Explaining Israeli Politics

Don’t try this at home!! What I am about to do, has never been done before, and is risky, dangerous and maybe even impossible. I will attempt – in the next 500 words – to explain what the <BLEEP> is going on in Israeli politics. Wish me luck… here goes.

The total number of seats in the Israeli Knesset is 120. (You know the famous line we say to people: “Until 120”??? Well, it has nothing to do with that – just thought you should know) Those 120 Knesset members are from many different political parties… so which one is the ruling party? Simple (not really) – the party that receives a majority of the seats – at least 61 – is the one that rules the country for the next 4 years. The head of that party is the “Prime Minister” and he – or she (remember Golda?) – appoints the Cabinet; Defense Minister, Education Minister, Finance Minister and so on… These Ministers are usually part of the 120 Knesset members, although they can also be from outside the Knesset. Sounds very neat and clean but there’s a major problem.

Never in the history of Israel, has one party received at least 61 seats! Therefore, a “coalition” needs to be formed where the leading party of 52, for example, reaches out to some of the smaller parties to get them to join the coalition. The smaller parties know that the big party needs them to form the coalition so they “squeeze the lemon” for every drop they can get. These small guys make large demands and usually wind up receiving powerful ministerial positions and budgets far in excess of their votes. While this is not the greatest system, specifically because these coalitions are able to collapse at a moment’s notice, it has worked reasonably well (I’m being nice) since 1948.

Let’s fast forward to 2019. Elections for the Knesset were held on April 9th and when all the votes were counted, not only didn’t one party clear 61… the biggest party – Likud – received just 36 Knesset seats. This meant that in order to form a government, and hit the magic number of 61, Bibi Netanyahu (the leader of Likud) had to reach out and bring in at least 25 Knesset members from other parties into his coalition. While this had been done before, this round of negotiations was very different. In addition to the usual “shopping list” of demands, the smaller parties made life incredibly difficult by demanding things of other parties, as well as changes to Israel’s “status quo”. Example: “We will only join the coalition if the Haredim serve in the army” or “We will only join the coalition if busses run on Shabbat”. Things got ugly and in short; coalition talks collapsed, time ran out and new elections were declared since nobody was able to secure the minimum of 61.

Still with me? Good, because there’s more! Elections 2019 – Part II – were held on September 17th and, once again, the results were dismal. Likud went down to just 32 and their attempt to form a coalition came up short. Netanyahu managed to get 55 on his side but was stuck there so the ball was given to the Blue and White party, led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. While this party received 33 seats in the elections – even more than Likud – Binyamin (Gantz) experienced the same failure as the previous Binyamin (Netanyahu) – Maybe it’s the name??  In any case, as I write these words, there is a desperate effort to find some kind of a solution because if not, Elections Part III will be called, which nobody wants and which will probably produce similar results!

So… in the meantime, who is running the country? If there’s no government, how are the cows still giving milk? This part is actually quite simple: Until a new government is formed (or Moshiach comes, whichever comes first…) the old government is still in place! Netanyahu is still the Prime Minister, Moshe Kachlon is still the Finance Minister and so on. Actually, according to many experts, the government is functioning better today than ever. Yes, new things are stuck – especially new budget requests – but the IDF is doing great, roads are being built, the school system is functioning and there’s still just a 6 hour wait in the emergency rooms… nothing’s changed!

What do I think will happen? Since I am an expert, please pay close attention to these next four words: I have no idea! On one hand, everyone is talking about a 3rd election, especially Bibi who remains Prime Minister as long as this fiasco continues. Plain and simple; he is in no rush to leave. However, on the other hand, Israeli politicians have totally lost the trust of the people so I wouldn’t be surprised if – at the last minute – they manage to pull something magical out of the hat. Actually, if I were a betting man (which I’m not, except for a serious game of Dreidel, which is coming soon!) I would take the longshot odds and put my shekel on a deal.

In any case, I hope I succeeded at totally confusing you because that’s the only way to understand the political mess Israel is in. To conclude, let’s be serious for a moment. For thousands of years the Jewish nation always united in times of war and when we did, nobody could defeat us! It’s times like this, however, during peace and quiet, that we beat each other up. Israeli politics is therefore a reflection of the Jewish world. This one won’t sit with that one, this Chassidic Rebbe breaks away from that Chassidic Rebbe, this Jewish organization will not allow a speaker from that Jewish organization and on and on and on. The Knesset – with its 120 members representing the original 120 members of the “Anshei Knesset Ha’Gedola” – is simply and tragically following that same trend.

We need to unite and end this madness… not only in Israel, but around the Jewish world. Let’s put our differences aside and focus on what we agree on, not what we disagree on. We are the greatest nation in the world – selected by Hashem Himself to be His chosen nation – so let’s focus on bringing our Father and King real yiddishe “nachas” and stop this nonsense, once and for all. When that happens, not only will there be a powerful, united Knesset but a King from the House of David will be very close behind!

Am Yisrael Chai!