As you certainly know, Israel held elections for the Knesset on Tuesday. Pre-election polls predicted that neither the “Center-Left” bloc headed by acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid nor the “Right Wing-Orthodox” bloc headed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would gain the 61 seats needed to form a governing majority and the result would be a deadlock and another election in a few months. In the end, this prediction was wrong and while the full allocation of seats may change slightly, Netanyahu’s bloc wound up with approximately 65 seats. Lapid has conceded and once the new Knesset is sworn in and coalition negotiations concluded, Netanyahu will once again be Prime Minister.
One aspect of this result that has not received a lot of attention in the American press, even in Jewish publications, is how this happened. In fact, both blocs overall received roughly the same amount of votes -- the parties supporting Netanyahu received about 4,000 more votes than those supporting Lapid. So why did Netanyahu’s bloc get so many more seats?
You probably know that in Israel one does not vote directly for the Prime Minister nor does one vote for their own representative in the Knesset. You vote for a party list which has its candidates in rank order. A party which gets ten percent of the vote would thus get 12 seats in the 120-member Knesset, and the first 12 names on that list are now Knesset members.
However, in order to prevent the proliferation of tiny and one-issue parties, there is an electoral threshold which is required for a party to gain entrance to the Knesset. That threshold has varied at different times but is now at 3.25 percent. This means that if a party gets less than 3.25 percent it gets no seats and the votes it received are, in essence, wasted. Parties which are fairly close to each other in ideology will often create a joint list in order to prevent this from happening.
Labor and Meretz are two parties which share roots in the historic Labor Zionist and kibbutz movement. Many supporters of both parties urged them to run a joint list to prevent one or both from falling below the threshold, but Labor leader Meirav Michaeli refused to allow a joint list with Meretz. In the end Labor just squeaked through while Meretz got 3.14 percent and missed the threshold. In the Arab sector, a nationalist party called Balad split off at the last minute from the Joint Arab List and also fell below the threshold. Had Labor and Meretz run together, and Balad stayed within the Joint Arab List, the result would have been another electoral tie.
As Josh Marshall wrote in Talking Points Memo, which he edits: “party leaders do need to be able to put national interests above narrower, more parochial interests. In this case, that didn’t happen. And Netanyahu is the beneficiary.”
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian