The Israeli Knesset passed its ’21 and ’22 budgets
I feel silly being excited about my country having approved a budget, but there is good reason to be, and I will attempt to explain this without getting too entrenched in the details. In truth, you can read about this on any number of news websites. I have almost nothing of substance to add to what I’ve read on The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, and Haaretz.
So, I’m writing because I’m excited; I’m writing because what should not be a historical event (i.e. the passage of a budget) is quite historical.
Following are basic points to know:
1) Not passing a budget dissolves Israel’s government
According to to law, if the Knesset (Israeli parliament) fails to pass a budget, this causes the State’s government to dissolve and new elections to be called.
2) Israel had 4 national elections in the span of 2 years
Between April ’19 and March ’21, Israelis went to the polls four times because no political leader could manage to cobble together a stable government. Aside from tremendous voter fatigue and cynicism, holding those four elections in two years cost the State of Israel $4.24 billion.
Also, previous to Thursday, November 4, 2021, the last time the State of Israel had had a budget was March 15, 2019. Not having a national budget creates chaos within the government; it most hurts the neediest strata of society who rely upon its services.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Our prime minister used to be Benjamin Netanyahu. He is Israel’s longest serving PM, having served as PM for ~15 years. Unfortunately, over the years, Netanyahu became a very polarizing figure in Israel – not only among voters, but also among politicians and political parties other than his own, whom he needed to form governing coalitions.
You see, the Israeli Knesset has 120 members, and at least 61 of them must support the governing coalition in order for it to remain standing. One cannot become Prime Minister without the support of at least 61 Knesset Members.
Netanyahu’s political troubles became more acute when he was indicted for corruption in three separate cases by the Attorney General, back in November ’19. Given those indictments, his political opponents, many of whom deeply resented him for personal and political reasons, smelled blood.
Netanyahu, for his part, now had an additional, pressing reason to fight to remain PM: he wanted parliamentary immunity. If he could somehow cobble together a coalition (which, by default, represents more than half of the Knesset), he would be able to request parliamentary immunity. Remaining PM, therefore, became critical to Netanyahu on a personal (rather than merely political) level.
3) The 4th round of elections
The fourth round of elections could have been avoided by Netanyahu himself; and it was brought about entirely by his personal refusal to pass a national budget. Here’s why:
Whereas those first 3 rounds of recent elections were held because he could not muster up enough support among Israel’s politicians to form stable governments of 61 or more Knesset Members, the prime minister had succeeded in putting together a government following that 3rd round, which was based upon a rotation agreement with a centrist politician named Benny Gantz.
Netanyahu’s rotation agreement with Gantz
Essentially, the rotation agreement stipulated that Netanyahu would serve as prime minister for the 1st half of the government’s term, and Gantz would serve as PM for the 2nd half. Their respective lawyers went over the agreement with fine-tooth combs to make sure that the rotation deal would be ironclad.
Gantz, a political neophyte, agreed to form a government with Netanyahu under the terms of this agreement because he felt that the COVID-19 crisis (which had erupted at that time) demanded a functioning government. He had good intentions, but trusting Netanyahu was a mistake.
Netanyahu breaking the agreement
Due to his legal problems and hope of being granted parliamentary immunity, Netanyahu did not want to give Gantz the opportunity to become PM… And he managed to find the one loophole in the rotation agreement, realizing that failure to pass a budget would automatically dissolve Israel’s government and prevent Gantz from taking his seat at the top.
For many people in Israel, even for a plurality of those who traditionally vote for politically right-wing parties, this was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.
Whereas one could have blamed other politicians for refusing to serve under Netanyahu in the previous rounds of elections, the vast majority of pundits agreed (and still do) that there was nobody but the prime minister himself to blame for failing to pass that budget.
4) Israel’s “change government”
Following the fourth round of elections and Netanyahu’s failure again to form a government, a motley group of political parties got together to create a government, the likes of which had never before existed.
A historical government
I’ve written about this government, which is comprised of three right-wing parties, two centrist parties, two left-wing parties, and one Islamist Arab party… so, I won’t regurgitate all of that.
The only thing I will say (for the purposes of this particular post) is that under normal circumstances, Israel would likely have a right-wing government (given that the majority of its voters identify as right-wing), if there weren’t right-wing parties (and their respective voters) that continue to refuse to serve under Netanyahu.
Our threadbare government
This “change government” is as threadbare an Israeli governing coalition as can be, which means that any one of the 61 Knesset Members who supports it can singlehandedly topple it by withdrawing their support. This would bring about another round of elections.
However, the irony of the situation is that these politicians of very disparate views are united because of Netanyahu. First of all, none of them want to see him back in power (for political and for personal reasons), and secondly, he probably wouldn’t be able to form even a 61 member coalition at this point (given his track record over the past 4 elections and current projections).
Therefore, by keeping together and staying the course, these 8 Arab Islamist, left-wing, centrist, and right-wing political parties are effectively preventing Israel from descending back into the political chaos of the last several years, which was largely centered on Netanyahu, his legal woes, his poor relationships with other Knesset Members, and his loss of popular support.
5) Step A. form government; step B. pass budget
Israel’s current government was formed in June of this year (’21), and it has been continuously maligned in the most horrific terms by Netanyahu and his allies, non-stop. Also, the opposition parties, led by Netanyahu and his Likud party, have been doing everything possible to thwart the coalition’s legislative agenda, including voting against bills that they support and wrote themselves in the previous Knesset.
Despite and also because of the incredibly poisonous aggression, the coalition has stuck together. Netanyahu’s theatrics and the threat of his potential political return have been enough to keep the government united.
Passing the damned budget
However, beyond actually coalescing into a governing coalition, which was obviously critical for these 8 different parties, the true test of the new government’s potential staying power has always been passing the budget for 2021 (and then – for 2022, which they also did).
In fact, they went about it in a very smart way, and even gave themselves a bit of a buffer before the final deadline of November 15th, just in case somebody in the coalition was convinced to defect by Netanyahu, et al.
So, now the situation is simple. Having passed the budget, the only thing that cam topple this government is its own implosion from the inside (meaning: some parties or politicians withdraw their support and break it apart, forcing new elections).
My hot take
I know that many of you are not interested in politics, and fewer still have any particular interest in Israeli politics (why would you?), but as I wrote above, this is both very important to me personally, and it’s actually a historic event for the State of Israel (from my perspective).
The Netanyahu era, in one way or another, is coming to an end. Thank goodness. I cannot express enough relief at this.
Obviously, there is nobody in Israel who favors all of the coalition parties – that would be impossible. But Israel has never had a government that is so representative of its entire population, which is also a historical fact (in terms of political views, race, gender…). I think it’s wonderful. In politics, there’s no such thing as ideal – so I won’t be one to hold the government to that standard.
And I must say that the story of Benjamin Netanyahu is truly a sad one – because he used to be a fine politician and did a great deal of good for Israel over his many years in office… But, ultimately, as utterly cliché as this is, the ending of his story comes down to something I learned (once upon a time) in 7th grade English class when we read the book ‘Animal Farm’:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.–John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton (1834 – 1902)
This post does not provide you with the entire story of Netanyahu’s downfall because that would require many more words than most of you would read; however, I am completely convinced that the prime minister’s political and (possibly) legal destruction is (first and foremost) of his own creation. It’s cliché to the point of being ridiculous.
Benjamin Netanyahu remains the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history… and he could have left government with his head held high, with an honorable legacy, instead of becoming the unabashed monster that so many have come to see him as.