What with Brexit and Boris, Brussels and bluster, British Jews may not have noticed Israelis are about to vote in a general election for the second time in five months. If that’s you, here is a quick Jewish News guide to next week’s ballot…
Q: Another election? Didn’t they just vote, in April?
A: They did. Netanyahu’s Likud tied in top spot with the new Blue and White Party led by three former IDF chiefs and an ex-journalist and TV presenter. Both won 35 of the 120 seats.
A majority of 61 is needed to govern, and Likud was more likely to win over smaller parties, from the right-wing secular, to the religious-nationalist, to the ultra-Orthodox, so Netanyahu was asked to form a government. He tried, but Avigdor Lieberman refused to sign up his five-seat Yisrael Beitenu without a promised end to the Charedi exemption from IDF service. Netanyahu couldn’t offer that and keep ultra-Orthodox partners happy, so it’s back to the polls.
Q: Has anything really changed since April?
A: There have been several mergers, so fewer parties will win more seats. The chareidi parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism), Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu and Blue and White are ‘as was’. Everyone else has merged. Likud has gobbled up Kulanu. Arab parties have united under a Joint List. Left-wing Meretz has joined forces former PM Ehud Barak and firebrand former Labour MK Stav Shaffir to form the Democratic Union.
Former centre-left powerhouse Labour (which won 52 seats this time 50 years ago, under Golda Meir) has merged with Gesher, having won just 4.4 percent of the vote in April. To the right, newly-merged Yamina is an amalgamation of three parties, led by Ayelet Shaked. This is the party of settlers. Third on its list is Bezalel Smotrich, who wants a “Torah justice system” and who calls LGBT Jews “beasts”.
Q: Will Bibi win?
Yes, he probably will. Despite the fact he may be jailed for corruption, fraud and breach of trust in the next 12 months, many Israelis can’t see anyone else as their PM. Besides, he’s a canny operator, and has been doing everything possible in recent days to firm up his right-wing support base. That included a war-warning to the “tyrants of Iran,” a nuclear threat presentation, a visit to Hebron (promising that there will always be Jews there), a reiteration of his threat to annex chunks of the West Bank, and PR visits to western capitals. He’s also been warning Jewish voters that Blue and White would govern with the Joint List, echoing his infamous 2015 Election Day warning that Arabs were “voting in droves”.
Q: Could there be a unity government?
A: It’s happened before, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. In April, Gantz and Lapid had to swear blind that they wouldn’t work with Netanyahu in order to get the “anyone but Bibi” vote. Now the honeymoon is over, they may see fit to rule with Likud. You can imagine that Netanyahu as prime minister, Lapid as foreign minister and Gantz as defence minister would work for all three, with Likud retaining the finance, justice and education ministries.
Q: So Likud could govern with Blue and White?
A: It’s possible, if Likud cannot mathematically govern without Lieberman, but then again you can imagine kingmaker Lieberman talking to Blue and White, given that both oppose the Charedi draft exemption. For Lieberman, it would be the ultimate two-fingered salute to his former boss. But then, there could be yet another election in a few months’ time as stalemate is a likely outcome.