable and worthy choice for any political party.