It’s that time in Israel again: election season. It will be the first time we will have voted in a national election here. Several of my daughters and friends in the States have asked us if we will be voting for Netanyahu on April 9. I am not posting my political leanings, but must say that the election system is decidedly different than in the United States. And perhaps as, shall I say, entertaining?
For one thing: we do not vote directly for the Prime Minister or President. We vote for a political party. Israel is a true Democracy. All citizens have a vote. And any citizen (male, female, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze, straight, gay, trans, purple with bright yellow polka dots) can form their own political party. All that is required is to submit the party name, registration fee, and petition garnering 5000 signatures. At the last count, 47 different parties have qualified to run in this upcoming election!!! A minimum number of votes is needed for two seats in the Knesset or Parliament. There are 120 seats. All government officials chosen for ministry positions must come from within the elected seats in Knesset. In theory, we vote for the party, not the man.
Here’s where it gets interesting. To establish a working government, a majority of 61 seats is necessary. No one party has ever received close to this majority. The highest to date have received 38 and 41 votes. So, the President, elected by Knesset, will appoint the greatest probable winner with the best chance of forming a coalition with other parties to bring the seat count to 61. The declared winner of the election then has 30 days after the election has been decided to form his government. And the race is on. There are deals to be made. All the focus is on reaching those 61 seats. No deals are allowed to be made behind closed doors for the parties to cooperatively come together. The parties must sit down with legal representatives and draft their contracts. All platforms are listed out in detail in writing. It’s quite a transparent process.
In Israel, the majority of the population (about 65%) is Centrist. There is right of center and left of center, but the extreme parties never receive more than 10% of the vote. The more Knesset seats a party receives in the elections, the more power they wield to negotiate later. There are portfolios to consider (Ministry positions – Defense, Finance, Education, Culture, etc.) – which person from which party will receive the portfolio, causing them to join the coalition. There are clauses, all legally binding, written in. For example, “If we join your party, you will not be able to give up territories,” or “You must promise not to ally with Russia for us to join your party,” or “In order for us to merge with you, ultra-religious Jews will be forced to serve in the army.” All made up examples, but these are the types of promises that go into forming the new government.
The last few weeks, many new political parties have sprung up. Others have dropped out. A few leading contenders have merged, forming new parties right before the ballot deadline. There are 14 Arab parties in contention. The Joint List, consisting of four united anti-Israel groups, won 13 Knesset seats in the last election four years ago. As of this week, some of them have merged into a mere 5 parties. There are Christian parties, Muslim parties, Communist, and Socialist groups represented in the Arab makeup in Israel. Those living within the Palestinian controlled areas have their own, independent government and elections.
The Shas party (extreme Right) is made up of ultra-religious Haredi Jews who believe that the government should be run on extreme Biblical interpretation. The Meretz party is extreme Left, believing in extreme intersectionality and the removal of the Jewish identity in all official capacity. Giving up land is part of the game.
Some of the more familiar players are the Labor party, who are running on the strengthening of the labor unions. United Torah Judaism is made up of a group of Torah scholars. The party Yisrael Beitenu has former Defense Minister, Liberman at the helm. If you like what he did as Defense Minister, are Russian, or into Olim (immigrant) rights, this might be your party. There is Zehut, a newly formed party that is most closely aligned with the U.S. style Libertarian way of thinking. Naftali Benett, current Minister of Education and Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice, both formerly Bait Yehudi, are now the New Right (HaYamin HeHadash,) merging both religious and secular Zionists who are strong on defense. In the last couple weeks, two popular frontrunners, Yesh Atid (led by the “model-looking” former Finance Minister, Yair Lapid), and Israel Resilience (led by former Chief of General Staff of the IDF, Benny Gantz) have combined forces into the just-left-of-center Blue & White Party. They seem to be poised to take a slight lead at this point.
And of course, there is Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, which is right of center. And that is the reason we are having these elections. A few months ago, the Knesset parties passed a vote of no-confidence in the present government, forcing a new election. Despite forging new, positive relations with many different foreign countries (India, Russia, China, Brazil, Columbia, Australia, Czech Republic, Hungary, several Arabic and African nations); despite a burgeoning economy; despite getting the recognition of Jerusalem as the nation’s official capital by the U.S. and other countries; despite unveiling the plans of the evil Iranian regime, Netanyahu has been plagued by corruption and bribery scandals, as of yet, unproven. These issues, combined with the ongoing Gaza and Palestinian problems and ridiculously expensive cost-of-living here, is making for a tight race. Many native Israelis feel that “Bibi” has created a dynasty for himself, has served long enough, and they have become the party of “Anyone but Bibi.”
As if this was all not confusing enough, there are lesser contenders like the Pensioner’s Party (no true leader, just more benefits for the elderly); the Human Dignity party (no information found on internet, but excellent name); the Equals party, representing those ‘second class citizens’….whatever); the Second Class Citizens group (beginning to sound a bit Monty Pythonish, but I kid you not!); Abrahamics United; Simply Love: Tailwind for Education: All Israel Are Brothers (focused on justice for Jewish refugees from Islamic nations); Remember Our Voices (focusing on equal labor protection for the police and security services, not IDF-related); Justice For All (gay and animal rights groups combined with a spattering of environmentalism); Me & You (let’s just end the whole party system and vote for people directly); Hope For Change (United Zionist Arabs); Social Justice Party; the Pirate Party (YES!!!!!! for those who believe in anarchy….aarrrggghhhh, Matey! Can you BELIEVE this????); the Na-Nachs (think tie-dyed wearing, ganja smoking, dancing Ultra Orthodox Jews who dance around to Reggae music and spray paint their logo on everything in sight….for reals… this is Israel); and The End (a combined Jewish and Evangelical Christian unity party) – but it’s not really the end of all the mishegass (craziness) or of the myriad other outliers.
Election Day is a national holiday of sorts. All schools and government offices are closed the entire day. Soldiers vote from their home bases. Each party has as their symbol a letter or group of letters of the Hebrew alphabet representing their group. When you go to your polling place to vote, you present your national ID card (used for EVERYTHING here) three separate times: as you go in; as you register and receive your ballot ticket; and before you put your ticket into the voting box. When you receive your little envelope, you go behind a screen and pick up the ticket with the letter representing your preferred party and place it in your envelope and seal it. Place it in the box in the middle of the room, and you’re done. It’s just that easy!
(The above picture was of our regional city council elections. Just imagine 47 tickets in place of the 10 shown above.)