Confused About Israeli Politics Leading to the March 17 Election?

January 5, 2015

If you are confused about the state of Israeli politics, the relative strength of Israel’s political parties and center-right and center-left blocs, what the Palestinians are doing and their opportunities for success, and what is at stake for Israel, you are in good company.

This is Israeli pre-election season, and while one can argue from the perspective of the Biblical Ecclesiastes “Ein chadash tachat hashamash – There is nothing new under the sun,” in truth – there may be – and then again, maybe there isn’t!

The big issues facing the Israeli electorate include its stagnated economy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel's deteriorating international position, Iran nuclear negotiations, the synagogue-state relationship, and the efforts by right-wing parties to pass a new “Basic Law” that would define Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people (note: the Declaration of Independence already did that), meaning that the interests of Jews will take preeminent position over the rights of minorities in Israel and thereby threaten democracy itself.

When you take all those issues together and then consider that Israel is a very stratified society composed of a number of distinct “tribes” (e.g. ultra-orthodox Jewish Israelis, modern orthodox Israelis, traditional Mizrachi Israelis, liberal (i.e. Reform/Conservative) Jewish Israelis, Russian Jewish Israelis, Russian non-Jewish Israelis, secular anti-religious Israelis, secular Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, non-Jewish Israelis, non-Jewish Jewish Israelis, any predictions about the ultimate vote are difficult to make.

The Israeli political party system is based in a parliamentary government with 120 mandates (i.e. seats) in every Knesset (a coalition needs 61 mandates/seats in order to form a government), and now the minimum percentage that a party needs in the vote to be part of the next Knesset is 3.5%, up from 2% the last time around. Consequently, some parties won’t make the cut. Others are combining in order to garner greater strength and the minimum necessary to be part of the Knesset (e.g. all 3 Arab parties have voted to join into one list; Yizhak Herzog of Labor Tzipi Livni of Tenua joined together into one party, etc.).

Thanks to J Street's Round-up of many articles published over the past two weeks that was published today (January 5), I have included below five of them that I believe articulate clearly what choices Israelis are facing, as well as the current jockeying for position by the Palestinians in the UN. Everything you will read here will help you understand what is happening, but keep in mind that these articles reflect just the challenges generally that Israel faces and is only a snapshot of current events. Things seem to change daily. Once the Israeli election arrives and the vote is taken, and then within a few weeks after the next government will be formed, we might be able to assess whether Ecclesiastes was right or not.

1. Israelis have to choose, Jewish Journal

It should be obvious to anyone with his/her eyes open that time is not working in Israel’s favor,” wrote J Street Rabbinic Cabinet Co-Chair Rabbi John Rosove. “This is the time for the Israeli electorate to choose, and we ought to support those Israeli politicians who we believe are best capable of delivering a secure, Jewish and democratic future for the state of Israel.” http://www.jewishjournal.com/rabbijohnrosovesblog/item/israelis_have_to_choose

2. Kerry’s miscalculation on the UN Palestine resolutions, New Yorker

Bernard Avishai argues that “by taking initiative at the UN, the EU has given [Secretary of State] Kerry the chance to provide all sides with a political horizon, and Israel’s centrist voters with a measure of dread, one to counter Netanyahu’s claims about the necessities of dealing with a “tough neighborhood.” Kerry is right to reaffirm the US commitment to Israeli security. But there is no need for him to tell Israeli voters that, as always, American support is in the bag.” http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/kerrys-miscalculation-u-n-palestine-resolutions

3. Reported text of draft UN resolution on Palestinian statehood, Times of Israel

The Palestinian resolution reportedly affirmed the need for a “just, lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” based on the two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and a Palestinian state.


4. What the polls say about Netanyahu’s election chances, +972

Noting that “a slight shift in the map to the right or to the left might change everything,” Noam Sheizaf contends that “the ability of the next prime minister to engage in major reforms will be very limited to begin with, regardless of his agenda.”


5. Study: 22 percent of Israeli Jews identify with religious Zionist camp, Haaretz (You must subscribe to Haaretz to read on-line)

A new survey found that twenty-two percent of Israeli Jews consider themselves part of the religious Zionist camp, although one-third of them do not identify as religious at all.


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