[Israel 101] Netanyahu wins again in the complicated world of Israeli elections

Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to win re-election as Israel’s prime minister, making this his fifth term. Spanning the course of 10 years, he is now the longest-running prime minister in the country’s history.

To comprehend just how he managed to do this, it’s worthwhile to understand the complex Israeli electoral system and how it works. Elections are based on nationwide proportional party representation. This means that even if one person (or party) gets a large number of votes from the Israeli public, unless he can form a coalition of those proportional representative parties, he will not be able to hold office.

All parties must succeed in crossing a 3.25 percent threshold of votes in order to be represented in the Knesset (Israeli parliament). As a party gains more seats, they become a coveted bloc sought after to be part of the prime minister’s coalition. And the smaller parties can sometimes wield greater power since they can give the prime minister the minimum of 61 Knesset members he needs in order to rule.

In yesterday’s elections, the two main candidates – Netanyahu of the more right-wing Likud Party and Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Party – were actually tied into the wee hours of the morning with 35 seats each. But the determining factor as to who was the front runner was based on which of the blocs had the greatest proportional votes. In the end, the right-wing and religious parties dominated and received the vast majority which gave Netanyahu a clear edge of 65 mandates (as of Wednesday evening) even though he was personally tied in a dead heat with Gantz.

Gantz’s side only garnered 55 mandates. Essentially, this created a difference of just a few thousand votes, and, as of this writing, the votes of Israeli soldiers were still being counted and could change the trajectory if any smaller parties end up getting a seat at the table.

You might be interested to know how this relates to the Israeli body of believers. First, two of the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, received eight seats each. It is, therefore, likely that Shas will continue to hold the Interior Ministry portfolio as it has for many years. As a result of its strong hold on this office, Shas has prevented Messianic Jews from immigrating to Israel. 

Second, these two parties, along with their 16 seats, will have a great deal of influence on critical issues such as the rabbinic monopoly on marriage, military exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, strict Sabbath observance and other viewpoints that fail to recognize pluralistic values or positions.

Not only would nothing change, but there is now a greater Orthodox influence which, despite the secular Israeli majority, will unilaterally decide the direction of daily decisions for the population.

In some ways, it is ironic how a secular majority is unable to change the status quo, but one explanation is that the majority of Israel’s secular are right of center and highly traditional.  Yet, within those secular numbers, there is also a sizable gay community and a growing trend within recent years of young couples opting out of traditional marriage and living together. The political make-up of those two groups alone is extremely antagonistic of an ultra-Orthodox-Likud/Netanyahu-run government. Many of them, numbering into the tens of thousands, take to the streets on a fairly regular basis to protest their great displeasure with present government policies, so it is, sometimes, incomprehensible how a very right-wing, religiously extreme government has remained in power for over 10 years.

Of course, as an ongoing criminal investigation looms heavily over Netanyahu, it’s entirely possible that he would not succeed in serving out his full term. While many believe that he is captive to all these religious and right-wing parties, it could be that, if he is convicted, the smaller parties would no longer be able to retain the coalition and their influence on the next Israeli prime minister. So, much depends on the outcome of this investigation and how badly it wounds Bibi. Although the election results are not yet finalized, we continue to pray for the best interests of our country from a standpoint of security, freedom of religion, thriving economy and, most importantly, for God’s purposes and plan of world redemption to be realized.