Bibis coalition needs to keep Israel moving forward

After weeks of closed-door negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s torturous path to a coalition in the next Knesset appears to be a done deal as of press time.

To get to 61 seats, which constitutes a bare-minimum majority, Netanyahu had to work overtime, promising Cabinet positions to various parties to lure them into his coalition.

That hasn’t been enough to appease some erstwhile allies. Disgruntled former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman pulled his Yisrael Beteinu party out of the coalition, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, though now on board with the coalition, grumbled loudly over the role promised to his Jewish Home party.

But one thing appears clear. The next Knesset will almost certainly take a giant step backward when it comes to social policy in Israel.

To bring into his coalition religious parties such as Shas and United Torah Judaism, Netanyahu promised to roll back key legislation that had sought to level the playing field between Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, minority and its moderate and secular majority.

Those laws include requiring haredi men to join the military, requiring haredi schools to teach secular subjects such as math and English, and liberalizing the conversion process, which would decrease haredi clout on marriage, conversion and other social issues.

The military draft law, passed last year, elicited howls of protest from the haredi community but was otherwise widely applauded, especially considering it passed under Netanyahu’s leadership.

With religious parties granted more power, the next Knesset will likely roll back the draft and other social laws that are supported by a majority of Israelis.

When contemplating a right-wing Israeli government, most people probably link it to hawkish security policies and intransigence when it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians.

Those presumptions may be true. But equally true is that regressive domestic policy steps take Israeli society in the wrong direction.

Longtime observers understand that Israel’s parliamentary system is complicated. It routinely makes for strange political bedfellows and causes otherwise levelheaded leaders to make unsavory deals in order to get to 61.

But as with democracy in the United States, democracy in Israel has been — and should remain — dedicated to forming a more perfect union. Now that Netanyahu has reached 61 seats, we hope he holds the line on regression, and keep Israeli society moving forward.