Israel is a lot like one big family – a family that fights a lot. (Of course, this ‘family’ means Jewish Israelis only – those other 20% of Israeli citizens who are Arabs, are usually viewed as ‘the others’). You could say that Israelis like to fight – that it’s a long-term habit – even an addiction.
Election day was Tuesday of this week, and in Israel’s system, we voted not for a person, but for one of the 43 parties that were running. As most people expected, Netanyahu’s Likud party got the plurality of votes (and enough votes to translate into 35 Knesset seats). This means that Likud gets the first chance to form a ‘majority coalition’ in the Knesset (61 out of a total of 120 Knesset seats). And the leader of the party that successfully assembles such a coalition, then becomes Prime Minister.
The basic problem (from a progressive point of view) is that Israel has turned more and more into a right-wing nation. It’s not entirely without reason: many Americans or Europeans don’t understand that Israel is not situated next to Canada or France. It is actually surrounded by real enemies, like Hizbollah (with tens of thousands of medium range rockets supplied by Iran), and Hamas (with hundreds of such rockets). And the proxy force on the other side, is of course, for the last couple years, Trump. (Who famously, unilaterally decided to open the US Embassy in East Jerusalem, and then more recently, declared that the Golan area – won by Israel from Syria after the 6-day War of 1967 – should be permanently regarded as part of Israel). Israelis, almost the entirety, love Trump for his unconditional support of the Jewish state (many point out that Trump aligns himself with Israel simply because he wants the pro-Israel Evangelical American vote).
Back to elections: of the 43 parties, citizens could vote for, 12 parties got enough votes to reach the threshold (3.5% of all voters) for winning at least one Knesset seat. And, almost all of the parties with the most votes, plan to align with Likud – easily giving Likud at least enough (64 or 65 seats) to be the leader of the new majority coalition.
I talked with various friends and colleagues in the weeks before the election. I asked a coworker of mine, who lives in Efrat, a large settlement near Jerusalem, how we should solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? He asserted the best way is for Israel to annex most of the West Bank (all the parts with settlements), which would leave about 40 ‘bantustans’ – mostly big cities, all of them surrounded by Israeli territory. Then he added, that to give some small amount of sovereignty to the Palestinian residents in the West Bank, they can become citizens of Jordan (on the other side of the Jordan River, where about 70% of citizens are of Palestinian ancestry).
This guy is otherwise a ‘progressive’ politically – he’s an environmentalist, who devotes much time to fighting climate change, and other environmental issues. But right at home, he would sacrifice bedrock democratic principles, to (in my view) keep himself and his family safe. And yes, he emphatically said, “the right wing needs to win this election”.
The Israeli family, like many families, is always riven, making deals this way and that as it stumbles forward. So Likud, as it cements its majority coalition after election day, is now very busy making such deals: the United Right Party is demanding that its MK (member of Knesset) become Justice Minister (and loudly announcing its plan to quickly disempower Israel’s centrist High Court), and two or three parties are all demanding their MK becomes the next Defense Minister.
Yes, there was some small cause for optimism: the newly formed Blue and White Party (run by three generals and a famous TV journalist) got almost as many votes (and thus Knesset seats) as Likud. But the perennial problem was again, the right-wing domination of Israel generally, which translated into the impossibility of Blue and White being able to assemble a majority coalition. There were two Arab parties (Balad and Hadash) that got enough votes to get seats in the current Knesset – but not since the groundbreaking Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990’s, have Jewish parties dared to make Knesset alliances with Arab parties.
It was an election with much of the usual semi-legal ‘balagan’ (Hebrew for ‘mess’), often in the form of incitement of one kind or another. In the last election Netanyahu won, in 2015, he famously announced early on election day, “The left is busing Arabs to vote”. It was revealed early on this week’s Election Day that Likud had hired 1200 workers to wear hidden cameras, patrolling Arab polling places.
And by the end of the day, the percent of Arabs voting turned out to be, happily for many, very low (25% compared to 35% in 2015).
Israel may be a family that almost always veers right-wing. But being Israel, it also has a very high creativity/coolness ratio (being the original ‘StartUp Nation’). Of the many political parties that didn’t cross the threshold, was the New Right, who made a very popular fake, satirical perfume ad, starring one of its well-known female MK’s, for the perfume ‘Fascism’ (New Right has been classified by many leftists as near-fascist); the extremist Zehut, a libertarian/extreme party that wants to rebuild the Jewish Third Temple on the site of the Moslem Dome of the Rock, and came out loudly for marijuana legalisation for all adults; and Pashut Ahava (‘Simply Love’) that got all of 728 votes.
As the fortune cookie says, “You will be doomed to live in interesting times”. Israel remains a very interesting, if often very frustrating, place to live.
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