Updated: Nov 1, 2022
Israel Update – Week of October 23, 2022
Israeli Elections: On Tuesday, November 1st, Israelis will return to the polls to elect a government for the fifth time in less than three years. Elections were held in April 2019, in September 2019, in 2020, and in 2021. The first two elections resulted in a stalemate in which no government was formed while the last two elections resulted in brittle coalition governments that from the outset had little chance in surviving a complete four-year term. Both fell in less than a year.
To understand why, a brief primer on the Israeli political system is in order. The Knesset has 120 members. Each political party is awarded seats in the Knesset in proportion to the number of votes it receives. For instance, if one party receives 25% of the vote, then it is awarded 30 out of the 120 seats. The caveat is that a party must pass an electoral threshold by receiving more than 3.25% of the vote. If it receives less than 3.25%, then the votes it receives are discounted, and Knesset members are allocated proportionally according to the remaining votes. In Israel’s nearly seventy-five-year history, it has never had a majority government of 61 seats.
After the election, the President of Israel chooses the candidate who he believes has the greatest chance of cobbling together a coalition, and gives him time to put one together. If he is unsuccessful, then the person with the second best chance attempts to form a government. If he, too, is unsuccessful, then Israelis return to the polls.
Israel has a multitude of political parties but typically less than ten of them have representation in the Knesset. Here are some of the larger parties in 2022:
Likud: Led by Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, the Likud is Israel’s version of the Conservative Party. Until 2021, the Likud had been in power since 2009. During that time, Israel had seen explosive economic growth and improved security.
Yesh Atid: Led by Yair Lapid, a former media personality, Yesh Atid portrays itself as center-left party, the rightful successor of the vestigial Labor Party. It is the preferred party of upper class Israelis. Lapid has been the Prime Minister since August. Since then, he has told the United Nations General Assembly that he supports the creation of a Palestinian state, something that has not been part of the national consensus for about two decades, and has signed on a treaty with Lebanon surrendering 100% of Israel’s claim of territorial waters in the Mediterranean. These moves have served to position Yesh Atid further to the left.
Mamlachti (National) Party: The Mamlachti Party is an amalgamation of two parties: “Blue and White,” led by form IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and “New Hope,” led by former Likkud Knesset member Gideon Sa’ar. Mamlachti sits somewhere on the political spectrum between the Likkud and Yesh Atid, not because the party is centrist, but primarily because it serves as a home for both left-wing politicians as well as for former Likkud Knesset members.
Religious Zionist: Run by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, Religious Zionist is supported primarily by orthodox Jews who believe that Israel is the homeland of the Jews prophesized in the Bible. Many Religion Zionist supporters live in Judea and Samaria.
United Torah Judaism / Shas: These parties cater to Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews. Haredim are typically hawkish on security but support government subsidies, specifically child support, as a large number of them do not work, but, rather, study Torah in houses of learning (Yeshivot). Haredim are Israel’s fastest growing demographic.
Hadash / Ta’al / Ra’am: These are all Arab parties. Many of their Knesset members are against the State of Israel. Until 2021, no Arab party had ever been a member of the coalition. In 2021, Ra’am became the first party to break that barrier, choosing pragmatism over nationalism.
Until the 1980’s, the Israeli political fault-lines were concentrated around economics: the Labor Party was socialist and the Likkud was more supportive of free market economics. Further, the Labor was seen as the home of the more wealthy Ashkenazic (European) Jews while the Likkud was the home of the Sephardic (Middle Eastern / North African) Israelis. After 1990, the Oslo Peace Process began and the fault-lines shifted. Labor supported a two-state solution and peace with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which has since morphed into the “Palestinian Authority,” while the Likkud asserted that such a solution was suicide. The last 20 years have convincingly proven that the two-state solution is irrelevant in the best case and suicidal in the worst, and noone but the most far-left Israelis want anything to do with the Palestinian Authority.
Over the past three years, the fault lines have shifted yet again. But this time, the division is not over policy, but rather, personality. Bibi has become a controversial figure. Some Israelis feel that he has become, at least in his own eyes, a monarch in the model of the French King Louis XIV. Bibi has been indicted by the police for bribery and corruption in no less than three separate cases. Most of these cases have fallen apart, leading other Israelis to see them as a backdoor method of ousting Bibi. The past two elections have become referendums for Bibi. Indeed, the amalgam of parties that ousted Bibi in the last election call themselves the “Coalition for Change.”
About half of all Israelis support Bibi and would like to see him continue as Prime Minister while the other half is virulently against him and would like to see him behind bars. According to the most recent polls, Bibi will garner around 60 seats. If he is lucky, maybe he’ll get 61, enough seats to keep him in power for maybe a year. What is ironic is that about two thirds of all Israelis are politically conservative.
Wishing you a quiet week,