Elections again: How did we get here? Pros and cons of the parties (Part 1)

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Ballots for Israeli elections, April 9, 2019 (Photo: Laliv G/Wikimedia Commons).

Elections are being held again, this week for the second time this year. Israelis voted in April but since no government was formed they head to the polls again on Sept. 17.

How does it work and why did the government fail to form?

The State of Israel has a parliamentary system of government where voters choose a party. Every party that gets at least 3.25 percent of the vote will receive seats in the Knesset. The party with the most votes usually is given a mandate by Israel’s president to form a majority government (61 Knesset members of the 120).

The party will begin contacting other parties and creating the terms of agreement, which will include awarding certain ministries in exchange for the agreement of who will be prime minister. Sometimes, the parties will also agree to push for certain legislation as well.

Following the elections in April, Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government with the rest of the parties. He received the support of every party on the right wing except for the center-right party Yisrael Beiteinu which refused to compromise on the issue of ultra-Orthodox serving in the IDF. Currently the ultra-Orthodox receive a religious exemption. In the end, Netanyahu did not receive the minimum 61 mandates, and his chief rivals, the Blue and White party, were likewise in no position to piece together a coalition.

So who should Messianic Jews and Christians vote for this time around?

The following is a explanation of the major political parties in this election and a description of the pros and cons of each one in terms of the issues Messianic Jews and Christians tend to care about.

The guide presents various political philosophies and priorities. It assumes that Messianic Jews and Christians want to see Israel continue as a Jewish state, live in peace and security and care about the rights of Messianic Jews to immigrate to and live in Israel.

Likud

This is the party of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His proponents state that he is responsible for a significant improvement in the quality of life in Israel since he took office in 2009. The main claim is that Israel has seen a vast improvement in its economy, security including a significant reduction in terrorism and is more respected by both its enemies and friends.

Netanyahu and Likud consider peace through strength to be a guiding dogma, and are also in favor of free markets. Netanyahu is seen by many to be the only person who is capable of both promoting and defending Israel on an international stage, and his relationship with world leaders, especially U.S. President Donald Trump, is seen as a major asset.

But Netanyahu has many critics on both the left and the right. First of all, there have been a few allegations recently that he has accepted bribes, and his main political rivals, the Blue and White Party, have pushed hard against him on this issue. Although the allegations have yet so be substantiated [the Attorney General has set a hearing on Oct. 2-3 to decide whether to formally indict] they are made more suspicious by the fact that members of Likud have pushed for a bill that would grant any sitting Knesset Member including the prime minister immunity while in office, so that they could not face criminal proceedings of any kind unless the majority of the Knesset votes to remove that immunity from the member.

On the left, many people feel that Netanyahu has directed racist comments towards Arabs and does not treat Arabs and Muslims as equal citizens. There is also the claim that Netanyahu alienates important allies, like the U.S. and United Nations.

On the right, the most common criticism of Netanyahu is that he has not gone far enough on security issues and the rights of Israel over disputed land. The prime minister’s inability to prevent Hamas from firing rockets at the residents of the South is seen as a major weakness, for example. Hamas has been firing rockets from Gaza periodically for the past several years. Even his biggest supporters cannot deny that Netanyahu has failed to stop Hamas. Also Netanyahu has not yet annexed many settlements in the West Bank, which many on the right feel should be done.

The split is not just between left and right, but between religious and secular. More specifically, there is a split between those who feel that the Orthodox Jewish interpretation of Torah (Jewish Law) should be actively promoted by the State of Israel, and those who feel that there should be a separation of synagogue and state. Netanyahu, in the past and for the foreseeable future, has allied himself with Orthodox-religious political parties that promote their version of Judaism in government law.

The things these religious parties have successfully accomplished for their constituents include preventing the ultra-Orthodox from having to serve in the IDF and allowing the ultra-Orthodox to receive money from the government to study Torah (many of them do not work at all, but live off government support). In addition, the Orthodox religious parties currently control the Ministry of the Interior (responsible for immigration), and also effectively control the rights of marriage and make secular marriages impossible in Israel. They would like to be able to outlaw stores opening and public transportation on Shabbat (the Sabbath i.e. Saturday), and there are many other examples where they actively push for Orthodox-Jewish law in the Government.

Pros and cons for Messianic Jews and Christians?

Many Messianic Jews and Christians will vote for Netanyahu, and many will do so because they perceive Netanyahu is the strongest candidate to lead Israel on the international stage. Those in favor of free market economics will also like him.

Those in favor of annexation of land may decide to support one of the other right-wing parties that are more vocal about their desire to push for a Greater Israel (taking the West Bank and other areas that were promised to the Jewish people in the Bible).

People who consider security the most important issue may vote for Netanyahu as potentially the strongest in this area, or at least the one with the best proven record. Others may prefer to go for any of the other candidates who have criticized Netanyahu on his handling of Hamas, although it is not clear who could do a better job.

The issue of his alliance with the ultra-Orthodox parties is a major weakness for Netanyahu in gaining the vote of Messianics and Christians. Those who consider this issue an existential threat to their religious freedom, and a threat to their right to live in Israel as Messianic Jews and Christians, may decide to go for a party that promotes freedom from religious coercion. Unfortunately, there are probably no parties that promote the rights of Messianic Jews that are not significantly socially liberal (for example Meretz party) which could be a deal breaker for Messianics and Christians.

People who want Netanyahu as the prime minister but feel that he is not strong enough on other issues could also decide to support other right wing parties, such as Yamina, who will certainly back Netanyahu as prime minister, but may be able to help steer the Knesset overall towards a more desirable conclusion.

Blue and White

The Blue and White party is an alliance party between Yesh Atid, Israel Resistance and Telem. The party is an attempt to create a “wide-tent” coalition that will be a centrist party. Yesh Atid, headed by Yair Lapid, is a left-leaning party which has in the past promoted a withdrawal from some of the settlements in the West Bank and is to the left on social and economic issues. Israel Resistance is a centrist party lead by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz which is right-wing when it comes to security issues but left-leaning when it comes to social and economic issues. Telem is a right-wing party that is headed by another former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, who previously was a member of Likud. It is right-wing when it comes to security and the settlements, but center or center-left socially and economically.

If the party is able to form a coalition, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid would share the prime minister position.

The three parties combine to form what is essentially a liberal-Zionist party. Moshe Ya’alon, prior to the formation of the party, best summed up the party’s mission in the Times of Israel: “It is possible to find a broad common camp for [a united front of] what I call a Zionist left, responsible right, and everything in between.”

Perhaps because of this broadness, many feel that the platform and message of Blue and White is unclear. For example, the party vows to maintain sovereignty over the current Israel settlements, yet some of their members, including Lapid, have recently spoken in favor of a “separation-agreement,” and previous plans of this nature from Lapid did include withdrawing from settlements.

Gantz has promised he will fight Hamas stronger than Netanyahu has. He was the IDF Chief of Staff during Operation Protective Edge where he led a bombing campaign of Gaza. He released a campaign ad claiming that his handling of Gaza lead to three and a half years of quiet. The ad was controversial because in it he talks about parts of Gaza being sent back to the “stone age,” a statement many felt went too far.

The party has also promised to push back against the Orthodox religious parties. Blue and White believes that the Orthodox must serve in the IDF and that marriage should not be controlled by an ultra-Orthodox rabbinate, but should be a civil institution. Currently many secular Israeli Jews fly to Cyprus or other countries overseas in order to get married, due to the restrictions placed upon marriage amongst Jews in Israel. The party has also promoted public transportation on Shabbat. The party’s guiding philosophy is that the laws of Israel should not be based on religion.

Economically, the party supports heavy government involvement and hasn’t proposed many economic proposals. Yesh Atid on the other hand has been very descriptive in their economic agenda, does support heavy government involvement or increased spending key areas such as education, crime enforcement, and transportation and supports a minimum-wage increase.

The party leaders have been very clear and unified in one key area: to oust Netanyahu as prime minister. They criticize him from both from the left and the right, saying on one side he is too pushy on the international stage and from the other side he is too weak to handle Gaza. They have also promoted a bill to limit prime ministers to two terms in office.

Pros and cons for Messianic Jews and Christians?

The Blue and White Party has the same appeal for some Messianics and Christians that it does for its other constituents — it is a party comprised of left, right and center. That is meant to appeals to everybody except the ultra-Orthodox.

They support religious freedoms, but are not nearly as left wing on issues of the annexation of land and on security as most of the parties on the left. People who want to push back against the Orthodox parties but don’t want to sacrifice peace and security may want to consider this party. However, the main issue probably comes down to who people feel is best to lead the country – Netanyahu or Gantz. Netanyahu is well known, whereas it remains unclear what Gantz believes. However, it is possible that Gantz would do more to defeat Hamas and restore quiet to southern Israel.

The final factor to consider is that the Blue and White party will most likely be able to form a coalition with only left-wing parties and perhaps Yisrael Beiteinu as well. On one hand, the religious parties will not control marriage and immigration, but it could also mean a shift to the left both economically and socially, which could be concerning for many Messianics and Christians.

Click here to read part 2.