On the March 23, Israel will head back to the voting booth for our fourth parliamentary election within the span of two years. Wow! How about that? Lord, have mercy on us! In this article, I would like to help you understand five of the many major players in the political landscape of Israel. But before we begin, let me explain, in brief, my take on a believer’s duty in politics.
Today, like never before, our countries need leaders with a strong moral character to serve the people despite corruption and greed existing in society. After years of studying the Bible, I have come to conclusion that God gave the people the right and power to choose their leaders. However, the Bible tells us not only about the role of the people in the election of authorities, but also that the government receives its power from the people and is accountable to them (for further discussion please take a look at my book Influence. When choosing political leaders, we have to assess not just their character but also their lives, thus becoming responsible citizens of the country we have ties to.
I strongly believe that every believer is called to be a law-abiding citizen and participate in politics. We need to keep up-to-date on developments in our country and participate in public governance. We need to vote during elections and constantly pray for our government, “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:2-3).
THE KNESSET ELECTIONS 2021
On December 23, 2020 the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) failed to approve the 2020 State budget by the required deadline. Because of that, the government coalition collapsed, the Knesset was officially dissolved and the date for elections to the 24th Knesset was automatically set for March 23, 2021.
Israel has an electoral system based on nation-wide proportional representation. In the upcoming election 39 political parties registered their candidate lists for the March 23 elections. However, a political party must receive at least 3.25% of the votes in order to gain a seat [one seat] in the Knesset. Once the elections end, the process of building a coalition begins. Israel has never had a single-party government. Government always consist of a group of parties that together have more than 61 seats in the Knesset in order to have a majority that could support the government and pass legislation. The head of the biggest party in the coalition will become the prime minister, if he will be able to successfully come to an agreement by building the coalition. Here is the list of some major players of the upcoming elections.
THE CURRENT BIG PLAYERS
Likud – Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi), leader (71 years old). Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister who is known for his verbal tactical skills and ability to present himself as the only qualified leader of the country. He has been serving consecutive terms as prime minister since 2009 in addition to his first term from 1996 to 1999. His party has a strong support system from its voters. Some of the latest polls give Likud between 25-30 seats in the next Knesset. It is important to notice that other leaders of other political parties publicly reject seating in coalition lead by Netanyahu. His primer partners for coalition are different political parties of the religious Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects. Traditionally Likud and other political parties has favored Religious coalition partners – not just Bibi.
Some of you might be unaware that in Israel lives more than 1 million religious Jews and most of them belong to different thought groups within Judaism. The Judaism of today has fragmented into a series of separate denominations with competing ideologies and theological views. The leading group in Israel is Ultra-Orthodox, or “Haredim.” They are Israel’s fastest-growing group, but they are also the country’s poorest population, with 45 percent living below the poverty line in insular communities.
You need to understand that the Ultra-Orthodox communities live in their own neighborhoods, most are not serving in the IDF (Israel’s military forces), most are not working like the rest of Israel. They receive monthly welfare and in reality, don’t want to recognize governmental authority except their leaders, the Rabbis and live their own circle of society. It is a country within the country of which its citizens are living according their own laws and a majority of them fence off, removed from the rest [mainstream] of society. They believe what really matters is to study of their religious books and keeping the traditions. But when it comes to elections, they vote 100% for their candidates.
Haredi parties consistently lend their support to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party. As a result of these political games (and to our shame, I believe) and their acceptance in coalitions, Netanyahu has given to them, over and over, key political positions and ministries to govern over. Not only that, but because their leaders are in these key positions, government funds are a staple of support for these communities. The two most powerful Haredi parties are Shas and United Torah Judaism continually entering Netanyahu’s coalitions. The Haredi society is Netanyahu’s most important political base.
On one hand, Bibi is a powerful speaker that strongly represents Israel in the international arena but has not been sufficient in establishing a sustainable atmosphere for growth for individual Israelis live. He was not able to rise up a successor from among the committed followers of Likud who can lead the party after him, as a leader should do. Currently, there is no atmosphere of trust within the Likud party and often members are accusing and slandering each other.
Netanyahu was indicted last year for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. For the last months, Israelis have held almost daily protests calling on him to resign over the charges and criticizing his government’s response to the coronavirus crisis. The Likud party is still the biggest one in the Israel political arena however, in these elections Netanyahu faces a new and potent threat from a former member of Likud, Gideon Saar.
New Hope – Gideon Saar, leader (55 years old). He was a Likud MP (Minister of Parliament) who quit the party a few months ago and announced the formation of his “New Hope” party. Saar is a very familiar figure in Israeli politics and he holds strongly to a right-wing ideology. When Netanyahu served his first term as prime minister in 1999, he made Saar his cabinet secretary. Saar was first elected to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in 2003. After Netanyahu returned to power in 2009, he appointed Saar to two key positions in his subsequent administrations – education minister and interior minister. Gideon Saar was one of Mr. Netanyahu’s most loyal and vocal supporters until recently. Saar was joined shortly breaking away from Likud by Zeev Elkin, another former Likud minister. Could Gideon Saar be Netanyahu’s greatest challenge in this election? Well, we are in Israel, the Land where almost everything is possible.
Over the years Saar remains a right-winger and stayed faithful to his ideology. This can indicate his ability of not giving up when pressured by the international community. He stands for the natural and historical rights of the Jewish people in Israel, encouraging settlements in the West Bank and against the Two State solution. Saar is a pragmatic person but very right-wing person if he wins and would be able to form a coalition with other political parties, Israel could turn very nationalistic in its political view.
Yesh Atid – Yair Lapid, leader (57 years old). Yesh Atid (“There is a future” in Hebrew) is a center-left Israeli political party founded by Yair Lapid in 2012. After the election for the 19th Knesset in 2013, Yesh Atid became the second largest party in the Knesset with 19 seats. Yesh Atid joined Israel’s 33rd government and Yair Lapid served as Minister of Finance, as a member in the Israel Security Cabinet. Also, other Yesh Atid Knesset Members served as different Ministers in the government. However, at the beginning of December 2014, Yair Lapid was fired by Netanyahu from his post as a Finance Minister. In the 2015 elections Yesh Atid returned to the Knesset with 11 seats, but this time chose to serve as opposition.
Today, Yesh Atid is presenting Yair Lapid as an alternative to Netanyahu, blaming him for political chaos, poor handling of the coronavirus crisis and simply unworthy to lead the country under the court trials. Recent polls give to Yesh Atid potentially at least 16 seats in the Knesset.
Yamina– Naftali Bennett, leader (48 years old). The right-wing Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, announced he will contest the position of prime minister in the upcoming elections.
From 2006 to 2008, Bennett served as Benjamin Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff. In 2012, Bennett left the Likud Party and joined The Jewish Home (“Habayit Hayehudi” in Hebrew). In the January 2013 Knesset elections, Bennett’s party won 12 seats in the parliament.
In March 2013, Bennett was a part of government coalition as a Minister of Economy and Trade. In December 2018, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked broke away from the Jewish Home party to strike out on their own as “Hayamin Hahadash” (the New Right).
In the 2019 Knesset elections, the Yamina party narrowly failed to cross the electoral threshold and as a result, Bennett did not gain a seat in the 21st Knesset. In June 2019, Netanyahu dismissed Bennett from the government but in November that same year, Netanyahu appointed Bennett Minister of Defense.
Naftali Bennett believes in the Jewish right to settle anywhere in the Land of Israel and rejects the two-state solution. He is right-wing with religious ideology but pragmatic as well.
Israel Beiteinu – Avigdor Liberman, leader (62 years old). Israel Beiteinu (“Israel is Our Home” in Hebrew) is a right-wing political party established in 1999 by Avigdor Liberman.
Liberman has a very unique career in the Israel political arena and over the years has grown into a very stable politician, showing faithfulness to principles of Zeev Jabotinsky and Revisionist Movement ideology.
You might think this party represents those who repatriated from the former Soviet Union, but this is not the case. In the beginning Liberman launched the party as a special interest faction to represent the concern of Israel’s million-plus Russian-speaking community. However, today the party seeks a more national orientation, aiming to recruit supporters from outside the Russian Israeli community. In fact, he is not representing the “Russian-speaking” Jewish community at all, but members of his party often fight for the rights of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
Liberman served in many key positions in Israel’s government such as Minister of National Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Strategic Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister, and Minister of Defense.
Yisrael Beiteinu officially supports a version of the two-state solution colloquially known as the Liberman Plan. Liberman’s stand on secularism although he has sat in government with the ultra-Orthodox parties before. But currently, he refuses to bow to ultra-Orthodox demands and the current campaign of Israel Beiteinu is going under the slogan “Liberman: Ending the rule of the Haredim.”
Let me finish this short report with these words. Elections are coming and more than ever we understand, whoever will be the one to receive the mandate to form a coalition will face the formidable task to begin restoring the economy and other sectors of our nation but most importantly – restoring the trust of citizens to their government.