As you may have seen in the news, the governing coalition in Israel has decided to dissolve the Knesset and call for new elections. Americans sometimes have a hard time understanding the way the system works in Israel because it is so different than the one we have in the United States. It’s similar to the system in the UK, Canada, Australia and some other countries that were once part of the British Empire, where the Prime Minister is (generally) the leader of the largest party in the Parliament. The key difference is that in Israel one votes for a party list rather than their local representative and the result is that instead of two, three, or four parties being represented in the Knesset, there are generally at least ten. In the current Knesset there are 13 parties represented and therefore putting together a coalition with at least 61 members is a complicated task. The current government coalition headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid originally consisted of 7 parties and 61 members, but defections from parties within the coalition have eliminated its majority and Bennett and Lapid decided to dissolve the Knesset and call for new elections.
Under the agreement which created the coalition, Bennett will be replaced as Prime Minister by Lapid in a “caretaker” capacity until elections are held and a new government formed. The elections will be in late October but it’s not at all clear that the new elections (the fifth in as many years) will be any more conclusive than the ones which came before. If no one is able to put together a government after the next round of elections, Lapid will continue as caretaker Prime Minister indefinitely.
In a sense the current government was felled by its own internal contradictions. Bennett’s party, Yamina (Rightward) is a right wing party that agrees with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on most issues (indeed Bennett first came into politics as Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff.) They primarily disagree with Netanyahu’s Likud over Netanyahu himself -- they feel he is corrupt and untrustworthy and will not sit in a government with him as Prime Minister. The current coalition includes Yesh Atid and Blue and White which are fairly centrist parties; Labor and Meretz which are left of center; and most significantly Ra’am which is an Arab Israeli Islamist party. The inclusion of Ra’am was extremely significant because there is an inherent tension between Israel’s desire to be a Jewish state and its desire to be a state of all its citizens. Ra’am decided to play the same role for its constituents that the Haredi parties have historically played; accept the status quo for what it is and attempt to get as many benefits as possible for your sector while working within the system.
But it was an odd coalition that in American terms might be as if it were a government headed by President Mitt Romney with Chuck Schumer as his simultaneous Vice President and Secretary of State, supported by AOC, Louie Gohmert, and a smattering of Farrakhan followers. It’s not an exact parallel but you get the picture. The big wild card for the next elections remains Netanyahu -- will he step down from his role as leader of the Likud or possibly even be convicted in his corruption trial? If Netanyahu steps down it is likely that a right-of-center government could be formed but a lot can happen between now and late October.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, 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