What is Happening in the Israeli Elections?

December 5, 2019
Rachel Rosin

Cherry Hill, New Jersey, United States

Class of 2022

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Israel is a parliamentary democracy where the Prime Minister possesses the highest authority. Under this system, elections are based on proportional representation. Political parties must obtain seats in the Israeli parliament, Knesset, based on the number of votes in an election. The Knesset includes 120 representatives, who are known as Members of Knesset (MKs). To secure the position of Prime Minister, one must be elected by the political party that wins a majority of representatives in the parliament. The prime minister must have the support of at least 61 MKs to form a government. Never in the history of Israel has there been a political party that won 61 seats in an election. As a result, political parties were left with no other option than to form coalitions to get the majority needed to appoint a prime minister.

The Knesset elects a president who holds minimal power. The president's purpose is to guide political parties in forming coalitions. This results in Israeli voters focus on political parties instead of specific candidates. The most prominent parliamentary parties are Likud and Blue & White. Any Israeli citizens 18 or older has voting rights. Israeli's vote once during elections for the party they support. They do so on paper ballots. 

Israelis went to the polls in April of this year. The Conservative parties won well over 60 MKs. The Likud party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu won more seats than any other conservative party.

It was anticipated that a coalition of conservative parties led by Netanyahu would lead the next government. Instead, a dispute broke out between potential coalition partners.

Avigdor Lieberman, the current head of a political party named Yisrael Beitenu, advocated for a draft law that would abolish the exemption of Yeshiva students from serving in the military. This resulted in the alienation of the religious Haredi parties, which Netanyahu needed to form a coalition. Because Netanyahu did not have the support of both Yisrael Beitenu and the Haredi parties, he was unable to put together a conservative coalition with the majority of MKs, or 61 seats.  

The party Blue and White was the liberal party that gained the most votes. Benny Gantz is the current leader of Blue and White. He has refused to be a part of a coalition with Likud, the party Netenyahu is chairman of, because they are led by Netanyahu. The result was a bill passed by the Knesset to dissolve itself and force a snap second election. This election was held on September 17, 2019, and resulted in another deadlock. Although Blue and White won one seat more than Likud, the conservative parties still won more seats than the Liberal parties. Conservative parties total more than 60 MKs but are unable to form a coalition due to disagreement over the draft law issue. Liberal parties total less than 60 MKs and therefore can not form a coalition.    

Furthermore, 13 of the Liberal MKs form a coalition called the Joint List. This is a coalition of Arab majority parties that harbor views that are hostile to Israel, further complicating Benny Gantz’s effort to form a coalition of Liberal parties.  

The two largest political parties, Likud lead by Netanyahu, and Blue and White led by Gantz have a combined total of over 60 MKs. Netanyahu has publicly expressed a willingness to discuss forming a coalition with Blue and White, while Gantz has publicly stated that he refuses to consider Likud as a coalition partner. This is because Netanyahu is the Chairman of Likud. After a second election, there still appears to be no end to the stalemate. If a compromise cannot be reached, Israeli’s will soon be headed to the polls for a third snap election. It is unlikely that this third election will yield a majority, and therefore it is unlikely the stalemate will end. 

Rachel Rosin is a BBG from South Jersey Region whose favorite sport is swimming.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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