The Jerusalem Post

Israel's government is stable following budget pass – will it stay that way?

 PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his coalition celebrate the passage of the state budget yesterday. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his coalition celebrate the passage of the state budget yesterday.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: For the government to fall, a faction will have to withdraw from the coalition, or four Likud mavericks will have to defect.

Three dates stand out as watershed moments in this government’s tumultuous first five months.

The first is January 4, when – a mere seven days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sixth government formally took office – Justice Minister Yariv Levin addressed the nation and dryly unveiled a sweeping proposal to dramatically overhaul the country’s judiciary.

That plan triggered unprecedented public opposition that led hundreds of thousands of people, from all parts of the country and a wide variety of sectors, to take to the streets weekly.

The second was March 27 when Netanyahu – facing a spontaneous outburst of public anger and the specter of a Histadrut general strike following his decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for calling for a pause in the judicial reform legislation – took a step back, hit the pause button on judicial reform, and called for negotiations under President Isaac Herzog to try and reach common ground.


This marked the moment when Netanyahu, who up until then was being led by his coalition partners and mavericks within his own party into terrain that his basic interests told him not to traverse, finally did as he had promised after the election, and placed two hands on the steering wheel and began to take control of his government.

 PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu holds a news conference in Tel Aviv, last Monday (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu holds a news conference in Tel Aviv, last Monday (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

And the third watershed date was yesterday, May 24, when the government passed its two-year budget, ending a coalition crisis over the distribution of billions of shekels of discretionary funds and buying the coalition at least 18 months of industrial quiet until the next budgetary debate rolls around.

A visibly relieved Netanyahu took the Knesset rostrum even before the final bill was passed and said: “We are passing a reasonable budget, a budget that stays in bounds. To our colleagues in the opposition: don’t get your hopes up. This government will last its full four years.”

Were these words Netanyahu bluster or a reasonable prediction?

Considering the degree of animosity this government has engendered – both domestically, as manifested by the protests that will enter their 21st week on Saturday night; and internationally, as evident by President Joe Biden’s refusal so far to invite Netanyahu to the White House – a pledge of four years seems wishful thinking. Especially taking into account that only four of the previous 36 governments have lasted that long. 

Yet, on the other hand, passing the budget removed considerable hurdles and, despite all the outside noise coming from the protests and a dislike of the makeup of the government by many influential figures abroad, will give Netanyahu considerable breathing room.


For the government to fall, either one of its component parts – who all benefited handsomely from the new budget – will have to withdraw from the coalition, or four Likud mavericks will have to defect.

Neither of those scenarios is now likely.

How can the opposition topple the government?

The budget passed strictly along coalition-opposition lines by a vote of 64-55, and that underscored something fundamental: it will be nearly impossible to bring down this government from inside the parliament.

WHEN NAFTALI Bennett established his eclectic government in June 2021, Netanyahu, then the opposition leader, set the job of bringing it down as his life’s mission.

With Bennett’s government only having a slim 62-58 majority from the outset, Netanyahu realized he could do this from within the Knesset by waging a war of attrition with the government; a war of attrition that included having his party vote against things it actually believed in just to make it difficult for the government to govern. His hope was that he could peel off a couple of disgruntled coalition MKs along the way.

The tactic worked. Netanyahu wore down the government and wore down some of the MKs in Bennett’s party until they left and the government collapsed.

The current opposition, led by Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and the National Unity Party’s Benny Gantz, has the same mission as Netanyahu did in 2021: bringing about the collapse of this government. However, they cannot count on peeling off enough MKs from the coalition to achieve this goal. It’s one thing to peel off two MKs, and quite another to get four to defect.

If this government falls, it will not be because of anything going on inside the Knesset, but rather due to pressure from outside the building, from anger on the street.

The task facing the opposition, now that the budget has passed, is how to keep that anger on the streets alive. The government’s counter job is to ensure this anger does not boil over.

When the government was racing at breakneck speed earlier this year to fundamentally change how the country is governed – a charge led by Levin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman – the anti-reform movement was able to stir the public and put together massive protests week after week.

Those protests mattered and forced Netanyahu to back down. 

Ironically, however, the protests’ success in halting the judicial reform could eventually be their undoing. While the demonstrations were about stopping the judicial overhaul, they were not only about stopping it, but also bringing about the government’s collapse, as hoped by some of the organizers and members of the opposition, foremost Lapid and Gantz. 

When Netanyahu paused the reform and teams representing the opposing sides of this debate met under Herzog’s auspices, some of the momentum and passion of the protests were lost. It is difficult to shout that Israel’s democracy is in danger because of the judicial reforms when teams from various parties, including those involved in the protests, negotiate over the reforms.

Following March 27, therefore, the size and intensity of the protests and their across-the-board appeal began to sag a bit, and the protests themselves began going off in different directions.

If initially the protests centered almost exclusively around judicial reform and democracy, the themes have shifted over the last few weeks to other issues, such as haredim and the budget.

As the issues change, however, the ability of the protesters to attract a wide range of support – one of the reasons for their success – diminishes. As the issue narrows, moving away from judicial reform to other topics, the protest movement’s broader appeal also narrows. “Israel is losing its democratic character” has a wider appeal than “the haredim and settlers are robbing the state’s coffers.”

FOR THE intensity of the protests to remain, the government will need to push the judicial reform as hard after the budget passed, as it did until everything was paused on March 27.

Will Netanyahu push judicial reform?

Will it?

Unlikely. Following the budget’s passage, Netanyahu exchanged a couple of sentences with a reporter from the right-wing Channel 14. After saying that it was now the “dawn of a new day,” Netanyahu was asked what was next on the agenda.

Bringing down the cost of living,” he said, before being cut off and asked by the reporter Moti Kastel whether the judicial reform will return.

“Certainly,” he replied, adding: “We are trying to reach understandings and hope that we succeed with that.”

It was a telling answer. Yes, he wants to continue moving the reform forward, because to ditch the plan now would incur the anger of Levin, Rothman, and others inside his party and coalition. But he also wants the negotiations to bear fruit. In other words, he will back reform, but not as sweeping as Levin first proposed.

This may infuriate Levin, Rothman, and others in the coalition, but not enough for them to take action that could bring down the government. The consistent success of Gantz and the opposition in the polls must have a chilling effect on those inside the government, because if the government falls – at least according to the polls – their chances right now of returning to power look slim.

Gantz immediately jumped on Netanyahu’s answer and tweeted that it is a sign that the prime minister is “drunk with power” again.

“I remind Netanyahu that it is stupid to repeat the same action and expect different results. If the coup d’état comes back to the table, we will shake the country and stop it,” he tweeted. 

The prospect of the protests returning to the size and intensity they were at in March is why Netanyahu is unlikely to go full speed ahead with the judicial overhaul plan now, and why he will allow the negotiations under Herzog’s auspices to continue. The prime minister does not want to give any more oxygen to the protest movement, hoping that as time passes and the plan goes nowhere, the protest will peter out or go in different directions that will sap them of massive support. 

Both Gantz and Lapid also realize this. They both know that time is not in their favor, and as the negotiations continue, momentum is being lost. But they also read the polls and realize that the bulk of the country wants to see genuine efforts at compromise. Neither of them wants to be seen as responsible for tanking the talks.

Herzog, speaking this week at the Herzliya Conference at Reichman University, said that contrary to all this spin, “the talks are very serious and in-depth.”

The president continued: “It is true that there are a lot of [interested parties] outside of the room who are not enjoying that we are holding a dialogue within the room. But inside the room, we are holding serious, significant and responsible dialogue for the good of the nation and the country.”

As long as that continues, the protests are unlikely to return to what they were before March 27, when their size and intensity threatened the viability of the government. Coupled with the coalition stability Netanyahu bought this week with the passage of the budget, this means that after a very shaky first five months, Netanyahu looks to have righted a ship that was quickly taking on water. At least for now. •