Political Earthquake in Israel
THE AVENGERS! NETANYAHU AND MOFAZ JOIN FORCES
I am committed to keeping this blog short! It’ll be tough given the content, but I’ll try.
Over the past few weeks there has been a massive earthquake in the Israeli political scene. And in the upcoming June issue of theMaoz Israel Report, Shira Sorko-Ram has written an outstanding article that will go much further in depth on this topic. However, before I tell you more details, you have understand the Israeli parliamentary system—which is not like the U.S. or even the UK.
Let’s do bullets…
There are 120 seats in the Knesset (Parliament).
A government must consist of at least 61 seats—a simply majority.
After elections, whichever party has the best chance of building a coalition is given the opportunity to do so… usually the party that wins the most seats (however in this last election, even though Likud (Netanyahu) came in second to Kadima (Tzipi Livni), Likud was summoned to form a government because Kadima had no chance of building a coalition.
With between 10 and 15 parties represented in the Knesset (presently 12), the party seeking to build a coalition will often have to make huge concessions and back room deals (often centered on promises of position to party leaders… which leads to inept people in positions of power for which they have no experience… as when a former union boss was made defense minister.).
Okay… so you’re getting a feel for how things work (or don’t work) here in Israel. Netanyahu has been leading a coalition government for three years with Kadima playing the role of the opposition. As Netanyahu felt he needed a new mandate from the people in order to move his agenda forward, he called for early elections. However in a stunning turn of events, after a marathon meeting with new Kadima head Shaul Mofaz, Israel now has the 3rd largest coalition government in Israel’s history—thanks to Netanyahu’s political savvy.
Israelis chuckle as Mofaz said when running to replace Tzipi Livni as party head: “Listen carefully: I won’t enter Bibi’s [Netanyahu’s] government. Not today. Not tomorrow and not after I lead Kadima on March 28th. This is a bad, failed and insensitive government and Kadima under my leadership will replace it in the next elections. Is this clear enough?”… And somehow Mofaz and Netanyahu are suddenly joined at the hip, as he has now united with his nemesis. Instead of publicly calling him a liar, they walk through the Knesset arm in arm. With the addition of Kadima’s 29 seats, their coalition presently stands at 94 seats—over 75% of the Knesset.
The timing for this is very good for Israelis because the Supreme Court of Israel just declared unconstitutional the law that exempts Orthodox Jews from serving in the army. Let me explain… back to bullets…
In the early years of Israel’s existence, then Prime Minister David ben Gurion made an agreement with the ultra orthodox that a few hundred of their top scholars could focus on Torah studies instead of being drafted into the Army, like every other young man.
This number morphed over time to a staggering 65,000 religious young men not serving in the IDF!
So, while the children of other Israelis must serve in the IDF, delaying their studies for two to three years, not to mention risking their very lives, these Yeshiva (place where Jewish boys study Torah) students not only don’t serve, but often never become a member of the Israeli workforce, living on charity and welfare.
The orthodox believe that their act of constant study brings favor on the country and is the reason for our survival.
However, a country of 7,000,000 cannot and should not provide welfare for 65,000 men and their families who don’t work or serve the country.
Okay… now you are wondering… why do Israelis put up with this? Bullets…
Often the last parties to agree to join a coalition are the orthodox parties.
All three parties total 20 seats (currently).
Without all or some of them, it can make it impossible to form a governing coalition.
Therefore, the leading parties are blackmailed into making huge concessions and promising millions of shekels to their outrageous welfare programs.
This puts a massive, unnecessary weight on our economy.
But often, without them, one cannot form a coalition.
However now that Netanyahu has a super majority and the Supreme Court has given him until July 31st to come up with a new law concerning the orthodox and the military, he has a rare opportunity to do what is right, without fear of losing the religious parties. They could all leave and he would still have 74 seats—a healthy coalition! It doesn’t mean he has the courage to do it. In fact, Yair Lapid, former journalist-turned-politician claims Netanyahu has already made a deal with Eli Yishai, leader of the largest religious party Shas, not to make drastic changes.
If Netanyahu caves into orthodox pressure, which should be non-existent, he will lose the trust of many hardworking Israelis who are tired of carrying the religious on their backs, as they drain the economy.
Other issues that Netanyahu will face with his super coalition are:
Presenting a united front on Iran. No longer can the world say that it is just a right wing Israeli government ready to attack Iran, as we now have a centrist coalition.
Social Justice: The Middle Class in Israel is disappearing and they are demanding changes within this system to break up monopolies and level the playing field. Homeownership is nearly impossible unless you have lots of cash on hand.
Passing a national budget. Again, Netanyahu has a rare chance to cut funding to orthodox welfare programs.
Changing the electoral system, to make it more difficult for smaller parties to manipulate the will of the people.
And he plans to reignite the stalled peace process—a condition that Mofaz stipulated in order to enter the government.
These next few months will reveal whether or not Bibi has the will to become one of Israel’s greatest Prime Ministers or just another in a long line of men seeking to stay in power. It is worthy of our prayers.