Over the past several weeks, many people have written to me asking about the state of current affairs in the Israeli government, and about the past elections. I will attempt to explain the situation both here and abroad without editorializing or adding personal opinion. For a quick overview of the Israeli political system, please go to my February 18, 2019 blog on israeldreams.com Election Season:The Political Post
Last April 9, 2019, Israelis went to the polls after the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) was dissolved under a vote of no-confidence in the government of 2018. In Israel, the voters choose the party they want to represent them in the 120-seat Knesset. The system was originally designed as a true Democracy. Because there are so many different parties, the winning party is forced to come together with as many other like-minded parties who would be willing to work towards a semblance of common goals. After the votes are tallied, the President hands the mandate over to the winning party head, who, in turn, has 28 days to cobble together a coalition of at least 61 seats to form a working government. From the leading party, the Prime Minister is selected. None of the parties (there were over 40 registered parties in the April election) are large enough to make a coalition on their own.
Last April, the Likud Party, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, received a record number of votes. President Reuven Rivlin gave Netanyahu the mandate to form a government. The closest rival party, Blue & White, was lead by Team Benny Gantz (former Chief of Staff of the IDF under Netanyahu) and Yair Lapid (former television anchor and Finance Minister). They ran a Center-Left campaign and planned to share power, alternating the chair of Prime Minister between Gantz and Lapid, had they won enough votes. Lapid emerged as an “anyone but Bibi” player, refusing any attempts at compromise to form a unity government between Likud and Blue & White. Also, a key player, was Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Center-Right Yisrael Beitenu party, which received five seats. He was labeled “The Kingmaker, ” because by siding with either Likud or Blue & White, a majority ruling party would be formed. Instead, egos prevailed. Lieberman (former Minister of Defense under Netanyahu) refused to settle with Blue & White as they are too Left-leading for his party. He would not join with Likud because they are lined up with religious parties. Even though he espouses himself to the Right, he refused to join a Right Wing government where religious (Haredi) Jews are not forced to draft into the army or national service and stores and transportation are closed on the Sabbath. His party is strictly a nationalist secular one and he desires a “once-and for all, no-nonsense end” to the Gaza problem, yet he has not specified what that entails.
Hamas controls Gaza and regularly sends over barrages of missiles into southern Israel, in addition to their regular Friday riots along the border wall. The Hamas terrorists launch balloon bouquets with attached incendiary devices; they burn tires smoking out neighboring Israeli communities; throw grenades and molotov cocktails over the fence and at IDF soldiers; and try to scale over the fence or create terror tunnels leading to Israel in order to infiltrate and kill Jews. Israel supplies Gaza with water and electricity, but they are over a two years deficient on paying their bills. The border between Israel and Gaza has been sealed off by wall, fencing, and undersea barricades. There are set border crossings which are manned on either side by their respective armies.
Because an impasse had been reached in the last April Israeli election results, and no official government had been able to come together, new elections were called. It gave time for new alliances to be formed with several parties converging and some dropping out altogether. The second round of elections were held on September, 17,2019.
There are many people here opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu. Many native, secular, and left-leaning Israelis would like to see Bibi out at any cost. When asked why, typical answers include “He’s been in power way too long;” “He has established a dynasty. He wants to be king;” “I really don’t like his family. His wife is a shrew;” and “Bibi is completely corrupt.” Also, many citizens, especially those living in the South feel Bibi has been too soft on the Gaza terrorists. As one political hack recently wrote, “Ten rockets fired at Israel Friday night. Bibi’s response… NOTHING? Are you kidding me? This is your plan to protect Israel and our beloved residents in the South???? Nothing????” Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided to hit back directly, strongly and regionally, destroying only known Hamas weapons factories and terror cell hideouts. Because there is a distinct possibility of a full-scale, Iranian-backed Hizbulla conflict to the North; and the strengthening of Iranian-supplied Houthi rebels in Yemen poised to attack from the South, Netanyahu fears opening up a three-pronged, full-blown war fought on all sides. So his tactic is more quid pro quo in dealing with the Gaza situation. And many people here feel it just is not enough.
For the past few years the press has been reporting of scandal and corruption – mainly in the form of bribe-taking – by Netanyahu. There has been widespread talk, especially in the weeks before the elections, that Attorney General Mandelblitt would indict the Prime Minister on corruption charges. So far, this has amounted to little more than talk and no official indictment. The mainstream Israeli media has sided with Blue and White, for the most part in their attempts to ouster Likud.
There are other foreign entities who would like to see Netanyahu toppled as well. Because he has made friends with the leaders of many countries throughout the world (especially once-hostile Arab nations); because he has helped uncover the looming threats from Iran; and because he has strengthened Israel technologically, economically and militarily, as well as encouraged settlements in Judaea and Samaria, he is seen as a threat by some.
Going back to the 2015 elections –
The [U.S.] State Department paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers grants to an Israeli group [One Voice] that used the money to build a campaign to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in last year’s parliamentary elections, a congressional investigation concluded…the money was used to build a voter database, train activists, and hire a political consulting firm tied to President Obama’s campaign – all of which set the stage for an anti-Netanyahu campaign, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said in a bipartisan staff report. -Washington Times, July 12, 2016
Several tactics developed by the George Soros-funded Open Society have been exported to Israel along with activists, money transfers and Rock-the-Vote style endeavors. Open Society funds many other Progressive groups, including the New Israel Fund, J Street, and Standing Together (also supported monetarily by the Ford Foundation in the United States). Working closely with Leftist Israeli political activists, including New Israel Fund grantees, Students for Justice in Palestine and J Street, American- funded Progressive groups attempting to replace Netanyahu played an important role in this past (September 17, 2019) election cycle. I take this directly from the nif.org website:
NIF grantee, Zazim [Let’s Move, in Hebrew] – Community Action plan to transport Bedouin voters from unrecognized villages to polling stations.
As the “Get on the Bus” Movement in the United States’ 2008 & 2012 elections had a sizable impact on the voter turnout which helped Obama become elected, it was decided to implement the same tactic within the Arab communities in Israel in the 2019 elections. There were reports of Samsung and Motorola phones given out in return for votes for the Arab Joint List members.
Also, from the nif.org website:
The Likud party’s campaign to plant cameras in polling stations which was intended to suppress Arab voters under the guise of preventing ‘voter fraud,’ was fortunately thwarted by a coalition of NIF grantees.
(According to Gavi E., a polling station attendant I interviewed, as a protest in some of the Arab villages in the North, the voting boxes had been filled with envelopes containing multiple party slips and envelopes that had been stuffed with toilet paper containing human feces. There was talk of placing cameras in polling stations to avoid rabble-rousing, but this idea was quickly nixed as being unfair)
Civil society organizations led an inspiring campaign against racism and Jewish supremist ideas this election cycle. While there are still political candidates and parties that support racist doctrines… NIF grantees took a stand and waged a grassroots campaign called “Don’t put racism in the ballot box,” mobilizing Israelis to demand that [ultra-Orthodox religious] not be allowed to run. -nif.org
Seizing the opportunity to escalate a terrible and tragic event this past summer was the American-backed, Israeli activist movement, Standing Together, Omdim B’Yachad. Ethiopian immigrants with great needs form part of a minority in Israel. They are often overlooked and many live way below the poverty level in the larger downtrodden areas of Tel Aviv and Haifa. This summer an Ethiopian youth, Salomon Tekeh, was killed by an off-duty police officer. Although the case was reviewed thoroughly, and it was reported that Tekeh had instigated a troubling situation and had threatened the lives of children in a play-area, many Ethiopians believed he was killed in cold blood by the off-duty policeman on the scene. They also believe their plight is largely ignored by the government, which, unfortunately, is true. But riots which took place all around Israel were organized, in part, by Standing Together and the New Israel Fund in order to highlight racial inequity and foment dissent in the public sector. The Ethiopian community usually votes in a block to the Right, but by establishing a new ‘Ethiopian” political straw party, Tzedek (Justice), which had gone mostly unnoticed, there were hopes that Netanyahu would be unseated by the loss of votes to the Right. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled by these Soros-backed groups to prop up one of the leaders of Tzedek, Avi Yalo, who is also a leading member of the Committee for Workers International, promoting Trotskyism. Other top officials in the party are not Ethiopian, but receive grant money from Soros-funded groups. They include Saliman Amoor, Yulia Zemlinsky, Ishak Saporta and Yoav Lalum.
The September 17 election round held surprising results for some. Blue and White with Benny Gantz (I’m not sure why Lapid fell through the cracks this time) squeaked by with a slight lead over Likud and Netanyahu. The shock to Israel electoral results came from the Arab sector. The Joint List is a loose political alliance made up of several different Arab parties…. Muslim, Christian, Druze, Bedouin. Most of the Israeli Arab citizenry vote for someone along these party lines or they vote Likud. However, each faction composing the multi-faceted Joint List represents a different pressing need of the community it represents; and until now, has mostly been disorganized, at best. They usually receive 3-5 seats represented in Knesset. This past September, with the help of the Zazim bussing project, and with the help of others who tried to strengthen the Palestinian cause, the Joint List became a leading contender. If the Arab votes could further drive a wedge in the two front-runners, there would potentially be more confusion in the formation of a stable government. U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, D. MN, on Face The Nation, September 15, and also addressing Arab-Israeli voters directly through social media and television, called for the replacement of Netanyahu. Also, JStreet backed several members of the Arab Joint list in the polls as a way to suspend West Bank settlement development and resuscitate a flailing Two-State Solution. As a result, the Joint List pulled off a record 13 Knesset Seats. They emerged as Israel’s third largest political party, and have backed Benny Gantz and Blue and White.
In September, President Rivlin met with each of the three parties to hear their platform. The mandate was first given to Benny Gantz, who deferred to Benjamin Netanyahu, who agreed with Rivlin’s proposal to form a Unity Government. It was suggested that Likud come together with Blue & White and that the two Benjamins take alternating turns as Prime Minister. Netanyahu would serve first. In the event of an indictment, Gantz would replace him. After Netanyahu was unable to form a working coalition, he agreed to join with Benny Gantz, who, in turn, rejected the proposal. The mandate was given back to Gantz, with members of the Joint List throwing their backing to Blue & White. Upon meeting with the Joint List representatives at the President’s home, Rivlin sat silent as Representative Ahmad Tibi (who praised terrorist murderers as “martyrs”) boldly stated
….we are not present absentees, we are not guests, we are the owners of this land. Not residents of this country. We did not immigrate here, we are a native population, and this native population sent us here to make a change.
For years, the Joint List by their own choosing, was outside the coalition consensus. Theirs was a strictly nationalist ideology representing Arabs most of whom reside in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They are opposed to a Jerusalem capital of Israel. (The capital city of Ramallah is the recognized capital of Palestine). They are opposed to the presence of Jews on the Temple Mount (the latest hotbed of “discussion” whether as tourists or worshippers. There is not one member of this party that has accepted Israel’s right to exist. They are comprised of a loose party of Islamists, Communists, Fascists, Bedouins united under Arab sovereignty of Israel. Their platform includes unlimited building in the Negev and the Galilee; extending sovereignty over national parks and lands; continued payments for martyrs’ families (their ‘martyrs’ are terrorists who have been killed by the IDF during the act of perpetrating a terror incident); complete autonomy over the education system; major prisoner releases; reverting the State of Israel to pre-1967 (completely indefensible- look at a map) lines; and denying legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish homeland. With them there is no co-existence, no wavering. The Jews would be expected to pay dhimmi (taxes levied against non-Muslims) and would be relegated to second class citizens. Their charter is all in writing and can be easily verified.
At the JStreet Conference, held October 26-29 of this year in Washington, D.C. Invited speakers included Joint List Representative Ayman Odeh, Nitzan Horowitz, member of Knesset from the Leftist Meretz Party, a Socialist Democratic Zionist Party and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who also ran in the elections under a small splinter group. Besides backing both Benny Gantz and U.S. Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, both Odeh and Horowitz call for a two state solution to Israel, as well as moving the borders of Israel to the pre-1967 lines. Jerusalem would not be the designated capital of Israel, but Tel Aviv. More money would be given to Judaean and Samarian Arab communities and much of the border wall/fencing would come down. Supporting interest groups from North America include Partners for Progressive Israel and the Progressive Jewish Alliance.
As this week, the Arab Joint List has called for a unity Blue & White/Arab party which would be Center Left/Left. Gantz refuses to sit with Netanyahu. Netanyahu refuses to lose the religious vote. Once again Lieberman will not sit with either majority party. Gantz has engaged in dialogue with the Joint List, but that has now failed. Many Israelis are more than disturbed with the possibility of a protegé of Arafat and terrorism supporters being privy to top secret classified (military) information. Most people are tired of more of the same and underwhelmed with the possibility of a third election.
At this point – and proposals and alliances here seem to shift on a daily basis – there is an impasse. It appears highly likely that Gantz will be unable to form a coalition, so there is talk of new elections in January. This time, it has been proposed that Israeli citizens will vote just for Prime Minister…so it’s a fight between the two Benjamins. Guess Ilhan Omar was correct in saying “It’s all about the Benjamins, Baby.”
Ideologically, most Israelis are on the same page – Centrist. Some lean more to the Right and some to the Left, but for the most part all are united behind a strong defense and on stopping the threat of Iran’s long arms weaving terror tentacles throughout the MidEast. Currently, our economy is the strongest it has ever been. The shekel is strong. There is growth in employment. High tech start-ups and medical technology centers are booming. Israel has been setting tourism records year after year. We are well respected in many countries in South America, Asia, and Africa and have helped these countries in disaster relief efforts, water purification, medical aid, ecological advances and urban planning. The rate of Aliyah is up.
I have tried to encapsulate a very, very complex, continually shifting, political scene. There are so many more complexities to our system of government. We have no written Constitution as in the United States. We are a complete Democracy in which anyone can take part in voting in the election as long as a National ID card is shown. Any person can try to form a political party (see past blog). A party must receive at least three seats (3.25% of the vote) to be represented in the Knesset. Yes, there are differences and discord. Yes, we have a lot of problems – especially internal affairs, wages, high cost of living, continual strikes by union members, and myriad other issues like effective immigration absorption. And yes, it seems that we are at a political impasse.
We as a nation are in immediate need of a fully functional government. We cannot be perceived as being weak in light of the Iran threat. All I know is that governments are on His shoulders (Isaiah 9:6). We pray that somehow G-d breaks the deadlocks and dissolves egos so that His will be done and we can go forth stronger than ever. Ultimately, this is all in His hands.