Coming Elections

As many have probably heard, Israel’s governing coalition collapsed a few months ago (a common phenomenon), and new elections have been scheduled for mid-March. In many ways it’s a shame because the prior government elected and formed in 2013 came to power with great hopes of serious reform in the Israeli government. In fact, during the first year some very significant changes took place including limiting the numbers of ultra-Orthodox (haredim) who could opt out of the military draft, cutting funding to the religious schools, cutting the amount of benefits to families with multiple children and raising the threshold of votes needed for a party to be represented in the Knesset. Most of the changes limited the privileges of the haredim, who increasingly are disaffected from the larger public.  The change to Knesset representation likely will lead to a reduction in parties represented in the legislative body, a needed thing.  

As I wrote during the last election cycle, Israel’s government is significantly different than the American one. Unlike America’s federal system where legislative and executive functions are strictly separated by the Constitution, Israel is a parliamentary system where the executive and legislative functions merge. Therefore, typically a government minister, such as the foreign minister, is a Knesset member of the ruling coalition. In addition, unlike the American political system largely maintained by two political parties, Israel’s government is formed by a coalition of multiple parties since no one party has ever won a majority of votes of the electorate.  Voters don’t vote for individual candidates; rather, they vote for a party. The number of votes a party receives in the election determines the number of seats that party has in the Knesset. Following the election, the President of the State (largely a ceremonial role) normally chooses the party with the most seats to attempt to form a coalition government with other smaller parties.

One of the few positive things about Israeli elections, other than Israel being the only democratic state in the region, is that the campaigns are short. Since elections are just over two months away, party primaries are being held, new parties are forming (isn’t there a limit?), parties are joining together in early coalitions and political advertising has begun. There have been some interesting developments that will influence the composition of the final government. The two most interesting and probably consequential events was, first of all, the joint agreement reached between the Labor Party (one of Israel’s oldest) with the party of Tsipi Livni, a former foreign minister. The other development was the formation of a new party, Kulanu (all of us), by former Knesset member, Moshe Kahlon. Kahlon, originally with the Likud party, rose to fame a few years ago when as Communications Minister he pushed through a reform in Israel’s cell phone market that reduced prices by a whopping 90%. Current polls (traditionally unreliable) show Likud and Labor tied with 24 seats each. A coalition government must control 61 seats in the 120- seat Knesset. It’s likely the king maker will be Moshe Kahlon’s party.

In my view the coming election may be one of Israel’s most important. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister for the past 6 years, leads an increasingly right-wing Likud party. The previous government was considered a center/right government because it included important moderate factions and specifically excluded the haredim. If Likud gains the most votes again, it is highly likely the next government will be an extreme right-wing government including the haredim and the settler movement. The haredim will seek to undo the reforms made in the last government and will probably try and to capture the Interior Ministry, which controls immigration to Israel, a bad omen for Messianic Jews. The settlers will be further empowered to expand settlements despite universal condemnation from the rest of the world, further isolating Israel from the world community.

Here are some prayer points for the upcoming elections:

1. Those candidates and parties immersed in corruption be exposed (that’s happening now).

2. That moderate forces join together to help form a forward-looking government.

3. That the haredim votes be sufficiently split to limit their influence on a new government (also happening now).

4. That Israel become the light of the nations as foretold by the prophets.