Israel’s Upcoming Election — Electoral Fiasco or Political Reformation?

Following the initial round of Israeli national elections last April, the decisive factor causing irreconcilable divisions that ended up scuttling coalition formation talks was the proposed Haredi Military Draft Law. Netanyahu’s major coalition partner Avigdor Lieberman was a leading promoter of this legislation and was unwilling to fold on his demand for the government to endorse it.

Predictably this was unpalatable for the religious coalition partners and so a showdown ensued, occasioning no consensus for forming a ruling majority. So almost a year on, after yet another attempt to break the deadlock we’re back to square one with fresh elections called for March. Failing to resolve this ongoing sticking issue has further emboldened the Haredim in their draft dodging agenda. They have demonstrated their ability to bring down Netanyahu’s coalition and therefore may have even more sway over him this time around. Having an unprecedented series of three elections back to back is also a threat to democracy from the vantage point that they are only supposed to occur once every four years, not whenever a crisis surfaces in political negotiations. Public loss of confidence in the system has the risk of increasing voter apathy. This in turn could detract votes from the larger parties and increase the proportional share of smaller parties which then might lead to continuing fragile coalition governments.  

Events have marched forward over the summer and fall. Polls indicate Netanyahu has lost ground since the second vote. This is probably largely attributable to populace fatigue from having him in office so long. But there are additional contributing factors. Trump’s much awaited Middle East Peace Plans’ first phase has failed to show dividends. The Bahrain economic investment conference elicited little enthusiasm from the Arab world. If regarded as an accurate harbinger of prospects this doesn’t play well for Netanyahu who has endorsed Trump’s lead. He also continues to be haunted by the ghost of bribery and dishonesty indictments that were approved by the Attorney General. He has gone at lengths to portray these damning allegations as a witch hunt. But that damage limitation strategy will only wash amongst his most stellar supporters. In the recent Likud primaries for leadership selection these charges were emphasized even by opponents on the right. His resulting nomination margin to lead the party into the next election wasn’t exactly impressive. One gets the distinct impression that this is a man treading water not only for political survival but also for his very freedom from precarious incarceration. An outcome that is entirely possible given that Israel has had no hesitation to cage both an acting President and former Prime Minister for criminal conduct in our time. Such is Netenyahu’s desperation to avert personal calamity in kind, that he is pushing for parliamentary immunity from prosecution – which itself is highly controversial as it undermines the integrity of the rule of law and independence of the judicial process. 

Another thorn in Netenyahu’s side is the re-appearance of his old rival Ehud Barak on the scene. This is only made slighter by the stink of scandal surrounding Barak also, due to his association with the late public enemy number one –Jeffrey Epstein. Barak is seeking to form a coalition with Labor rebels and Meretz comprising a ‘Democratic Union’. Towards these ends it would have helped their efforts had Kahol Lavan not harvested so much of its support from these parties. On the right, United Torah Judaism (who would inevitably be brought in to form a government by Likud) have been soliciting the support of overtly racist Jewish nationalist party ‘Kahanists’, which doesn’t bode well for Israel’s image abroad.

With all this said, even if its three times lucky and Israel’s fickle politics does manage to temporarily patch things up this time round and return a ruling majority, the system is endemically weakened and compromised. Too long have simmering issues been swept under the carpet. It’s like the foolish man who enthusiastically keeps on getting married despite never addressed personality flaws, which condemn each subsequent relationship from the get go. As depressing as this may sound, the following potential scenarios could quite plausibly grow out of that mire, and therefore are likely to forecast how affairs unfold in the coming months and years ahead:

  1. The Kenneset will become increasingly reliant upon the Supreme Court to address matters of controversy that were traditionally provided for by statutory instrument.
  2. Heightened voter apathy and demands to change the electoral system to first past the post, in the hopes that this will lessen the choke hold of smaller parties on governments and overall return a more decisive majority mandate.
  3. Re-evaluating the notion of Israel having an uncodified constitution, merely consisting of its Declaration of Independence and some ‘Basic Laws’ guaranteeing certain freedoms. Calls to replace this with a written comprehensive constitution which will clearly delineate the separation of government and Rabbinate.
  4. Momentum to finalize Israel’s status and no longer live in limbo concerning what it practically means to be a Jewish state.  
  5. Which may lead to a general reconsideration of the role of religion in society, beginning with the organs of state: education and the judicial system (with emphasis on Rabbinical involvement in family law and personal status). But it will then go on to broader sociological issues as diverse as burial.
  6. Popular support for constitutionally defined executive term limits.
  7. A fresh political economy taking shape, with traditional parties imploding (like Labor has already) resulting in a new reality – distinctly different from the left-right divide.
  8. A push for the powers of the Kenneset Ombudsman to be strengthened in order to robustly tackle corruption among members of the Kenneset.

Overall, we can surmise by observing that the current crisis needn’t spell further doom on the horizon. Rather, Israel’s current political impasse can be interpreted optimistically as a critical constitutional moment, and as such, an opportunity to address outstanding chinks in its armor that date back to its founding. Many factors are at play. But if even one of those scenarios outlined above manifests, it will act as a catalyst to effectuate a toppling of the former status quo that is evidently no longer fit for purpose (indeed, if it ever was).