Close, but No Cigar

As many know from past updates, I’ve been involved with the Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) political party for the past few years. It is a centrist party, built on numerous principles, including, among other things, advocacy for religious plurality. Over a year ago the party was running neck and neck in polls with Likud, Bibi Netanyahu’s party.

When the government collapsed last Fall (a common occurrence here in Israel), elections were called. Over forty political parties were vying for Knesset seats. To enter the Knesset, a party must garner 3.25% of the votes or around 135,000 votes. This grants a party four seats. Each additional seat needs another 35,000 votes. There are 120 seats in the Knesset. No one party has ever achieved a majority, necessitating the formation of coalition governments, which often include smaller, narrow-interest parties.

One of the newly formed parties was led by Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israeli military. His candidacy immediately drew excitement as a serious contender to Netanyahu. Eventually, his party merged with Yesh Atid (above) and another party, to form the Blue and White party.

The merger created quite an upheaval for Yesh Atid. Yesh Atid had been planning for new elections for years, had organized a large and effective field operation and had written an extensive political platform. Suddenly, everything changed. I had built some good relationships within Yesh Atid. The leaders knew I was a Messianic Jew, and I had already discussed with some of them what we as Messianic Jews were hoping for, i.e., an end to discrimination, particularly with respect to immigrating to Israel. While I supported the formation of the Blue and White party, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic because I was uncertain about the new party’s commitment to some of the issues I felt were important.

Just before the election, the polls showed Blue and White neck and neck with Likud. We were trained to work the polling stations. I was sent to Zichron Ya’akov, just south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast and inhabited by large numbers of Anglos. I spoke with and handed out leaflets to hundreds of voters. I estimated about 50% of the voters were supportive of Blue and White. In fact, one group that arrived at our polling station was a fully dressed wedding party. Now, that’s commitment. I gave the bride a flyer.

For our party to be able to form the next government, we needed 4-5 more seats than Likud, because of the proliferation of right wing parties that would naturally ally with Likud and thus give them a majority of seats. In the end, Likud and Blue and White virtually tied, each gaining 35 seats. For both parties it was a major accomplishment.

Prior to the election, Blue and White declared its intention to try and form a unity government with Likud, absent Netanyahu as the leader. A unity government, comprised of the major parties, is the hope for the nation, enabling it to address some of the critical issues facing the country without being held hostage by ultra-Orthodox parties and extremist nationalistic factions. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Blue and White refuses to join a Netanyahu-led government due to corruption charges hanging over him and his constant undermining of the democratic principles of the country.

The newly forming government likely will be even more right wing than the last, which was the most extremist government since the nation’s founding. I believe the plight of Messianic Jews will worsen. The Ministry of Interior had already begun to target Messianic Jewish citizens of Israel, refusing to issue new passports to some and challenging the right to citizenship of others. Up to now these attempts have been thwarted in the courts, but the courts are being transformed by the appointment of nationalist-leaning judges, who already are re-interpreting earlier decisions and blocking Messianic Jews from immigrating.

What’s particularly frustrating for us is the Evangelical Christian fawning over Netanyahu when Messianic Jews – the actual brethren of the Evangelicals – are subjected to increasing pressure from his government. Making matters worse was the passage of the Nationality Law last year, potentially making Jewish nationality superior to democratic principles. This law could be used to further target Messianic Jews, among many other minorities.

The one hope is the likely collapse of the newly forming government. Netanyahu’s indictments will be formalized in a few months, putting pressure on some of the coalitions parties, including Likud itself, to withdraw support from Netanyahu. This could cause the government to collapse, or force Netanyahu to resign. At the same time, a crisis is looming with the ultra-Orthodox community. Under a Supreme Court ruling, all ultra-Orthodox young adults will be subject to military draft beginning in July unless the Knesset can pass a reasonable alternative for this community. The ultra-Orthodox parties want full exemptions for their increasingly large communities. Up to now, they have blocked compromise solutions. It’s possible this conflict will lead to a government collapse. Honestly, one of these outcomes is my hope and prayer.

In so many ways Israel is a miraculous nation. Her future is now threatened from within. Please pray.