By Mali Rozen
Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu made a big comeback in Israel’s fifth elections in less than four years. As the head of the right-wing party “Likud”, Netanyahu garnered over 1 million votes for his party. While the Likud was expected to win, few expected such a robust victory.
Here’s a brief explanation of Israel’s parliament (“Knesset”) and how it works:
- Israel’s government is a parliamentary democracy and is called the Knesset.
- A parliament is a kind of democratic government run by representatives (indirect democracy).
- In Israel, citizens vote for a single political party and not for individual candidates.
- For members of a party to secure a place in the Knesset, the party must receive a minimum of 3.25% of the vote.
- There are 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, which are divided up in proportion to the percentage of the votes a party receives.
- Typically, between 10 and 13 parties garner enough votes to secure a place in the Knesset.
Getting the most votes is only half the battle, however. The party that garners the most votes is tasked with forming a coalition; this is when the bargaining and back-room negotiations begin. The more seats a party gets, the more bargaining power it has to clinch important portfolios, such as the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Education, Finance Ministry, Health Ministry, etc. However, not all parties agree to form a coalition with the winning party. This is usually because of ideological and political differences. Such parties form what is called the Opposition, which is the Knesset minority.
In these elections, 10 parties passed the required minimum. The biggest winners are Likud (32 seats); Yair Lapid’s centrist party “Yesh Atid”(24 seats); Religious Zionist Party (RZP) (14 seats); National Unity (12 seats); Shas (11 seats); and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) (7). The remaining parties are comprised of mostly left-wing and Arab parties, which garnered on average 3-4 seats each. Netanyahu’s bloc will consist of 64 seats comprised of all right-wing parties: Likud, RZP, Shas, and UTJ. All other parties will comprise the Opposition, which will consist of 56 seats.
While Netanyahu technically has 28 days to form a coalition, based on the strong showing of the right-wing voters, he will easily be able to do so well before the deadline.
Here are some takeaways from this round of elections:
- Israel Will Finally Have a Stable Government: one of the most positive outcomes of these elections is that Israel will finally have a stable government. Because Netanyahu will form a coalition with a strong majority, the likelihood of it collapsing is low. Israelis are tired of the last four years of political instability, and the rounds of elections that yielded more uncertainty.
- Israel’s Identity: this incoming government signals a significant political shift for Israel in that it is comprised of far-right Jewish nationalist platforms that have gained traction in the last year and a half. The previous government, led by Naftali Bennett & Yair Lapid, was Israel’s most diverse government to date, but was also unstable because it had a super slim majority; it was comprised of both Jewish and Arab parties and had 24 female Knesset Members. The incoming government will have no Arab parties represented in the coalition and will have only 8 women. Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, claimed that this election was “the fight between a Jewish state or an Israeli state…” The outcome of the elections has made it clear that most voters prefer the former.
- The Two-State Solution is Dead: The fact that Israel’s left-wing parties (which were once a force to be reckoned with) barely crossed the threshold is a clear sign that the illusive “two states for two peoples” is dead. The once popular motto of the Israeli left is now a faint nostalgic echo of the past. Like any other hot-button issue, this could be interpreted one of two ways; this could either be a welcome shift in Israel’s policy that better reflects the reality on the ground, or a disastrous development that could bring foreign economic and political woes upon Israel.
- Religious Freedom & Israel’s Minorities Could be in Danger: One of the most controversial figures of the incoming government is Itamar Ben Gvir. Representing the second largest faction of Netanyahu’s bloc, Ben Gvir is a far-right extremist who has publicly called for the deportation of Arabs who “act against [Israel].” The danger of this is that “acting against Israel” is very broad and loosely defined and could eventually include anyone who is not part of mainstream or Orthodox Judaism (including Messianic Jews). In addition, Ben Gvir and members of his party are very vocal against the more liberal Reform Judaism, saying that they “make a mockery of religion.” If this is how fellow Jews are treated, what will be of non-Jewish citizens of Israel?
Let us pray that the incoming government will seek the LORD first and aim to serve all people of Israel, regardless of ethnicity, religious affiliation, or political bent. There are some turbulent times ahead for Israel and we need a government united, not divided.
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