Between Darkness and Light

The New Israeli Government’s Basic Guidelines
An In-depth Analysis


By Mr. Lior Akerman​​ | January, 2023


Israel Flag

Photos remix: 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay


Now that the process of forming the new Israeli government has been completed, the public and media discourse on the future of Israel seem to become increasingly shallower. The human brain is consistent in its tendency to simplify complicated issues, render deep discussions superficial, and provide us with an immediate clear, simple, and seemingly understandable snapshot of the complex reality that we face. It does so to keep our physical and mental systems from having to work so strenuously that we exhaust ourselves. At a time of political turmoil in Israel’s governing system, and against the backdrop of the new government formed, it would be better and more appropriate to conduct an in-depth analysis of the future, instead of sufficing with quick, intuitive thinking.


What does that have to do with politics? We tend to put everything into familiar templates. For instance, someone who is rightwing is viewed as supposedly fighting for Israel’s security, whereas someone who is leftwing is giving away land to Arabs for free. The Religious Zionist will ensure Israel’s Jewish character, whereas the gay man from Tel Aviv will turn it into Sodom and Gamora. Ben Gvir will succeed where his predecessors have failed, and every part of Israel will, once again, be governable; whereas the two ultraorthodox ministers, together with Smotrich, will base the governing system entirely on Jewish Law. That is how our mind works, it is how we all think, and these are the quick conclusions to which most of the public jumps without thinking too long or hard about what lies ahead.


Thus, since it is best to analyze the situation in greater depth, and rely on facts instead of notions, now seems like the appropriate time, since all of the new government’s basic guidelines and coalition agreements have been published, to analyze the developments we can expect to see in Israel in the near future based on the signed coalition agreements and basic guidelines they contain, and without labeling the position holders comprising this government in advance.


The first and most striking clause contained in the government’s basic guidelines is its right to inhabit every part of Greater Israel, including Judea and Samaria. This clause should be read in the context of the decision to restructure the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) so that it is subordinate to Minister Smotrich instead of reporting to the minister of defense and chief of general staff. Thus, an ostensibly simple and natural item on a rightwing government’s basic guidelines may entail, if acted upon, tremendous potential for detriment. Under international law and UN resolutions, Israel cannot currently inhabit areas in the West Bank defined as being under temporary occupation pending negotiation over their permanent status. Being an occupied territory, it is exclusively ruled by the commander of the central command, since that position holder is a military governor. The idea of having COGAT subject to Minister Smotrich springs from the desire to have Israeli law apply to all Israeli citizens living in the West Bank, so that they are equal to every other Israeli citizen living elsewhere in Israel; however, this means that Israeli law will also apply to the Palestinian inhabitants, transforming the temporary occupation into a permanent one. Allowing Israeli citizens to inhabit these territories, or altering the status of these territories unilaterally in any way, would certainly result in strong condemnation, or even economic and political boycotting by most countries worldwide. Placing new inhabitants in these territories would be defined a war crime, and arrest warrants would be issued by the international court for all military and state leaders. Moreover, the European Union would suspend all its investments in technological and medical projects in Israel, whereas the US administration is expected to impose security and political sanctions on Israel, and refrain from vetoing any anti-Israeli resolutions passed in international institutions.


And what about education? According to the basic guidelines, “the government will place education at the center of the national set of priorities and actively promote reforms in the education system while seeking to achieve equality among all populations in the various education systems and strengthen Jewish identity. The government will maintain the state’s Jewish character and heritage, while respecting the religions and traditions of the members of the religions in the country in accordance with the values of the Declaration of Independence”. Furthermore, a basic law requiring every school in Israel to teach Torah will be legislated. The implications of this section of the basic guidelines are that bible and religious Jewish heritage studies will be mandatory for all students in Israel, including at matriculation exam level, whereas core studies would not be mandatory, and entire populations will continue to be totally excluded from science, language, history, math, and life skill classes. This process is somewhat surprising in view of the inclusion of the word “equality” in the basic guidelines, which finds no expression in the government policies in any way. Such a law does not exist in any well-administrated country anywhere in the world, including those where the majority of the population defines itself as religious, such as the United States and Spain.


The coalition agreements contain an undertaking to legislate a basic law pertaining to legislation, otherwise known as the override clause, the sole purpose of which is to completely revoke the Israeli Supreme Court’s authority and ability to pass any judicial criticism or limit the government’s ability to make imbalanced decisions. In its current wording, and in the absence of an Israeli constitution like every other well-administrated country has, such a law means rendering the judiciary completely meaningless, and giving tremendous, one-sided power to the administration to make any resolution it deems fit, even if it totally contradicts the laws governing human rights, or other civil liberties.


In addition to the above, a law circumventing the High Court of Justice (HCJ) and ceasing all commerce on the Sabbath entirely will also be legislated, which would render any business that operates on the weekend unlawful. Another section will establish that all forms of public transportation would altogether stop on weekends, even those that operate at present. Another point pertaining to religion is the demand to have the chief military rabbi subordinate to the rabbinate instead of the chief of general staff. This change would have crucial implications for the IDF’s ability to function in times of crisis, as it would draw a distinction between the chief of general staff’s authority over the military rabbinate as a commander, and the religious authority to which it will be subordinate that is not rooted in the IDF, causing detriment to the army’s alignment with the establishment, and the very essence of the Zionist idea behind forming a military force that is the people’s army.


Another section in the agreements allows any individual or business to refrain from providing any form of service to any other individual or population for reasons of religion or conscience. The direct implication of this section being that members of sectors such as the LGBTQ, leftists, Arabs or any other individual or population to whom the service provider is disinclined to provide their service could be excluded. In other places around the world, this is called racism. In this matter it was also agreed that the Law of Return would be amended to prevent other populations, whose Judaism is being questioned by the stringent rabbinate, to immigrate to Israel for fear that they will lead to increased assimilation. This means that many Jews, who are, of course, secular, and currently living in the Diaspora, would not be able to exercise their right to return to Israel and live there.


Another section in the coalition agreements pertains to the establishment of a shmita (Sabbath year) fund that would fully finance on every Sabbath year (the seventh year of a seven-year agricultural cycle) any farmer who, for reasons of religion, decides to refrain from engaging in agriculture that year. These costs would be staggering for the State of Israel. In addition, the government would undertake to allocate land and finance the establishment of religious institutions commemorating various rabbis, also amounting to hundreds of millions of Shekels.


One must also admit that there are sections within the coalition agreements and basic guidelines that will improve the lives of all Israeli citizens, such as: Establishing a system of fast trains; improving public transportation services and subsidizing them; improving and fortifying Israel’s internal security; prioritizing individuals who served in the IDF in various areas; freezing prices and fighting the cost of living; and bolstering the peace with countries in the region. However, the lions’ share of the coalition agreements centers, of course, on realizing the sectorial, primarily religious, interests of the parties to the coalition at costs amounting to billions of Shekels, and in a manner that does not reflect the needs and wants of most Israeli citizens.


For the first time in Israeli history, the chief of Israel Police has been stripped of his power, and his authorities given to a political figure. For the first time since the West Bank was occupied, an attempt will be made to govern these territories by applying different laws and civil administration that run contrary to international law. The uncontrollable need and desire to take the reins of government at all cost have led the ruling party and the man who heads it to agree fully to the coalition members’ every whim. Hence, this is no exaggeratedly frightening apocalyptic vision but practical steps anchored in signed agreements that will change Israel’s character. Less pluralistic democracy and equality, less freedom of religion, less building and recovery of the education, health, welfare and transportation systems, and more religionization, racism, minority exclusion, and steps taken toward the realization of the vision of the biblical Kingdom of Judea for which many members of the coalition strive. The prime minister probably does not want to be or get there; however, the structure of the current government, coupled with his willingness to do whatever it takes to survive in this position, may lead Israel there, and faster than expected. By the way, the cost of the coalition agreements for Israel is already amounting to many billions of Shekels for every year that this government will remain in office, without taking into account the additional “coalition funds” that will be transferred to the parties under additional individual legislation. Can anyone imagine what we might have accomplished with dozens of billions of Shekels more each year?



Authored by Mr. Lior Akerman, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.



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