Israel is in a political crisis, four elections in two years with a growing possibility for a fifth. To assign blame for this crisis, unprecedented in Israel’s short history, pundits have typically pointed in one of three directions. The first easy target, especially for the “rak lo Bibi” crowd, is Netanyahu, his divisiveness, and his subsequent inability to cobble together a coalition and refusal to accept defeat and step aside. The second easy target, more for the “rak Bibi” devotees, is to blame everybody else; Avigdor Lieberman for his inability to compromise with the Haredim, Benny Gantz on his failure to uphold the unity government, Gideon Sa’ar on his refusal to even negotiate with Netanyahu, etc. The third path, for the centrist-appearing bunch, is to blame “the system” for seemingly rewarding obstinance so that small parties refuse to budge on even the smallest policy qualms and big leaders refuse to get out of the way even when it is clear they have no path forward.
All these answers, however, tap-dance around the elephant in the room. As it stands, ten out of the 120 Knesset seats are controlled by anti-Zionist parties, six by the Marxist-Arab Joint List and four by the Islamist Ra’am Party. If these parties did not exist and the Knesset was made up solely of the remaining parties, there would have been a coalition already.
Take this most recent election, for example. Take out Joint List and Ra’am and recalculate the makeup of the Knesset out of the remaining 91.39% of the vote and one would find Likud gaining three seats, Labor and Yesh Atid gaining two seats, Shas, Yamina, and Yisrael Beitanu each gaining one seat, the rest staying at their current tally. The pro-Bibi bloc would sit at 56 with Yamina putting them over the top for a 64-seat traditionalist-nationalist government. Lapid would lead relatively united opposition of liberal and labor Zionist parties alongside Sa’ar’s right-wing anti-Netanyahu New Hope.
This can be done for all of these elections just as easily. For the election of April 2019, the first these four elections, take out Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balaad and recalculate the makeup of the Knesset out of the remaining 92.18% of the vote and one would find Likud at 40 seats due greatly to their overflow agreement with URWP, Blue and White at 36 largely due to their lack of any surplus agreement, Shas at 10, UTJ at nine, Labor at seven, Yisrael Beitanu at six, URWP at five, and Meretz and New Right at four. Netanyahu could easily form a 63-seat narrow government with Likud, Shas, UTJ, and URWP with the possibility of further negotiations with Yisrael Beitanu and New Right for a right-wing government up to 73 seats. Gantz would be able to lead a strongly united opposition of liberal and labor Zionist parties perhaps alongside a dissident-rightwing New Right.
The Arab parties have clearly acted as a roadblock, the catalyst of this whole political catastrophe because they and their views are totally and utterly irrevocably irreconcilable with the Israeli government. Their platforms call for the destruction of Israel and they routinely advocate and excuse violence against Jews. Having them serve in any government is unthinkable. Over the course of these last two years especially, their very presence in the Knesset has morphed from an ugly blemish to an immobilizing disease.
Now, you might ask, should we try and pass laws prohibiting parties with platforms that call for the destruction of Israel as we know it and are therefore incompatible with the Israeli government from running for the Knesset? No. Not because that is a bad idea, far from it, but because those laws are already on the books and have been for decades. Amendment 9 to Basic Law: the Knesset states “a list may not participate in the elections if there is in its goals or actions a denial of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, a denial of the democratic nature of the state, or an incitement to racism.”
While this is ample ground to bar parties like Joint List and Ra’am, it has been heavily politicized by the notoriously leftwing supreme court who have used it as a tool to ban the rightwing party and candidates like the Kach party and Otzmah Yehudit’s Michael Ben-Ari and Baruch Gopstein while routinely excusing Arab lawmakers and parties, reversing a Knesset ban on Ra’am-Balaad in 2019, reversing the Knesset ban on Balaad’s Ofir Cassif that same year, and reversing the Knesset ban on Labor’s Ibitsam Mara’ana earlier this year, among many other examples.
Perhaps the answer to our problem lies with the answer to many other problems in Israel today, much-needed judicial reform, but maybe it lies in a more ambitious proposal. Voting in Israel should be restricted to those who are invested in the state, people who care about the country and have a stake in its future. Avidgor Lieberman ran on such a platform in the past under the tagline “no loyalty – no citizenship” arguing that citizens should have to sign an oath of loyalty before receiving the ability to vote. As Lieberman has shifted his political focus towards anti-Netanyahu obstruction and anti-Haredi incitement, this policy-point has mainly been forgotten, to the great detriment of the Israeli public.
At the heart of this proposal is a truth at the core of politics, stemming from Politics. In this work, Aristotle contrasts the “true constitution” of a politeia and the “perverted constitution” of a democracy, namely that the former bases itself in immutable truths beyond the scope of debate and restricts consequential participation to people actually invested in the outcome. Israel does, to a certain degree, reflect this, basing itself in its non-negotiable status as the Jewish state and limiting voting participation to Jewish residents and Arab residents who fell within the 1949 Armistice Line.
However, these barriers clearly are not strong enough. Israel may pride itself as the Jewish state but nearly 10% of its legislative seats belong to parties that openly seek its downfall. Israel may grant large numbers of Arab residents voting privileges on the basis of a shared destiny, but they clearly do not see it that way, voting for these parties that would happily see Jews pushed back into the Mediterranean Sea once and for all.
It is an insult to Israel and her institutions to afford the ability to alter her government and policies to people who actively and openly pursue her destruction. Those who fly Hamas flags should not be voting in Israeli elections. Those who openly support and participate in Intifada violence against Jews should not be voting in Israeli elections. Inhabitants not loyal to the state and not friendly to its people should not be voting in Israeli elections and parties who seek to bring these views and attitudes into the halls of power should not be permitted to run in Israeli elections.
If Israel was a functioning politeia, standing by its foundational bases and limiting political participation to invested, loyal people, there would be no political crisis. Hopefully, this crisis is a wake-up call, the fact that we have had four elections in two years and the fact that rapid anti-Zionists like Mansour Abbas, Ahmad Tibi, and Ayman Odeh are being offered sway in government as a sort of remedy. The State of Israel cannot survive as a functioning state so long as it continues to allow those who openly seek its destruction to have a say in its political process.