The more things change…

by | Blog

 

After Israel’s most recent election, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—you may remember him—has ended Israel’s political deadlock in the opinion of Times of Israel blogger Sheldon Kirshner. Netanyahu and his coalition secured 64 of the Knesset’s 120 seats within an unprecedented, right-leaning coalition. “If Israel’s fifth election in a little more than three years was regarded by some Israelis as a kind of referendum on…Netanyahu’s fitness to govern the country,” Kirshner wrote, “this burning question has now been answered definitively.

“Netanyahu, who is currently on trial on criminal charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, roared back to power after 17 months in opposition. He defeated caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his rainbow coalition of centrists, rightists and leftists in the November 1 general election, pushing Israel still further to the right of the political spectrum.”

Netanyahu’s and his allies’ 8-seat majority amounts to a landslide compared to the results of the last few elections. A simple majority of 61 seats are required to form a government in Israel, but even that narrow margin has been hard to come by recently within Israel’s splintered electorate. It was done a bit differently this time. Only time will tell if the results will serve  Israel well. Netanyahu’s new government, according to Kirshner, “will be the most right-wing government since the early 1990s…” It appears that Netanyahu’s Likud party grabbed 32 seats, the Religious Zionists (who campaigned upon reforming Israel’s justice system, not an unpopular idea) won 14 seats; the ultra-Orthodox Shas party will hold 11 seats and United Torah Judaism, a Haredi, religious conservative political alliance, took seven.

Now we must ask, what might it mean?  Was Netanyahu’s victory truly a “spectacular comeback” as many have claimed? Perhaps, but there were no reports of widespread celebration when it became clear that Bibi would return to power. Perhaps we’re just tired. Even if we set aside Netanyahu’s legal problems, which many Israelis believe were politically motivated, his last days in office were uninspiring. Toward the end of Netanyahu’s last term, he and his wife Sara had begun to conduct themselves more like royalty than public servants. But those who replaced Netanyahu in the last election were perhaps even less inspiring.

A name many non-Israelis may not have recognized until his party’s stunning recent performance is that of Religious Zionist leader Itmar Ben-Gvir. In a recent Jerusalem Post article, Eliav Brewer called Ben-Gvir’s success “the story of the election… [H]is growing popularity has raised concerns that Israel’s democracy is at risk. Defense Minister Benny Ganz made Ben-Gvir the target of most of his attacks and warned what would happen if the firebrand right-winger—who has called to encourage Arabs to migrate from Israel—would win big in the election.”

Win big, Ben-Gvir has, and while Ganz’s fears may be justified, Ben-Gvir’s outspoken campaign against the recent, disturbing wave of domestic terrorism in Israel clearly struck a chord among the electorate. It also seems clear that Israelis did not overlook the past government’s handling of two crippling COVID shutdowns and their leadership’s mean-spirited and divisive attacks upon citizens who chose not to take the Pfizer vaccine, although it was Netanyahu who saw to it that Pfizer’s offering was the only made widely available in Israel during the crisis. Then there’s Iran and Ukraine… “In the Middle East, Iran understands that the Russian operation [in Ukraine] gives it a blank check to continue attacking countries throughout the region,” wrote Seth J. Frantzman in a February article for the Jerusalem Post. “This has potential repercussions for Israel. Jerusalem has always behaved as if it will have to face Iran alone, but the conflict in Ukraine is yet another message for the Middle East.”

Netanyahu’s anticipated new government faces a host of old problems. It may be that Israelis once again have turned to him and Likud in recognition of past accomplishments. Whatever the reason or reasons, Israel has given Netanyahu another chance, although as the head of a coalition that may prove unmanageable. It has been reported that President Herzog will hand Netanyahu a mandate to form a government today, November 13. We pray he will prove to be deserving.

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