A new Israeli government?

Living through history

If you’ve been following the news coming out of Israel, you may be aware that our State may be at the cusp of a new governing coalition; and -for the first time since 2009- Benjamin Netanyahu may no longer be prime minister.

The politics are incredibly complex, and I simply cannot due justice to all of the nuances of history and current events that have brought us to this point. Still, I want to write about this because I deeply care about my country. Of necessity, I will summarize a lot of complicated points and omit some others; but, perhaps, I will write again on this matter to provide further insights.

The basics of forming an Israeli government

  1. During elections, Israelis cast their ballots for political party lists, rather than for individual politicians.
    • Some parties have democratic processes for forming their party lists; others do not.
  2. A politician becomes prime minister (head of state) by forming a governing coalition, which must be supported by a majority of the parliament.
    • The Israeli parliament is called the ‘Knesset’; it has 120 members; 61 is a Knesset majority.
    • Usually, but not always, the politician who is given the first crack at forming a governing coalition is the head of the largest party in the Knesset.
      • If that politician fails to cobble together a Knesset majority to support his/her government, a second politician is usually given an opportunity to attempt this.

Netanyahu’s slipping hold on power

Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu

Broadly speaking, Netanyahu has historically relied upon Israel’s right-wing and religious parties to establish governing coalitions. That said, he has shown himself to be a very flexible politician and is willing to form governments with representatives of any and all political parties in order to remain in power.

It’s important to note the phrase “right-wing and religious parties” in the above paragraph because not all religious parties are necessarily right-wing, nor do they necessarily care about the well-being of the State of Israel. To wit, there are two ultra-Orthodox political parties, which regard the very organs of Israel’s civil, democratically elected government with utter contempt. These two parties have long been Netanyahu’s most reliable coalition partners.

Two years ago (following the Apr. 2019 elections), a right-wing secularist party (Yisrael Beiteinu), which primarily, but not exclusively, represents immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), decided to take a stand against these ultra-Orthodox parties. After having served by their side in several governments under Netanyahu’s rule, Yisrael Beiteinu took a calculated political risk and declared that it would not give in to their religiously coercive agenda by supporting Netanyahu’s coalition, which meant that the Prime Minister found himself unable to form a government.

New elections were held (Sept. 2019), and it turned out that Yisrael Beiteinu’s risk had paid off, for the right-wing secularist party received more votes and more Knesset seats than it had in the previous elections. Once again, Netanyahu was unable to form a government; once again, new elections were called.

A third round of elections was held (Mar. 2020), and Netanyahu finally succeeded at forming a government by signing a power-sharing agreement with Benny Gantz, the head of a centrist political party (Blue & White), according to which Gantz would become prime minister in Nov. 2021. This largely came about because COVID-19 broke out and the pandemic turned Israel’s political landscape on its head. However, before long, it became clear that Netanyahu had no intention of honoring his signed agreement – he prevented the passage of the state budget to force Israel into a fourth round of elections.

Leading up to the most recent round of election (Mar. 2021), Netanyahu pulled out all of the stops to maximize his right-wing and religious coalition. This, in and of itself, is a topic for another entire blog post, but the important thing to know is that Netanyahu failed – once again.

This time, another new party had arisen (New Hope), which was comprised of right-wing politicians from Netanyahu’s own party (the Likud), led by Gideon Sa’ar. New Hope succeeded at peeling away an additional six Knesset seats from Likud, rendering Netanyahu’s coalition math impossible, particularly in light of the right-wing religious party’s refusal to partner with any Arab parties in forming a government (Netanyahu, despite his previous declarations to the contrary, was more than willing to form his potential coalition with support from Arab politicians in order to remain in power).

This brings us to the present day.


Israel’s potential new government

Yair Lapid

After Netanyahu failed to form a government coalition following the fourth round of elections, another politician was tasked with this responsibility: Yair Lapid.

Lapid, head of the second largest party in the Knesset (Yesh Atid), has been working to establish coalition agreements with political parties all across the political spectrum. These include the leftist Meretz and the rightest Yamina, and even relies upon the support of an Islamist Arab political party (Ra’am). The composition of this potential government also deserves an entire blog post, but, for now, suffice it to say that all of the pieces may actually be coming together… despite the coalition’s incredible fragility.

… with eight factions — the most ever for an Israeli governing coalition — it will only have the slimmest possible parliamentary majority. Can a 61-seat coalition in a 120-seat Knesset that straddles such enormous political divides survive a no-confidence vote, pass a budget, develop a coherent foreign policy or conduct a war?

-Haviv Rettig Gur, Times of Israel

If this government is to be established, Lapid must announce the new coalition by Wednesday, which is his deadline. The official Knesset vote to instate the new government would take place a week or so later… and it won’t be a done deal until then… so those of us who support the potential formation of such governing coalition are left to hold our breath…


The Netanyahu obsession

This next bit is subjective:

I have been amazed at the vehemence of Netanyahu’s supporters who are convinced that nobody but Bibi (Netanyahu’s nickname) could possibly serve as Prime Minister of Israel. It is irrational, to say the least, and the aggressiveness of many Netanyahu supporters has led to actual threats of violence against the right-wing elements of Israel’s potential “change coalition”. Simply disgusting.

I have also been amazed Netanyahu himself is convinced that nobody but he could possibly serve as Prime Minister of Israel. It’s ridiculous. What makes him so special? Previous to becoming prime minister, Netanyahu was the finance minister – he had no special qualifications to serve as head of state. In most cases, heads of state learn on the job – that’s normal. By the way, Netanyahu has deliberately not nurtured any potential future leaders within his own party for precisely this reason – his priority has always been to keep himself at the top.

In this blog post, I have not touched upon Netanyahu’s three separate indictments for corruption and his ongoing court trial (fodder for yet another blog post). There are those who say that the charges against the Prime Minister are entirely trumped up; there are others who say that they are minor or even irrelevant matters. I think otherwise. The chief of police who investigated Netanyahu was appointed by Netanyahu’s Likud, as was the attorney general who brought the corruption charges against him. Regardless, it is entirely inappropriate for a sitting prime minister to be on trial for corruption while leading the country.

The last time an Israeli prime minister was investigated for corruption, the opposition leader insisted that he should resign, warning that a head of state “neck deep in investigations has no moral mandate to make crucial decisions”. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did, indeed, step down; and he was subsequently convicted. That opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, became the next head of state, following the 2009 Knesset elections.

Thankfully, it seems that Netanyahu’s political support is gradually slipping; even if a fifth round of elections is held (assuming that Lapid does not succeed at forming a government), Netanyahu remains very unlikely to be able to form a coalition. At some point, his Likud party must muster up its courage and elect itself a new chairperson, else its members will be dooming themselves to become permanent fixtures in the opposition.

By the way, one of the top priorities for the potential incoming Israeli government should be to pass legislation setting term limits for the position of Prime Minister.

48 thoughts on “A new Israeli government?”

  1. And I thought US politics was confusing… and corrupt. Well, at least Trump is out of office for now. Though the possibility of his supporters finding a way to weasel him back into office is a nagging worry. I do hope the new coalition is able to make a go of it. That many elections in such a short time must be exhausting!

    1. exhausting and disheartening 😦 😦 😦

      but – important to note: the percentage of Likud voters who went out to vote in the last (the 4th) round of elections dropped more dramatically than it did for the other parties – in other words, Netanyahu’s supporters are running out of steam faster than their political opponents…

  2. Yet another example of how power corrupts. Ideally the head of state would be looking to do what is best for the people of his country, not himself. We know all about this kind of leader, unfortunately…(k)

    1. It’s a baby step but it has potential to provide some healing because the Arab Israeli community will hopefully start receiving services that they weren’t, for the most part, receiving enough of before.

          1. That is depressing, isn’t it. ..You know things are bad when you type out a question about the political situation, but decide that whole thing is too hot to touch…

    1. I know it’s all very complicated, Cindy… but, really, the underlying story is not complicated at all – our PM is just about done, and his political foes have the forks to prove it.

      1. I know and I wish I could have educated discussions but this is the best news I’ve heard. btw thanks for your comment on a post I tried to find and dig out but you know… … the disappearing acts of WP.. 😝

  3. It’s all very interesting and quite confusing, David! The current Slovenian PM has actually served time in prison on corruption charges…

    1. that’s pretty disheartening. Our current Interior Minister (who happens to be an ultra-Orthodox Jew) also did jail time, but then he returned to politics and immediately shot back to the top again ~ no problemo.

  4. this was very helpful, thanks, as I just read a Washington Post story on Bibi’s last chance grasp…which was not helpful at all…curious..how many PM terms do you think before…nope, no run again? Again, really informative.

    1. r.Douglas,

      I think the most common idea that’s been floated has been two terms of four years, like in the USA.

      The difference would be that governing coalitions usually fall apart in less than four years due to political posturing… so I’m not sure how the potential law would factor that into the math… but we’ll live & see.

      Hopefully they pass something like that to prevent Bibi from running again for PM in the next elections – that would totally recalibrate the political landscape (in a healthy way, IMO)!


  5. Thank you, David. I find it astonishing that the US press is totally missing that the new coalition, if formed, will be secular, without a Haredi veto over policies and the budget. It may be the type of coalition envisioned in the Hiddush surveys, favoring religious freedom and not catering to every Haredi whim. On that basis, it could have staying power.

  6. It sounds also like positions such as Chief of Police should not be political appointments.

    There’s a lot in there, David. One thing I particularly follow is PR, because I think that is how we should go here. But I do not like Party Lists one bit, for the very reasons that you observe.

    Incidentally the commentary here is almost totally focused on the corruption. The presumption is that as soon as he is out of office, he is going to jail. Which is why he wants to stay in office.

    1. Yes, the two (corruption and Bibi attempting to stay in office) are very related, but I couldn’t cover everything. That said, he won’t go to jail right away by any stretch of the imagination – the trials will drag on for a few years, most likely.

      And – party lists are a huge problem, yes. We really need local representation in the Knesset, which we don’t have. If a party leader puts a politician on his/her party list, then that party leader becomes the only person whose opinion that politician cares about – because he/she is the one who “gave him a job” in the Knesset. Constituents don’t have anybody in the Knesset who is directly concerned about their needs.

  7. An informative post, David. Just a few questions. How many Arab parties are there and who are their followers? Do you think that Bibi’s corruption charges are serious and true? How was Golda Meir and which party she belonged to?

    1. 1) There are 4 Arab parties. Currently, 3 of them are united on a single list, and 1 of them (the Islamist faction) ran on its own in the last election cycle.

      2) I think Bibi’s corruption charges are true, but what I think is most serious is the damage that he has been doing to state institutions (police, courts, attorney general, etc.) by delegitimizing them publicly and vehemently and declaring them (and all of his political opponents) “leftists”, which has no basis in reality (for the most part). The Prime Minister is the head of state – he should be the first person to uphold arms of the government and encourage the citizens to trust them.

      3) Golda Meir was a member of the “Workers’ Party of the Land of Israel”, which merged into the modern Labor party. I don’t have a very good sense of how good a Prime Minister she was TBH.

          1. It’s okay. Her name crossed my mind, because I had read that she was the first woman PM.

  8. A very interesting snapshot – thank you. Our own government is corrupt. There have been numerous outcries since they took the reins in 2019. But the outcries are brief and not loud enough because the press here is largely controlled by Murdoch. And the ABC – Australia’s public broadcasting corporation – is being strangled of funds by the government who accuses them of being left wing. So they are limited in what they can do. So it doesn’t surprise me with Trump’s shenanigans in the US and the craziness here, that Mr Netanyahu also boldly holds his throne while corruption wolves bay at his door. I hope, as Israel is seemingly doing, that we can regain something of what democracy is supposed to give us – a say in the future of the country. Best of luck to you also.

      1. No need to be embarrassed. I knew almost nothing of Israeli politics until I read your post. And now I know the snapshot you provided. 😀 We are not a big or influential country. And, frankly, I’m embarrassed to be Australian a lot of the time. I love the country but the politics is appalling – our treatment of our indigenous people, our treatment of refugees, our complete disregard for climate change … there’s very little here to fly proud banners about. Avert your eyes until things brighten! You’ll be doing us a service. 🙂

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