Israel’s Groundhog Day – Elections
I’ll keep this introduction short and to the point. Elections in Israel are happening again. For real.
Why? What happened? What are different Israeli leaders saying about it? How should we discuss the elections again with our families, students, congregants and colleagues?
Let’s do what we always do. Let’s show the diversity of perspectives found within Israel.
See below for my colleague Elana Raskas’ excellent write up of this week’s news from Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is back in the spotlight. Following Israel’s national elections in April, Netanyahu has failed to secure a majority coalition to form the next government, which is the first time in Israel’s history that the Knesset was dissolved before a coalition was formed. The country is headed towards new elections, to be held on September 17. MK Avigdor Liberman proved to be the spark plug in the process; although head of the right wing party Yisrael Beiteinu, he refused to join the coalition without guaranteed Haredi conscription legislation. Netanyahu subsequently labeled him as “part of the left.” Israel Policy Forum expert Michael Koplow explains that Netanyahu actually was unable to sign coalition agreements with the parties in the Knesset, citing the dispute between Liberman’s five seats and the Haredi United Torah Judaism’s (UTJ) eight seats, and neither side willing to back down from its demands over a new military draft law. Without the agreement of both, the Prime Minister will be unable to reach the 61 seats necessary to form a governing coalition.
All this, of course, is occurring with the backdrop of Netanyahu’s potential charges for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in various corruption cases. Likud has tried to pass an “immunity bill,” which would mean that “members of the 120-seat Knesset cannot be charged with crimes allegedly committed during their tenures in the chamber or before they won their Knesset seats unless a house committee and the wider body both waive the members’ immunity.” This would help Netanyahu escape indictment, significantly weaken the government’s judicial branch and possibly jeopardize Israel’s democracy. Many Israelis oppose this law, with Benny Gantz lamenting that there are people who are “attempting to replace the people’s rule with the rule of a single man and to enslave an entire nation to the interests of one man.”
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
- Is Israel’s democracy in jeopardy? As tens of thousands of Israelis protested the “immunity bill,” many fear that Netanyahu’s extending his power would put Israel’s democracy on the line. Times of Israel Editor-in-Chief David Horovitzinterviewed former Israeli supreme court justice and attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein. In the fascinating exchange, Rubinstein, who credits Netanyahu with many accomplishments, warns, “If Netanyahu is above the law, Israel is not a civilized country.”
- Where does this leave Netanyahu? Netanyahu celebrated another political victory after the elections in April. But now he is forced to run again. Will he succeed? Will he overcome this loss? Whatever the outcome, Netanyahu is suffering a major setback.
- Deal of the century – President Trump has been touting his “deal of the century” peace plan for the Middle East for some months, waiting for the right time to reveal it. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and advisor, arrived in Israel last week to meet with the prime minister – but now, it’s unclear who that will be. His timing couldn’t be worse, a Haaretz analysis asserts; how will the new elections affect this peace proposal?
- Unprecedented – This has never before happened in Israeli history. Koplow notes that this will cost “hundreds of millions of shekels from state coffers and prolong Israel’s current political stasis.”
DIVERSITY OF PERSPECTIVES WITHIN ISRAEL
- Criticism of Liberman UTJ MK Yaakov Asher fiercely criticized Liberman for trampling the Haredim. He claims that Liberman “chose to disguise his desire to prevent Binyamin Netanyahu from establishing the government for his own reasons with a campaign of incitement and blatant humiliation of the haredi public, its leaders and representatives in the Knesset.”
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Likud’s head negotiator, also took issue with Liberman, calling his demands “insane.” He claims that Liberman deceived the public by agreeing to join a right-wing government, in which he knew there would be Haredi parties, and then refusing to work with them.
- Criticism of the whole ordeal: Blue and White leader Benny Gantz lamented the state of affairs: “Hundreds of millions of shekels will be invested in elections that will bring us back to the same place.”
- Criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu: Michael Koplow describes it as a “naked attempt to save his own skin rather than protect the right-wing government for which most Israelis expressed a preference,” and believes this will “backfire on Netanyahu” because Israelis are not sympathetic to the Haredi positions.”
- Making light of the situation: Hadash party chairman Ayman Odeh lightened up a tense mood in the Knesset on Wednesday, poking fun at Netanyahu. He said, “Seven minutes ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to me and he said he is willing to withdraw from the occupied territories and also to cancel the nation-state law, and that he supports not only civil equality but also national equality, and that he’s willing to recognize the Nakba and fix the historical wrong – in return for the immunity law.” This set Knesset members laughing; watch the video in the article to see.
- What do you make of the proposed “immunity bill”? Do you think this is a violation of power and democracy, or is it within the Knesset’s purview to establish such a bill?
- What effect might two consecutive elections have on a country and its people?
- Avigdor Liberman resigned from his defense minister post in November, nearly toppling the government and earning Netanyahu’s wrath for resigning in a time of crisis. He again sent the government into turmoil last week by sparking new elections over the Haredi conscription issue. Do you see his actions as admirable or deplorable? Is he standing up for his beliefs, or is he wreaking havoc on Israeli government and society for no good reason?
PRACTICAL CLASSROOM TIPS
- Utilize our past election pieces to better understand Israel’s current political environment; they remain totally relevant.
- See our previous piece about Liberman to gain insight into his decisions. Again, they remain totally relevant.
- Have students write a 3-2-1 card after learning about these current events. Ask them to write down 3 things they thought about for the first time, 2 questions they still have, and 1 idea they’d like to find out more about. Encourage them to write and then share what they are unsure about. In order to do this, first model vulnerability yourself. This tool is very helpful to encouraging students and children to share.
IN OTHER NEWS…
- Sodastream, a company known for coexistence, held a Ramadan break-fast (“Iftar”) dinner for nearly 3,000 Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Jews and other guests at its Negev factory.
- A monkey escaped from a nun’s farm in Lebanon and crossed the border into Israel, where it has yet to be found!
- 52 Ultra-Orthodox passengers from an El Al flight back in November that landed in Athens, rather than Tel Aviv, to avoid landing on Shabbat are suing the airline for “negligent and irresponsible management.” (The flight seemingly took off from New York without enough time to make it to Israel before Shabbat began, against company policy.)