Several weeks ago, I wrote about “The Speech,” where Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke before Congress and shared his thoughts about the potential deal with Iran. Well, this week, all I could think about was The Election.
On Tuesday, Israel held its national elections. Unlike in America, where we vote for individual candidates, in Israel they vote for a political party. Each party has a slate of candidates, ranked in order, and based on the percentage of vote, that party will receive XX number of seats in the Israeli Knesset (our Congress). There are 120 seats in the Knesset. No one party has ever received the majority of votes.
Going into the election, polls showed Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party falling while the Zionist Union party was in the lead. But, the polls were inaccurate. In the end, the Likud party had a surprising and larger than expected victory in the number of seats. The President of Israel (a largely ceremonial role) will now ask Netanyahu to form the next government and put together a coalition that will total at least 61 seats in the Knesset. Who is included and not included in the government, plus who receives what leadership Cabinet posts, will be of great interest in the days ahead.
Several notes about the election:
- 72.3% of eligible voters participated in the election – 5% greater than the 2013 election. (In comparison, the United States election in 2012 had a 57.5% turnout.)
- More women were elected to the Knesset than ever before – a total of 29.
- The various Israeli Arab parties combined efforts to become one party. In the end, they received the third highest number of seats in the Knesset with 13.
- Moreover, there are 16 Arabs in the new Knesset, including representatives in the Likud, Zionist Union, and Yisrael Beytenu parties.
- Israel is a full democracy where some 25 parties, with a range of platforms and issues, ran for office. Most, however, did not meet the electoral threshold to win any seats.
There are those who are happy with the election – and those disappointed. Interestingly, as has been noted in some areas of the press, from one standpoint, barely anything “happened” in this election. Almost identical numbers of voters stayed in the same camps as two years ago. The center-left block of parties that included Labor, Meretz and Tzipi Livni’s party went from 27 seats to 28 while the right-wing block that included HaBayit HaYehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, and Netanyahu’s Likud gained a single seat as well, moving from 43 seats to 44. The socio-economically-oriented center, composed in the last election of Yair Lapid’s extremely successful Yesh Atid and tiny Kadima was simply replaced by a more even distribution between Yesh Atid and Moshe Kahlon’s new Kulanu party. In both elections, this block won 21 seats. In fact, the only real change in block strength is among the Arab and ultraorthodox parties, with the latter losing five seats and the former parties gaining three.
Many questions remain…Who will be members of the coalition?...What does this mean for a potential peace process and two-state solution with the Palestinians, especially following strong language from Netanyahu the day before the election? Which, just yesterday, his message was “clarified” when he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, "I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change.”…What does this mean in regard to domestic issues like the cost of living and soaring housing prices in Israel, which the opposition was heavily focused on?... How about the proposed deal with Iran?...Will Israel work to build alliances with those Arab states that share Israel's concerns about Iran's nuclear aspirations?...And, what does this mean for the Israel-United States partnership, especially with the strained relationship between the two leaders of these countries?
Over the next few days and weeks, we will be watching as the new government is formed. At the end of the day, we must all acknowledge that Israel is a democracy and its citizens exercised their right to vote.
To change the subject and add a personal note, one week ago, former Cleveland Indians’ third baseman Al “Flip” Rosen, nicknamed the “Hebrew Hammer,” passed away. My great aunt was married to Al’s brother, Jerry, who lived in Orlando, Florida, where I grew up. Although I met Al only once, he was a special part of my life as a young boy.
In 1979, I wrote my 4th grade final book report on Al Rosen. At that time, I contacted him and he happened to be the President of the New York Yankees. He sent me a Yankees pennant stating their World Series wins in 1977 and 1978, a signed photo of himself, Reggie Jackson, and Thurman Munson (who died tragically several months later). For a 9 year old boy, this was HUGE. And for my bar mitzvah, Al was the then President of the Houston Astros and sent me a real signed baseball from the entire team, including Nolan Ryan. And, of course, I still have that ball (but, sadly, not the photos)!
I would be remiss if I did not thank the over 500 people who participated in Good Deeds Day last Sunday. Thank you to everyone and every Jewish organization who participated. Click here to see photos of our volunteers in action.
Finally, as we approach the holiday of Passover, please join our community in providing Passover food for those families who cannot afford the costs. The Jewish Federation, once again, is partnering with Congregation Kesser Israel and Jewish Family and Child Service on Passover 4All, a crowdsourcing effort to raise $5,000 by the end of today. For as little as $36 you can provide a family with food for the holiday. Please click here to join in this effort.
And do not forget about the myriad of Passover seders and activities available in our community – take the opportunity to participate.