My colleague, Chaim Goldberg, wrote a great article on the Israeli elections, so I will keep this brief. Last week’s elections were the most exciting I have witnessed since moving here 10 years ago…
NETANYAHU LOSES BIG!
Netanyahu was projected to win 45 (out of 120) Knesset seats and ended up with just 31. Newcomer to politics, Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party stunned the whole country by winning 19 seats, making him the second most powerful voice in the country. Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu loyalist, and leader of the Baet Yehudi (Jewish Home) party came away with 12.
It is believed that those two parties took away votes from Likud. Even many who consider themselves fans of Netanyahu voted for Bennett or Lapid. Why?
THE STRATEGY OF VOTING IN ISRAEL
As most people assumed, Netanyahu came away with the most votes. And most Israelis approve of the way he has handled Israel’s security. However on several key domestic issues he has let down the people. So, with the assumption that he would win, they voted for those champion domestic issues, hoping to influence the next government. What are those issues?
UNITY WITH SHAS
Shas is the ultra-religious party that usually gets control over the Interior Ministry if they are part of the government. This means that not only can they discriminate against Messianic Jews, but they decide how Jewish is Jewish enough. They do not recognize conservative or reform Judaism and will not allow non-Jews to be married in Israel. That would even include an Israeli whose father is Jewish, but mother is not.
Most Israelis see this as a disgrace. But too often, in order to form a government, the smaller party is included to get the coalition over the 61-seat threshold. In addition, most of the ultra-Orthodox don’t serve in the army and a large percentage don’t work—but live on taxpayer welfare in order to study all day.
Both Lapid and Bennett strongly feel that Orthodox Jews must also enter the military draft. This made both candidates, despite the fact that Bennett himself, is Orthodox (although not ultra), very attractive. Bennett was attacked the other day by ultra-Orthodox teens at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. One of them shouted, “You want to draft our children to the army. Mothers are crying at night,” and “Let me study Torah. Don’t force me to go to the army, you’re inciting sin.”
What the naïve teen fails to realize is that all the mothers of those Israelis who do serve are already crying at night as our soldiers protect him, and that he can’t “study Torah” all day, unless someone pays the bill. They act as if this is a right, and others should work so they can learn.
Lapid has declared in the past that he would not join a government with Shas. So, unless Lapid backs down on this—which would alienate him from his base before he was even sworn in—Bibi will most likely have to send Shas packing.
THE SUFFERING MIDDLE CLASS
A year and a half ago, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest high prices, low salaries and the near impossibility for young couples to buy a home. It was revealed that a small group of less than 20 families have controlling interests in over 80% of Israel’s major companies. In addition, producers were accused of price fixing. Bibi promised change but nothing has.
The fact that Israel’s economy has to support the massive welfare program of the ultra-Orthodox further strains the Israeli economy. Lapid and Bennett have both promised to champion the middle class, put an end to the monopolies and force all Israelis to work.
WHAT WILL THE GOVERNMENT LOOK LIKE?
Western news outlets report that Bibi’s big loss was because of his hawkish views on Iran and the Palestinians. However, most Israelis approve of his handling of security. The next government will hopefully continue to impose pressure on Iran and refuse to build terrorist states on our border, but also:
Put and end to the Orthodox exemption on serving in the Army.
Stop giving welfare to able-bodied men who can work, but prefer to study.
Crush the monopolies.
Stop price fixing.
Make it easier to get a mortgage.
These are the things that middle-Israel cares about.