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A Sorry State of Affairs  

Some Israeli officials are using this season of teshuvah for political repentance — begging the forgiveness of voters they betrayed this year


pologies are rarely heard in politics, and are usually motivated more by tactical necessity than by genuine self-reflection.

“They have all the sincerity of a recorded on-hold message,” quips journalist Shalom Yerushalmi, who sat down with Mishpacha for a survey of political apologies in Israel.

Yerushalmi is one of the most experienced and respected political commentators in the field, and in a profession known for its ruthlessness, he is seen as one of its fairer-minded practitioners. He began his career in the ’80s with the Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha’ir, and has since then appeared in almost every Israeli media outlet.

And, in a special chareidi angle, Yerushalmi co-authored the book Moment of Truth — an account of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s dialogue with Israeli decision-makers —with Mishpacha editors Aryeh Ehrlich and Yossi Elituv.

Ahead of Yom Kippur, we sat down with Yerushalmi to discuss some notable political apologies in Israel over the past three decades, starting with current events.


In our most recent example, in Elul 2022, Ayelet Shaked, a co-founder of Naftali Bennett’s “change government,” asked right-wing voters for forgiveness: “It’s true, I’ve made mistakes. No one is entirely free from mistakes. Now it’s time to learn and move forward. I’m coming home, I’m following my heart.”

The response from her ally, prime minister Naftali Bennett (former on both counts), wasn’t long in coming. In a speech at the Penimah conference, Bennett addressed Shaked’s apology with a mix of pity and contempt.

“Some of those now calling the government a mistake are simply suffering from post-trauma,” he said, taking a not-so-veiled swipe at his former ally. “They’re cowed, fearful, broken. I don’t judge them, and I’m not angry.”

Shaked’s response came only minutes later. “The previous government was a last resort stemming from boycotts, and that’s why it collapsed. Jewish Home under my leadership will help form a right-wing government. I’m coming home, to the right.”

We’ll start with this, because it’s the most relevant at the moment. Will Shaked be forgiven?

“Her apology will not be accepted. No one buys her promises. Even Jewish Home activists won’t welcome her back warmly.”

Let’s try to pinpoint where Shaked really erred. After all, Idit Silman did much the same thing — she helped form the change government, then repented. But Likud rewarded her with a safe spot in the coming elections.

“If Shaked had changed her mind in early April, admitted her mistake and returned to the fold — before Idit Silman announced she was quitting the coalition — instead of in September, she would be the right’s biggest hero. It’s all a matter of timing. Coming today, Shaked’s apology is politically worthless. Shaked says she’s coming home, after two months of an embarrassing, tumultuous partnership with Yoaz Hendel and Tzvika Hauser. Now there’s no room for her.”


It’s 1997, two years after Itzhak Rabin’s assassination, and a year after Binyamin Netanyahu first rose to power, plunging the Israeli peace camp into shock.

Ehud Barak, newly elected leader of the Labor Party —which was historically dominated by secular Ashkenazis — begs forgiveness from the Mizrachi sector: “I want to apologize in my name, and in the name of the Labor Party through the generations, and I think this apology will be an opening for a new perspective, both on its role in the past and above all in the present and future.”

Can you give some context to readers who aren’t familiar with Israeli political history? What was that apology all about?

“Ehud Barak was trying to broaden his appeal ahead of the ’99 elections, after being elected head of Labor. He made sure the party conference was held in Sderot, a ‘periphery city’ in the south, rather than in Tel Aviv, as usual. Barak took the opportunity to apologize, and became an object of ridicule. He took a lot of flak both from his own base and from the Mizrachi community.”

His apology was met with contempt, despite the fact that he followed it up with deeds, such as bringing Shlomo ben Ami and David Levi, the highest-profile Mizrachi figure in the Likud, into his new One Israel political alliance.

“It’s true that his apology was followed up with action, but the bottom line is, that’s not why he beat Netanyahu in ‘99. Barak won because Bibi had alienated everyone and his brother. You could even make the case that the apology hurt Barak, and it certainly didn’t encourage anyone to follow his example.”


In 2016, after a series of harsh attacks on Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman surprises everyone by joining the government as defense minister, making a sweeping apology in the process: “I freely admit that in the heat of political debate, I said things about Netanyahu that should not have been said. I’ll go even further — I apologize for what I said, it was unnecessary and completely out of place.”

Anyone who’s followed their relationship over the years will be struck by the level to which it’s now sunk. Lieberman recently referred to Netanyahu as “the scum of the human race,” and compared his methods to those of Goebbels and Stalin. Let’s go back six years, to that apology that seems so incongruent today.

“It happened after Lieberman joined the government and was appointed defense minister. He was apologizing for things he had said about Netanyahu, and I think that now he would like to apologize for making that apology. I have no doubt that he strongly regrets that moment.”

To this day, it’s something of a mystery how their alliance ended with such bitter hatred.

“From Evet’s perspective, what Netanyahu did to him was unforgivable. No one could forgive Netanyahu for — in Lieberman’s view — trying to lock him, his wife, and his children behind bars. That’s how Lieberman sees it, and his reaction reflects that.”

Given Netanyahu’s legal battles, it seems strange to accuse him of trying to sic the justice system on Lieberman.

“Lieberman talks about private investigators hired to shadow him by Netanyahu (or on Netanyahu’s behalf), of something much more serious than a police complaint. Of course, Bibi denies everything, but as far as Evet is considered, that bridge was burned long ago.”

Bridges were also burned between Lieberman and Deri — who stuck with Netanyahu — as well as between their mutual friends. The Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff — formerly a mutual friend of theirs — is no longer on speaking terms with Deri.

“And in this case, it was only a cease-fire in a conflict that quickly broke out with redoubled fury. It was Lieberman’s fallout with Bibi that deprived the right of its majority, and it’s because of this that we’ve now reached the fifth election campaign in three years. If not for that, Netanyahu would have had a large majority and would still be prime minister at this moment.”

And the lesson is that in Israeli politics — maybe politics in general — personal relationships are more important than ideology or principle.

“Not only that, personal relationships can impact the entire political system. The personal feud between Bibi and Lieberman has led to the fact that Israel hasn’t had a stable government for three years, and the chaos is far from over.”


In 2020, opposition leader (currently prime minister) Yair Lapid issues a double-edged apology to those who voted for Blue and White, his alliance with Benny Gantz, after the latter’s decision to form a unity government with Netanyahu. “I apologize to everyone I convinced to vote for Benny Gantz and Blue and White over the past year. I didn’t believe that your vote would be stolen and handed to Bibi.”

Lapid’s apology is comparable to the guy who is asked in a job interview what his greatest weakness is, and replies that he’s too much of a perfectionist. The message behind Lapid’s apology is that it’s Benny Gantz who should be apologizing.

“The feud between Gantz and Lapid is far from over, despite the fact that Benny Gantz currently serves as defense minister in Yair Lapid’s government. I don’t see Gantz giving Lapid the top spot again, in the next Knesset. Gantz is only biding his time, and even in the previous government we saw the sourness he showed Lapid at every chance.”

Face-to-face with Lapid, Gantz always wears an expression more fitting for Tishah B’Av than for Yom Kippur. But it must be said that his grievances are justified.

“Absolutely. Lapid and his people went after Gantz for joining Netanyahu and accepting the post of alternate prime minister, only for Lapid himself to form the same two-headed government a year later.”

So Gantz will never forget or forgive.

“We’re seeing Gantz doing everything in his power to prevent Lapid from becoming the leader of the center-left bloc. And I expect that down the line, Gantz will continue doing everything possible to prevent Lapid from becoming prime minister after the elections.”

Perhaps one could say, paraphrasing Chazal’s famous dictum, that in politics, wrongs done to one’s voters are forgiven on Yom Kippur, but wrongs done to one’s fellow politicians are not.


As evidence is presented in Netanyahu’s trial this year, insulting comments made in the past by President Isaac Herzog about former Labor colleague Shelly Yachimovich emerge.

Herzog is quick to respond: “Remarks made by me in 2013 about Shelly Yachimovich, in the course of a heated primary campaign, have recently emerged. Political rivals have highs and lows. Shelly and I have spoken more than once since then, and we’ve both moved on. Still, it’s only appropriate that I publicly apologize to her for my uncalled-for remarks, which have no place in political discourse.”

Unlike in the other cases we’ve mentioned, Shelly Yachimovich immediately accepted the apology — and this can’t be taken for granted.

“There’s political interest behind all these public apologies, both on the part of the one making it and on the part of the one accepting it. I have a feeling that if she were still in the political game, she wouldn’t have been so quick to forgive, but now that she’s no longer in the picture, it’s easier for her to move on.”


In 2021, Ruvi Rivlin stands in the Knesset plenum for his final speech as president and makes an apology, widely interpreted as directed at the right:

“My dear fellow citizens, I wish to act on the Jewish tradition that Yom Kippur doesn’t absolve a person for insult to one’s fellows unless one appeases and apologizes to them. I apologize if I spoke or acted unjustly, or if I remained silent and refrained from speaking out against unacceptable things. I apologize to anyone who was hurt by me, by my words, deeds or shortcomings, by things I said or by things I failed to say. ‘The needs of Your people are many but their wisdom is inadequate.’ ”

Ruvi Rivlin is a paradoxical figure. On the one hand, you believe him when he’s emotional. On the other hand, he was one of our more controversial presidents. We all remember his remarks — ostensibly coming from a right-winger — that “my people have chosen the path of terror.” That really alienated him from the right.

“In that final speech, Rivlin was trying to apologize to the right — for the sentence you just quoted, ‘my people have chosen terror,’ and for other statements — because he wanted to be remembered as a people’s president and not as a partisan figure. When he said ‘my people have chosen terror,’ he was trying to ingratiate himself to the left as a right-winger. When his term came to an end, he wanted to return to the right and regain legitimacy there.”

Maybe this tension is what led the right to choose Herzog — a leftist — as president over right-wing candidates in the most recent election.

“The president always has to be all things to all people and prove that he has a warm spot for the political camp he didn’t come from. Take Herzog, the incumbent — he came from the left, and his first presidential visits were to settlements. Maybe, in the spirit of Yom Kippur, this is the right concept. The right should vote for the left-wing candidate, and the left should vote for the right.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 930)

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