A Travellerspoint blog

The Election

It's Complicated

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View Israel and Jordan on paulej4's travel map.

This is wedding day. As we spend the day in anticipation of the evening, after lunch we happen to pass by the happy couple getting pre-wedding photographs taken. Here is your unauthorized peek:



B4 has a "girl's lunch" with Aya along with a visit to her Tel Aviv store. While they gaggle, I again walk beside the sea but this time a few miles to the north, past the "downtown" Sde Dov Airport. On the Mediterranean side of the single runway is a sign that tells me it is in a tsunami zone. The sign is also of interest in another way. Most information signs here are in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic & English. It makes for some pretty busy signage.


This particular sign offers up less information in English than it does in the two local languages; I wonder what I am missing. We are flying to Eilat tomorrow aboard Arkia-Israeli Airlines on an aircraft such as this one which was landing as I passed by. I look but do not see a terminal or jetways. I think the airport experience tomorrow afternoon will be interesting. BUT, before we get to the wedding and to pass the time, just in case you have questions about the parliamentary elections here held just five weeks ago; I have answers. The short answer, as always: “It’s complicated.”

In the U.S. we mostly heard that U.S. President Donald J. Trump favorite Benjamin Netanyahu, who came out on top, was running neck and neck against his opponent, Benny Gantz.

But Israeli voters did’t vote for individual candidates to fill the 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, which, in turn, elected the Prime Minister. Instead, they voted for parties to fill the Knesset seats. Those 120 seats were divided proportionally based on the percentage of the total vote garnered by each political party but only as long as it received at least 3.25 percent of the total number of votes cast.

There are many parties. Smaller parties that failed to receive at least that many votes found that they were essentially thrown out because they got no seats. That raised the power of the votes cast for the other parties.

Current Prime Minister Netanyahu is the leader of the right-wing Likud Party. Likud received more than one million votes (29.2%) and was awarded 35 seats outright. General Benny Gantz is the leader of the left-leaning Blue and White Party. Blue and White also received 29.2% of the vote and was also awarded 35 seats outright. So, 70 seats were immediately both won and aligned.

But nine smaller parties won the remaining 50 votes.

At least 61 seats were needed to form a government. Where would Likud or Blue and White find those other 36 needed seats? They must form coalitions with other similarly like-minded parties. Likud would appeal to right-wingers while Blue and White would appeal to left-wingers. Who might they be?

Both the Shas Party (mostly ultra-Ordhodox Sephardic Israelis from the Middle East and North Africa origin--right) and the United Torah Judaism Party (mostly ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi Israelis of European origin--right) each got 6.7% of the vote and won 8 seats each. They think more like Likud except that they also support increased budgets for religious institutions, Orthodox monopoly over marriage and divorce, and restricting public work (like street or railway repairs on the Sabbath). That added up to 51 on the right.

The Hadash – Ta’al Party (left) and the Israeli Labor Party (left) each won 5% of the vote for 6 seats each. They think more like Blue and White (which itself was made up of three smaller parties: the Israel Resistance, the Yesh Atid and a spinoff from Likud). That made 47 on the left.

Next came the Israeli Labor Party with 5% of the vote garnering 6 seats. Those go left so the Blue and White total climbed to 53; ahead of Likud’s 51 by two.

But, the United Right Party (clearly right) and the Yisrael Beiteinu Party (right) both won 4.2% of the vote and got 4 seats each. The right climbed to 59 and was ahead by six but two shy of the needed 61.

Then came the Kulanu Party (center-right) and the Meretz Party (left) and the Ra’am – Balad Parties (left), each barely squeeking in with 3.3% of the vote with each getting 4 seats. That tipped the scale: 59 plus 4 is 63 on the right while 53 plus 4 is only 57 on the left. The right’s 63 tipped the scale. So Gantz, with only 57 seats in his bloc, conceded. Did you get all that?

The remaining parties (Gesher, Magen, New Right, Zehut and “others”) didn’t reach the 3.25 per cent minimum vote threshold and were shut out—even if just barely. Their votes, like Green or Libertarian voters in the U.S., were “wasted.”

And you thought the United States’ Electoral College was complicated and divided the votes in a way that didn’t easily achieve comprehension.

Then, to make it even more confusing, all of the above then caused Israel’s primarily ceremonial President Reuven Rivlin (a member of Likud) to look at all of those probable left and right votes and then approve the Likud Party and Netanyahu to begin to formally attempt to form a coalition government. They had 42 days to get that done. That window actually expired just days ago but they got it done.

It was possible that Likud and Blue and White could have come together to form a “Unity” government but they didn’t. Gantz said early on that he would have no part of that.

What about the Arab citizens of Israel? They represent almost a fifth of the total population (5.8 million) and they have the right to vote. They could have been kingmakers. But, they have never joined a coalition and about 75% of them boycotted the election assuring themselves of having no voice whatsoever. However, it is also reported that a company called Kaizler Inbar placed observers and cameras in Arab polling stations and even said this on Facebook: “Thanks to us placing observers in every polling station, we managed to lower the voter turnout to under 50 percent, the lowest in recent years.”

And, what about the Palestinians who live in the “occupied territories?” They are not Israeli citizens so they—all 4.75 million of them—cannot vote.

This is just the tip of the Israeli iceberg. There are more complications to report but I figured that this was enough to validate the opening thesis: “It’s complicated.”

One more thing: six weeks prior to the election The New York Times reported that Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, announced that he planned to bring an indictment against Netanyahu on charges ranging from bribery to fraud to “breach of trust.” Netanyahu denied any wrongdoing. If those charges are ultimately brought, Netanyahu would be the first sitting Israeli prime minister to face criminal charges. Just under a week ago, Netanyahu loyalists introduced a law to grant all 160 Knesset members "immunity" from crimes allegedly committed during their tenure or before they won their office. The only exception to that would be if a house committee and then the wider body waived their immunity. Another proposed law bars the Israeli Supreme Court from overruling a Knesset passed law.

And one more final thing: two days after the election, Yair Lapid, Mr. Gantz’s Blue & White party partner, said to Likud and Mr. Netanyahu, “We are going to make your lives miserable. We will turn the Knesset into a field of battle. And we will do one more thing: We will show the citizens of Israel how a real, true alternative looks.”

“It’s Complicated.”

We, dressed in black tie and our finest packable frock, board busses for the half-hour ride to the wedding venue: Baya'ar Derech HaRakevet, Hadera, "located on one of the few and most beautiful nature reserves along Israel's Mediterranean coast." I will write about the marriage ceremony of Regina Radusky and Jason Yakubovich, the reason we came to Israel, in the next post.

Posted by paulej4 22:50 Archived in Israel

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Great description of the politics. In earlier posts you give a vivid description of a very complicated place.

by Allan Katz

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