Jonathan Schwartz

Round 5: The Block Game

Bennett’s party whittled down from 7 MK’s on election day, to 6 MK’s when the “Government of Change” was sworn in, to 5 and then 4 MK’s in practice, resulting in a loss of a working governing majority. Bennett and Lapid decided to accept the inevitability of another round of early elections and Round 5 here we come.

Politics move fast in Israel. However, let’s not forget that even if it was only a temporary respite, we did have a sane government for a year. Ministers that went to work to further the public good. A Knesset that passed a much-needed budget and worked to get Israel moving again. Politicians that managed to show that people of good faith, of vastly different political views, could find common ground on most issues. Could work together. Could bring people together, rather than tear them apart. A lowering of the hate-filled rhetoric that poisoned our atmosphere. Instead, a prime minister with a genuine smile, able to listen to others and who did his best on our behalf. Not just a man desperately clinging to power by further dividing an already fragmented nation, setting faction against faction, all to further his own personal agenda.

Alas, that brief period of sanity may be behind us. Bibi is all set to make his come-back. Leading a coalition of: Bibistim, whose primary aim is to decimate the judicial and legal systems and so save their indicted leader from jail; messianic and Kahnistic anti-democratic fanatics who aim to annex the West Bank, turn Israel into a de facto apartheid state and revive a Jewish theocracy complete with a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem; and of course, the non-Zionist Haredi parties who have no interest in democracy and will go along with their partners’ nefarious agendas, so long as they receive sufficient public funding to support their own non-productive life-styles.

In round 5 – democracy itself is on the ballot.

Israel has a multitude of real issues: defense and security issues, economic inflation and housing issues, education issues, environmental issues and the list goes on. Yet the overriding issue is: Will Israel remain a democratic country which strives to provide equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens? Or will we warp into something else?

Prime Minister Lapid in his few months at the helm has, with his quiet leadership, demonstrated that Israel can have a different future. As leader of the center-left, he offers a way forward to a brighter, more peaceful future that is in stark contrast to that painted by Bibi and his cohorts. It seems a “no-brainer” that this leader is worthy of our support.

It is not so simple. If by some miracle, Lapid and his Yesh Atid party get close to 27, or more, seats on Tuesday, this will come at the expense of cannibalizing the smaller parties in his block, Labour and Meretz. Polls show that very few right-wing voters are even considering crossing over from the Bibi camp to that of Lapid, while a very significant number of Labour and Meretz voters are considering voting for him.

As we know by now, it is not “the economy” that is central to electoral success in Israel. It is the “Block”. It is not the leader of the largest party that becomes Prime Minister. It is the leader that can form a block of 61 MK’s that gets to be PM. Ask Bennet who became Prime Minister with only 6 MK’s. If the Non-Bibi, Pro-Democracy, Block gets to 61, Lapid can be the next Prime Minister even if his party has far fewer MKs than the Likud. If the Bibi Block get to 61, the number of Yesh Atid seats become irrelevant and Lapid will at best, be leader of the opposition.

The electoral maths is complex. A Party must get at least 3.5% of the total number of valid votes cast (the “Minimum Threshold”) to qualify for getting any seats in the Knesset. If a Party does not pass the Minimum Threshold, it gets no seats in the Knesset. Effectively, its votes are divided among those parties that do pass the Minimum Threshold on a pro rata basis. So, if a party obtains the Minimum Threshold, it will get at least 4 seats. If it comes close to the Minimum Threshold but does not pass it, it will receive 0 seats. Its nearly 4 seats will be divided among those Parties that do obtain the Minimum Threshold. As the Bibi Block and the Pro-Democracy Block stood at 60 seats each in the last published polls, the 4 seats of a party that comes close to, but fails to pass, the Minimum Threshold, will be divided 2-2, with 2 extra seats going to Parties in the Bibi Block and 2 seats going to other Parties in the Pro-Democracy Block, i.e. a net 2 seat gain for the Bibi Block and a net 2 seat loss for the Pro-Democracy Block. Game over. The Bibi Block will get to at least 62 seats, a majority in the 120 MK Knesset. Bibi can then form his “all-right” government which can proceed, democratically, to terminate democracy as we know it.

Polls show that four of the Parties in the Pro-Democracy Block are statistically close to the Minimum Threshold vanishing point: Raam, the United Arab-Ta’al List, Labour and Meretz.

For the Pro-Democracy Block to prevail and reach at least the 60 seats needed to prevent Bibi from forming his “all right” government, a sufficient number of Arab voters must turn-out to vote, so that both Raam and the United Arab-Ta’al Lists pass the Minimum Threshold. However, if too many Arabs vote, that increases the absolute number of votes that constitutes the required 3.5% minimum threshold, putting Labour and Meretz at a heightened risk of themselves not passing the Minimum Threshold. It is not going to be easy to have all the stars aligned and for this to happen. But it is still possible if we work for it.

Internal Meretz polls over the last few days show that many potential Meretz supporters are contemplating voting for Lapid this time round, hoping that something different will happen if they do so. And something different will happen. If they do cross-over to Lapid on Tuesday, Lapid may gain one or two extra seats, but the Pro-Democracy Block will lose 2 seats as Meretz will fail to pass the Minimum Threshold. Any potential gain for Lapid at the expense of Meretz (or Labour) – is actually a loss for the Block. If the Block falls, so does Lapid. It is no “sure thing” that Meretz (or Labour) will pass the Minimum Threshold on Tuesday. The last polls published do not reflect the ground-swell of voters yearning for a different outcome and willing to vote “differently” to achieve such an outcome.

So, to all my friends contemplating voting Lapid/Yesh Atid on Tuesday, I urge you: “think again”.

I could give many positive reasons for voting Meretz and cite Meretz’s many achievements: enhancing civil rights, the environment, social and economic justice, improved health system and on and on. All basically irrelevant. As I stated above, the true issue on the line is: Will Israel remain a democracy as we know it? If Bibi gets his 61 – we know the answer.

To preserve our ideal of a democratic Israel, with civil rights and equality for all its citizens, it is imperative that the Pro-Democracy Block gets to at least 60 seats. Once again, round 5, (the maths is still the same), vote strategically: make sure that the weakest parties in the Pro-Democracy Block, Meretz and Labour, actually do pass the Minimum Threshold. Nothing else really matters. Lapid will thank you.

About the Author
Jonathan Schwartz works as an independent commercial lawyer, with a focus on high-tech and medical devices. Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, he made Aliyah at the age of 19, and moved to Zur Yigal after spending time in Jerusalem, Kibbutz Tzora and Raanana. He is married with 4 children.
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