We’ve got some election materials for the latest Israeli election – including a guide for teachers. We’ll be updating this again over the next few days, both before and after the elections, which will be on Tuesday, September 17, 2019.
- A handy chart that outlines the parties’ positions on a number of issues: Policies for Knesset election_september2019
- Planning a class on the elections? Click here, and get a ready-to-go presentation, with educators’ notes included.
- A short video on the political parties and the electoral system.
- A podcast with journalist Haviv Rettig Gur on Should we be optimistic about Israeli democracy?
Israel is now gearing up for another election, after the one that took place on April 9th did not result in a government. The Likud blames Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beytenu, for the new elections. Yisrael Beytenu blames Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Who is right?
Well, it would be right to say that Netanyahu was unable to build a ruling coalition because Lieberman made it impossible for him to do so. It would be wrong to say that this led immediately to new elections. Having failed to build a ruling coalition, Mr Netanyahu was expected to return the baton to the President, who would have handed the opportunity to build a coalition to the leader of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz. Instead Netanyahu called new elections.
Who is Right?
That night Netanyahu fulminated against Lieberman, calling him a leftist. In failing to support a right-wing government, he accused Lieberman over going over to the Left side. In turn, Lieberman shot back: “The man who lives in Caesarea is calling the man who lives in Nokdim, a leftist?” Prime Minister Netanyahu has his private home in Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast. Avigdor Lieberman lives in the settlement of Nokdim in the heart of Judea and well over the Green Line.
So who is Right? Someone who strives to build a right-wing coalition, or someone who actually lives in the West Bank? Is being Right-wing to do with being a security hawk, or being committed to Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)?
Who is Right?
Avigdor Lieberman is arguing that he is indeed on the political Right, but that to be on the political Right in Israel does not mean that one must be religious. Lieberman has chosen his moment to take a stand against the significant demands of the Haredi Ultra-Orthodox parties. He will not give his (now-growing) support to a government that kow-tows to the Haredim who demand continued exemption from army service and increasing funds for Yeshivot.
Lieberman is now saying that after the coming elections he will insist on a government made up of Likud (who received 35 seats this time) and Blue/White (who also received 35 seats). With the addition of Lieberman’s party, this would make for a strong, solid, and wholly secular ruling coalition.
Who is right?
Were this come to pass, we might be looking at the opposite of a scenario we floated back in late April: A government that will unlikely make any significant inroads towards ending the military occupation of the Palestinians, but that would probably make big changes to the place of Haredim in Israeli society.
In this Likud-Blue/White-Yisrael Beytenu world, all sorts of possibilities suggest themselves:
- Women may be given full access to the Kotel.
- Conversion laws could be made far more accommodating.
- Moves may begin to replace compulsory military service with compulsory national service for all – Haredim and Arabs included – whereby volunteering for several years in the fire service, for example, would be recognized as just as valuable as army service.
- Funding of Haredi schools may become dependent upon teaching math.
At the same time, such a combination would move hardly an inch towards a Palestinian State. And if Benny Gantz and Avigdor Lieberman’s current statements are anything to go by, Israel would if anything be likely to behave even more harshly towards Hamas.
Bearing in mind progressives cannot have both, would it be right to support a right-wing secular government in Israel? Or would it be right to oppose it?
[The first English-language journalist to call this latest Lieberman twist was Shmuel Rosner. He often writes for the New York Times, and has a regular blog at Rosner’s Domain.]
So do you really have no influence?
Jewish social media around North America has been responding to Israel’s election results. Irrespective of how devastated or delighted people seem to be, the underlying music has been similar: We can only observe from the outside – the decisions are in the hands of the Israeli electorate, not in ours.
This is not entirely true. There are two crucial areas in Israeli elections over which American Jewry – in particular non-Orthodox Jewry – does have a huge impact.
The Kotel, and the Palestinians.
Every pundit in Israel knows that when one is counting the parties in the pro-settlements Right-wing bloc, one automatically counts the Haredi ultra-orthodox parties. This is a correct analysis of the political reality in Israel, but has little to do with actual Haredi convictions about settling the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. As veteran Haredi politician Moshe Gafni has candidly explained: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Haredi issue. The Haredi aim in government is to take care of the issues close to their hearts – they are generally willing to back any policy over the Green Line, just so long as their own electoral needs are met.
What are these needs?
There are, of course, budgetary needs for their impoverished supporters. There are great obstacles to the idea of drafting Haredim to the army.
And then there is the issue of diaspora progressive Jewry and their “obsession” with the Kotel.
Haredim will abandon any government that “gives away” the Kotel to “the Reform”. Put another way – any government that distances itself from the Kotel Agreement could receive Haredi support on other issues, such as the Palestinians.
See how you have an influence?
In Israel’s current political structure, it is extraordinarily difficult to address simultaneously BOTH Israeli religious pluralism AND the Two State Solution. As far as the Haredim are concerned, the latter can be bought by selling out the former.
How would you react if Israel’s leaders on the Left said – “We think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more important than religious pluralism. We are dumping the Kotel Agreement and reaching out to the Haredim. An additional 15 votes for the Left taken from the Right will enable us to make a deal with the Palestinians.”
Would you applaud? Would you rage? Would you grit your teeth? Would you shrug? (Or would you make Aliyah and vote yourself?)
With 47 parties seeking the support of 6.3 million potential Israeli voters on April 9, the race for the next Knesset has never been so fierce. For those connected to the Jewish State who live outside her borders, understanding the complex coalition system can often be quite daunting.
The election campaign focuses on four main issues that reflect larger competing worldviews:
- Should the economy be managed in a social-democratic or free market manner?
- Should the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate control the legal frameworks for religious expression and life-cycle events?
- Should a Prime Minister facing multiple corruption and bribery charges should continue to lead the country?
- Should Israel pursue a two-state solution with the Palestinian people?
Here at Makom, we see Israel as the greatest Jewish achievement of our generation with democratic elections being the greatest moment of Jewish self-determination, giving citizens the right to choose the future direction of the Zionist project. Unlike Italy which allows members of her diaspora to vote in elections, Israel only allows citizens living in the country on election day to vote (except for diplomats).
However, because the contest of ideas that has always been so much at the heart of the Zionist movement comes to the fore during campaigns, we strongly believe that it’s important for all who have an interest in the future of the world’s only Jewish state to have their say.
Through voting in the Makom Parallel Election, you will be participating in a global poll determining opinion from diverse communities about the direction of the greatest Jewish enterprise of our lifetime. After April 9, we will publish the results of the Makom Parallel Election, side by side with the actual results. This will hopefully create a valuable conversation starter for Israel educators around the world who are looking at what we have in common, and the issues that divide us most.
Policies before politics
In putting together this initiative, we felt it important that unlike much of the media hype around this campaign focused on tweets, polls, personalities and hypothetical questions, we would create a policy table outlining where all the parties with realistic chances of being in the Knesset stand on issues that matter.
Putting this table together was very challenging, as many Israeli parties don’t list specific policies on most issues, or change their views once elected due to coalition discipline which often forces them to vote for policies with which they oppose in order to have part of their agenda passed by other parties in the coalition.
By reading this table, and posting any questions you have on the Makom facebook page, we hope to be a valuable resource for you in understanding these elections, and being part of the conversation that sees Israel in Real Life.
The die is cast, at last. The parties are finally fixed, so that the voters can now concentrate on their key task: To decide for whom they will vote.
In Israel the meaning of Left, Right, and Center is very different from the rest of the world. A party’s stance on the welfare state, economic policies, religion and LGBTQ – none of these affect whether they are termed Right or Left. In Israel these political directional terms still seem to circle around one issue alone: The Palestinians. Left and Right are only assigned according to the party’s willingness or lack of willingness for there to be a Palestinian State.
If a party is keen for a two-State resolution, and for all settlement over the Green Line to stop, it is deemed Left.
If a party is against granting the Palestinians a State, and keen for settlements to grow, it is deemed Right.
And if a party would like for there to be a two-State resolution when the time and circumstances are right, and in the meantime is ambivalent over settlement growth, it is deemed Center.
Nothing else matters in these definitions.
And it is these definitions that will guide the forming of a coalition government in the late Spring. Will the Right form a majority bloc? Or will the Center form a majority bloc aided by the Left (or the moderate Right)?
Since Right/Left/Center is so critical, it is perplexing that the key issue around which these terms circle – the Palestinians and their demand for independence – seems to be the only issue that most politicians hardly ever discuss. In particular the Right and the Center – according to polling, some 80% of voters – share the belief that there is no Palestinian leadership with whom to negotiate, and so there is nothing to talk about.
There is an unspoken assumption that one’s attitude to a Palestinian State is guided by a single concern: Security. Granting a state to the Palestinians risks Israeli security, while refusing to do so maintains it. This is why the Left – wishing to enable a Palestinian state – can be painted in traitors’ colors, since they are perceived to be happy to endanger us all. Even those in favor of expanding settlements in Judea and Samaria rarely trumpet their rights over the Biblical Land of Israel, and instead focus on Palestinians threats to Israeli security.
Quite apart from the fact that security experts are far from convinced that ongoing civilian presence over the Green Line adds to Israeli security, it would be a mistake to assume that the Palestinian issue is only about security.
The situation does not only ask the “To Be” question. It also asks us about the nature of the Jewish People, and the way in which we relate to another People in this region. It pushes us to define what we mean by Freedom, democracy, and human rights. And of course it asks the question as to where in Our Land should our citizens be allowed to build their houses?
It is according to their answers to these four interlocking questions that the Left, Right, and Center can be gauged.
Wondering what Israelis are saying about the April 2019 election for Prime Minister? Makom interviewed some folks in and around the Jewish Agency for Israel – and here’s what we learned.
The most direct and powerful opportunity for individuals to influence Israeli policy is upon us. On April 9th, every Israeli citizen has the chance to have their say as to how Israel should best answer the Four Hatikvah Questions.
What would be the best way to ensure Israel’s security? How should Judaism, the Jewish People, and Jewish values affect policy in Israel? How can Israel’s current EIU Democracy Index ranking rise higher than 30th in the world? Are we configuring our land and its resources in the most equitable and sustainable way?
In later Headlines for Identity, we’ll look into how the political parties do or don’t address these questions, but for now it might be worth asking a more fundamental question:
Why aren’t you voting?
Why don’t those American Jews who express so much care and concern for Israel and her policies, just come over here and vote? For Jews around the world it’s real easy to get the vote in Israel: You just make Aliyah. Technically speaking you wouldn’t even need to live here. Pop over to become an Israeli citizen, and then fly in to vote. It’s not nothing, but it’s nowhere near impossible.
So what is behind this desire to critique and influence Israel on the one hand, and this unwillingness to put one’s money where one’s mouth is on the other?
Do Diaspora Jews care less than they say they do? Do they view Aliyah in such hallowed terms that they could not bring themselves to “exploit” it in this way?
Or are they simply afraid that if given the right to vote in Israel’s elections they’ll find themselves confounded over whom to vote for, like the rest of us poor saps living here?
It doesn’t really require a translation…
This election campaign has been characterized by a great deal of mud-slinging and negativity from all sides. This cartoon from Shay Charka covers many of the more troubling remarks and accusations.
And the voter traipses on…
Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Yekutiel Alpert, from the old settlement in Jerusalem, was the “Mukhtar” of a few neighborhoods before the establishment of the State. Here he describes his first walk to the voting station (the list he refers to in this piece was the United Religious List. Imagine today’s Jewish Home, Shas, Yahadut HaTorah, and Yahad running together on one list, where the commonalities are greater than the differences.)
“At 05:35 in the morning I awoke, and we got up – my wife, my brother Rabbi Shimon Leib, and my brother-in-law Rabbi Netanel Saldovin, and my son Dov. After we had drunk coffee, we put on our best Shabbat clothes in honor of this great and sacred day.
“For this is the day that the Lord made in joy and happiness. For after two thousand years in exile or more, and one might even say from the six days of creation to this day, we have never been honored with a day such as this, that we may go to the elections of the Jewish State, and blessed be that we have lived and existed and reached this time.
“… I and my wife and my brother-in-law went to vote at HaHabashim Street, with our State of Israel identity booklet in our hands. In great and awesome joy we walked that short distance, and all the way I walked as if dancing at Simchat Torah with the Israeli Identity booklet in my hand as the Scroll itself. There was no limit to my joy and happiness.
All the way I walked as if dancing at Simchat Torah with the Israeli Identity booklet in my hand as the Scroll itself.
“The caretaker brought the ballot box, and the Chairman called to me and said, “And thou shalt glorify the elderly”, and that since I was the oldest one there, that I would be the first to vote.
“With a thrill of the sacred and awe of the holy I handed over my Identity booklet to the Chairman, and he called out my name from the booklet. The deputy Chairman noted down my name, and gave me the number one. He passed me an envelope and I entered the second room, where all the paper slips of all the lists were laid out. And with a trembling hand and emotions of sanctity I picked up the slip with “Bet”, the United Religious List, and placed it inside the envelope I had received from the Chairman.
“I returned to the voting room, and showed everyone that I had only one envelope in my hand.
And then came the holiest moment of my life.
“And then came the holiest moment of my life. A moment that my father did not live to see, nor did my grandfather. Only me, in this time, in this life, was honored with this sacred and pure moment. Praised be me, and praised be my portion. I made the “Shehechiyanu” blessing, and put the envelope in the ballot box.
“I shook the hand of the Chairman, the deputy Chairman, and all the other committee members, and left the room. I waited in the corridor for my wife, for she was second, and my brother who was third, and after him my brother-in-law who was fourth to vote, and at 06:28 we went home, and I went to pray. A great festive day.