March 17th. That is the date scheduled by the Israeli Knesset for new elections. It saddens me to see Israel once again go through yet another election that will in the end very likely result in a governing coalition no better than what they have now. It may be different. But it will not be better. (It doesn’t really matter whether the right of center parties or the left of center parties are in power. Nothing seems to change with respect to Israel’s security… or its relationship with the United States.)
When a government constantly has to undergo new elections, it harms its ability to function efficiently. That’s why It always bothered me that Israel chose the parliamentary system democracy of the British who were given charge of (pre-Israel) Palestine by the League of Nations.
While the parliamentary system is democratic, there is little doubt in my mind about the superiority of the United States style democracy. The President is elected directly. We do not vote for a party. We vote for an individual. It is for a 4 year term and he is often re-elected for another 4 years. That usually means more stability and efficiency.
Contrast that with the parliamentary system, where the party is voted for, not the individual. The party with the majority of the votes is the ruling party. The party head – chosen by party members before the election – becomes the Prime Minister. The shelf life of this type of government seems to be about 2 years. That is hardly enough time to get anything accomplished.
It wouldn’t be quite so bad if Israel had a 2 party system. But there are so many parties in Israel that no party ever gets a majority. What then almost always happens is the party with the most votes tries to put together a coalition with other parties and obtain a governing majority that way. If and when they do, the head of that party becomes Prime Minister.
Anyone can see that this is a prescription for ultimate failure. Especially in Israel. There is an old joke about Jews and their opinions. When there are 2 Jews there will be at least 3 opinions. Not only is there disagreement between parties, there is disagreement within parties. This sometimes creates new parties that splinter off. Is it any wonder that coalitions never last? I’m surprised they last as long as they do. The latest coalition which is barely 2 years old was just disbanded as Prime Minister Netanyahu fired 2 of his ministers, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni – each form different coalition partners. They were fired because of irreconcilable differences on matters they feel are of vital importance.
The religious parties are not better in this regard. One might think that religious parties being in the minority (approximately 25% of the Jewish electorate describe themselves as Orthodox) that they would be united in that cause. One would think that. But one would be wrong. There are currently 6 religious parties that I can think of: Degel HaTorah, Agudat Yisroel, Bnei Torah, HaBayit HaYehudi, and Shas. One of them, HaBayit HaYehudi, in danger of yet another split off! 2 Jews – 3 opinions.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had an unusual coalition this time around. For the first time in many years the Charedi parties were not asked to join the coalition. He opted to go with the parties that had the greater number of seats (determined by the number of votes they received). As a result, Yesh Atid with its 19 seats joined the coalition and Lapid became finance minister. Now he’s gone. The Prime Minister asserted that this time around he will form a coalition that is more in line with his right of center political views. He also said that he will be going back to his party’s original ties with the Charedi parties.
The problem with that is the Charedi parties have declared that they will not join any government coalition that does not rescind the laws they view as anti Charedi implemented by the current government. Just to mention that 2 more egregious ones in their eyes, the new law that requires all Charedim to register for the draft and that in a few years will require them to fill the large quotas set for army service. The 2nd one is the law that cut funding to their schools – which do not have the government mandated core curriculum.
The Charedi parties must feel vindicated. They may even believe that their demands will be met. Who knows? Maybe they will. The Prime Minister knows what their demands are. If he’s looking at the Charedi parties to supplant the left of center parties that are in his coalition now, he must think he can satisfy their demands, somehow.
I don’t know if he will succeed. I don’t even know if his party will win the mandate to form a new government. Stranger things have happened. We may end up with a new Prime Minister next March. It does however seem that he will be re-elected… and his party, Likud, will be even stronger.
Assuming Netanyahu’s party wins the election, I’m not so sure he will be able to rescind those laws. What the vast majority of Kenesset is in agreement on – despite their disparate politics – are those laws. I don’t see them rescinding them. If the Charedi parties are serious about their demands, I don’t see how he will form a new government with them.
There are several repercussions to all this. They were outlined by Yesh Atid MK, Rabbi Dov Lipman in a Jerusalem Post article.
Going back to the status quo ante will perpetuate an untenable situation that fostered resentment by the secular population against Charedim who were exempted wholesale from serving their country. It will also perpetuate the poverty experienced by Charedim for lack of any preparation for the workplace by their educational system. Restoring funding to schools that have no secular studies will help exactly no one.
A word about Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. They may very well be the biggest loser here. A polltaken recently showed they would lose about ten seats in a new election. Recent polls sow Yesh Atid losing major support from the electorate.
Charedi parties must be overjoyed at this prospect – having painted Lapid as anti religious. It is Yesh Atid after all that pushed for the changes in the law. Which Charedim saw as anti Charedi and so vigorously protested.
But I did not see Yesh Atid that way at all. Lapid brought some original thinkers to the Knesset. People that might never have otherwise served. I’ll bet no one was more surprised at the 19 seats his party won than Yair Lapid.
I don’t know all of his party’s Kenesset members. But I do know who 4 of them are. There is Lapid himself. And then there is Rabbi Shai Piron who was a religious Zionist Rosh Yeshiva in Petach Tikvah. Another is Rabbi Dov Lipman who brought some fresh religious perspective into the Knesset. And they both had the courage to stick with their party’s plan to restructure Charedi society. In my view for the better. Much better. And finally there is Ruth Calderon, an admittedly non observant lover of Torah study. If I understand correctly she was the first Knesset member to ever give a Talmud lecture in that august body.
The fact that Lapid chose these three people to join his party makes any accusation that he is anti religious ridiculous in my view. Those who say MKs Lipman and Piron were duped or enticed by the promise of political power to join him but are in reality the religious fig leafs for Lapid’s real agenda are mistaken in my view. From everything I have seen, heard or read about them, I believe they are as sincere and dedicated to the Torah and the Jewish people as humanly possible.
If those polls are correct, Yesh Atid will be reduced to a much smaller party and Rabbi Lipman and company may lose their Knesset seats. And that will be a very sad outcome despite the joy the Charedi world might express at it.
So that’s where we stand politically in my view. There are of course many more issues involved in this election. All of them important that will be impacted. Settlements; realationship with the Arab State and Palestinians. Relationships with the US… all important. But if history has taught us anything – life in Israel will hardly change unless there is something drastic done along the line of Rabbi Pruzansky’s suggestions. That is not going to happen under Netanyahu.
As an Orthodox Jew concerned for the welfare of my fellow Jews, this is not a happy day for me.