On the recent elections in Israel

Elections posters in Israel, April 2019
Election posters in Israel

Now that the results of the elections in Israel are in, the situation is as clear as mud. All the pundits are putting forth scary scenarios, including some in which Benjamin Netanyahu, the acknowledged Houdini of Israeli politics, somehow survives by some magical and surprising political moves.

While nothing is certain at this stage, nevertheless, some conclusions can be reached.

Firstly, it seems clear that this was a stunning loss for Netanyahu and his Likud party. They lost 300,000 votes since the last election in April of this year. Apparently, even many people in his own party are fed up with his tyrannical tactics and are voting for more rational people and parties.

Secondly, the best news is that despite the predictions in the polls before the election, the most extreme right-wing party in Israel today, known as Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) did not get enough votes to be in the Knesset. This group of the most outrageous and outlandish thugs and racists in Israel did not have as many supporters as the pollsters thought. Followers of the late Meir Kahane, whose political party known as Kach was banned from running for the Knesset due to its outright racism, after he served just one term in Israel’s Parliament, these candidates should have never been allowed to run in the first place. But somehow the Supreme Court rejected all the evidence brought to it by the excellent lawyers of the Israeli Religious Action Center—the Israeli social justice organization affiliated with Reform Judaism in Israel. At any rate, they did not get in, thank God, and now we can all breathe a small sigh of relief.

Thirdly, it seems that that Union of Right -Wing Parties, will probably not be in the next coalition either. This group of three small extreme right-wing parties, led by people like Ayellet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Rafi Peretz and Betzallel Smotrich (who are just as xenophobic and anti-democratic as the Otzmah Yehudit party, but just a tad less extreme in their public language) will not likely be in the next government either. They are part of Netanyahu’s right-wing block, which does not reach the 61 seats necessary to form a government.

Fourth, the largest party is now Kachol V’lavan, Blue and White, which should get the nod from the president to try to form the government now. They received 33 seats, compared to Likud’s 31 seats, since enough people in Israel were sick of Netanyahu and his antics that they were willing to vote for Benny Gantz and his team, even though they are not clear about what they really represent and are led by three generals and one entertainer, who all have very little experience in government, and who have been fighting with each other all summer.

Fifth, the most likely scenario being discussed by many of the pundits in Israel is a so-called secular “liberal” coalition, to be led by 3 political parties: Kachol V’Lavan with 33 seats, Likud (led by  someone other than Netanyahu) with 31 seats, and  Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is our Home), led by Avigdor Lieberman, with 8 seats. This would get to 72 seats, which is a very comfortable majority. For the majority of Israeli citizens, this would be preferable to a right-wing nationalist and ultra-orthodox government led by Netanyahu, but there is one major catch here. Netanyahu would have to resign, willingly or unwillingly. At this point in time, it is more likely that it will be unwillingly, but there could be some surprises, since there is a lot of talk of a plea bargain, to help Netanyahu leave the stage quietly, without a trial, thus potentially preserving some of his dignity, if there is any left.

There are two other interrelated problems with this scenario. First, this coalition will not be liberal, as Avigdor Lieberman is referring to it. It will be a so-called center-right coalition, which means that the center is the right these days in Israeli politics since there isn’t much left of the left (the combined two left-wing parties only received 11 seats!). Even if they may pass some useful laws to separate religion and state a bit, they will not advance human and civil rights in Israel, nor will they move forward on the peace process. But they will be more liberal than an ultra-orthodox and ultra-nationalist government!  Also, this secular coalition will not include the third largest party in Israel, which is the Joint List, a combination of four Israeli Arab parties. While this is wrong and outdated, it simply will not happen with these so-called liberals who talk a good game sometimes, but are not yet prepared to include representatives of Israel’s Arab parties in the ruling coalition.

To sum it up: It could have been a lot worse. What we are likely to get is the lesser of the evils. But we will certainly not get a progressive enlightened government which has the interest of all of its citizens at heart. But where in the world can you get that these days?

One more note: there is the possibility of many surprises still ahead in the next 4-6 weeks, based on wheeling and dealing, and all kinds of unbelievable scenarios that no one can predict correctly at this moment. So, stay tuned.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017. He is currently working on a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine.
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