By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the Israeli elections vindicated my gloom. Contrary to the predictions by pollsters, Likud did considerably better than the Zionist Union. Likud’s leader Binyamin Netanyahu is likely to form the next government celebrating almost unprecedented political longevity in Israeli politics.
To spell out again the bad news would require much more than one page. Hence this attempt to identify good news, even when it’s not uniformly good.
- Meretz got in, albeit only just. Though I regret that its leader has already called on Isaac Herzog, the head of the Zionist Union, not to join Netanyahu’s government, which I still believe would be the best hope under the circumstances and avert a rabidly right-wing political leadership.
- Eli Yishai’s Yachad party didn’t get in. It split Shas and reduced the number of Knesset members who identify with ultra-Orthodoxy. But Shas will probably join the government together with the other ultra-Orthodox party, Yahadut Hatorah. Both will extract new concessions, including the cancellation of the law that now demands army or community service by young men from the yeshiva world.
- Habayit Hayehudi lost many seats even as its leader Naftali Bennett boasted of great victory for the right wing. He’ll most certainly play an important part in the government making sure that the prime minister keeps his pre-election promise to work against the establishment of a Palestinian state.
- Avigdor Lieberman’s plan to be Israel’s next minister of defense won’t materialize. Contrary to the predictions by pollsters, he told the media that his party Yisrael Beiteinu would gain more than ten seats. It only got six. However, he too may end up in the Netanyahu government, albeit as a minor player.
- The Arab parties did well, though not as well as they could have done had more Arab citizens bothered to vote. Though there’re differences between its components they’d all support Herzog over Netanyahu, but they won’t sit in any government.
- In his triumphant speech after the results were coming through, Netanyahu said that this time he’s going to deal with the economic and social issues that Herzog’s campaign stressed. This will happen not in order to please the Zionist Union but to attract the new kid on the block, Kulanu under the leadership of Moshe Kahlon. Already before the elections Netanyahu promised Kahlon the finance portfolio. Though the latter played coy at the time, he’s most likely to join the right-wing government as he himself is a former member of Likud yet more anxious to deal with social inequalities in Israeli society than with matters of defense, which is Netanyahu’s winning formula.
It’ll no doubt take time before the next government is actually formed. The president will now consult with party leaders and ask whom they recommend for prime minister. This will be followed by intense horse trading before coalition agreements are actually signed. But the outcome seems clear: more of the same, perhaps with little extra emphasis on dealing with the social inequalities in Israeli society.
The major issues will continue to worry us: the danger of a nuclear Iran; the danger of unstable governments on Israel’s borders; the danger of ISIS and other forms of terrorism; the danger of continued occupation, etc. etc. etc.