Hope for Israel Staff
Israel recently swore in its 36th Knesset. After a tumultuous two years of political impasses and four elections, Naftali Bennett became Israel's 13th Prime Minister, and Yair Lapid, the 14th Prime Minister. The two agreed to split the four-year term of Prime Minister in order to successfully form the new government, which effectively ousted sitting Prime Minister Netanyahu and brought an end to his 12-year tenure.
A Bit of Background
Israel is a parliamentary democracy, which means that citizens elect representatives to the legislative (law-making) branch of the government (the Knesset). The Prime Minister is first elected as a member of the parliament, but is then subsequently elected as Prime Minister by the other members of the legislature. Israelis vote, in theory, for the head of a political party, but in actuality, are really voting for the party itself. The party that receives the most votes gets the most mandates and is tasked with forming the next government. But that does not guarantee success. In order to successfully form a coalition, the head of the "winning" party must secure 61 mandates from other parties.
Forming a coalition is not for the faint of heart; it requires skilled negotiation tactics and more "wheeling and dealing" than most people would care to admit. In the last election, Netanyahu's Likud party received 31 mandates — more than any other party — but Netanyahu failed to form a coalition that would meet the required 61 mandates. As a result, Yair Lapid, whose party came in second to Likud, was tasked with forming a coalition. And he succeeded. The reason Lapid is not the current Prime Minister, however, is due to his promise to Naftali Bennett to take the premiership first in order to get Bennett's 7 mandates to join Lapid's coalition.
Israel's Most Diverse Government to Date
What is so striking about the new coalition is how diverse it is. It is comprised of right, left, and center parties, and even includes an Arab Islamist party. This is a first for the modern state of Israel. Arabs comprise 20% of Israel's population, but until now, they have only been represented in the opposition. While the Islamist party certainly does not represent all of Israel's Arab population, their inclusion in the coalition is an important step in acknowledging the reality "on the ground" in Israel, which is that Israel is a diverse country made up of many people groups.
The second most striking aspect of this diverse coalition is the number of female Knesset Members; nine portfolios were assigned to women, which is the highest in the history of the modern Israeli state. They make up almost one third of the entire coalition. Also notable is that one of the female ministers is deaf — another first for Israel. These women hail from all sectors of society and represent diverse political affiliations.
In addition, the coalition comprises of six religious Jews, one Muslim (the second in history), and six foreign-born, three of who were born in the former Soviet Union, and one who was born in Ethiopia. This is quite an achievement for a tiny country with a population of just over 9 million!
An Apartheid State?
Despite the diversity in Israel's new government, the popular libel against Israel that it is an apartheid state still runs rampant. Apartheid is defined as "...a policy of segregation and political, social, and economic discrimination against the nonwhite majority in the Republic of South Africa." Apartheid can also apply more broadly to segregation in general, but it is almost always systemic or government-sanctioned.
Is this what we see in Israel today? Hardly! It is intellectually dishonest - and downright wrong- to accuse Israel of operating as an apartheid state. We see this evidenced not only in Israel's new government, but also in the day-to-day life of Israelis. There is no government-mandated separation between Jews and Arabs; there are no separate busses, restaurants, schools, or neighborhoods. Of course, people groups tend to congregate in communities of similar religious or cultural affiliation, but if an Arab family desires to live in a predominantly Jewish town, they are welcome! And the same is true of a Jewish family who would want to live in a predominantly Arab town. In fact, Israel has many towns and cities where Jews and Arabs coexist and are literally neighbors.
Does discrimination and prejudice exist in Israel? Sadly, yes. There is even discrimination between the various Jewish groups — Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Yemenite, etc. The reality is that discrimination exists in every country in the world. This does not justify it by any means, but it does show that we must be careful when we apply certain terms to nations or people groups. The carelessness of calling Israel an apartheid state has real ramifications for Israelis and, especially, for Jewish people throughout the world. The sharp rise in anti-Semitism we are witnessing in many places, especially in the United States and Europe, is distressing to say the least.
The stakes are high for Israel and its citizens right now. We must exercise extreme caution when we post on social media and think critically about what we hear and see in the news. Our words are powerful and carry weight. Perhaps even more than we imagine.
Did you know? — Lone Soldier
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