The November 2022 Elections
by Rabbi Moshe Pitchon
On the November 1, 2022 elections, Israel’s democracy worked as democracies are designed to work.
6,788,804 Israelis- over 73 percent of registered voters- fulfilled their democratic right, the highest voter participation since 2015. The number included a 55 percent turnout among Arab Israelis, also one of the strong participation in that community.
Recognizing Israel’s social diversity, the country’s electoral system allows as many political opinions to be represented in the Knesset (the Israeli 120-seat parliament) as realistically possible.
Thus, any party that collects a minimum of 3.25 percent of the national vote (equal to about four seats) wins a place in the legislative body.
Thirty-eight political parties competed in this election. And, though only 10 of them crossed the electoral threshold- still a large number of parties – it was impossible for any single of them to attain an overall majority.
As expected, the secular right-wing Likud party headed by Benjamin Netanyahu received the largest number of mandates (32). Yet, not enough for the necessary 61 minimum required to form a government.
The Israeli political system is so designed that, in practice, only a coalition of parties can form a government to rule the country.
After having been at the helm of Israel’s government longer than any other prime minister in history, Netanyahu has alienated many of the “Likud’s natural allies,” among them some of those that had now won seats in the Knesset but are reluctant to support him.
Most Notably, Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid, the party second in the number of votes after the Likud (24); Benny Gantz’s center-right National Unity party (12), and Avigdor Lieberman’s center-right Yisrael Beiteinu (6).
What these four right-wing parties (Likud, Yesh Atid, National Unity, and Yisrael Beitenu) have in common is that they are liberal, secular, and realistic regarding the present Palestinians’ will and ability to negotiate borders and security arrangements with Israel.
However, the coincidence of these religious parties with the Likud is not as “natural” as the one between the Likud and the other three secular right-wing parties.
Netanyahu, for instance, said on television that Itamar Ben Gvir, one of the heads of the Religious Zionism party, was “not fit” to be a minister in his government because “his positions are not mine.”
Bezalel Yoel Smotrich, another of the Religious Zionism party heads, can be heard saying about Netanyahu on a tape, “he’s a liar and a son-of-a-liar.”
He may as well have also been talking about the non-orthodox Netanyahu when on another occasion, he said: “I love all Jews, really, all Jews are my brothers. But I do not accept them [Reform Jews], and I will not accord them legitimacy because, in my eyes, they are a lie.”
Significantly, Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas- another of the right-wing religious parties- unleashed his ire against Ben Gvir for visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
“Think for a minute, fool,” the Chief Rabbi said, “you’re ascending the Mount and stirring the winds and violating the order of the great men of Israel. Oy, stay away from him and all of his leadership.”
Even when anecdotal examples of lack of trust between the parties in the Likud-headed coalition could be cited by the dozens, what is of significance is not the shaky grounds upon which the Netanyahu coalition will be built; it is the policies they intend to apply.
The coalition of ultra-religious right-wing parties supporting Netanyahu’s comeback to Israel’s premiership seeks to reduce checks and balances on lawmakers and impose the fiction that all Judaism is Orthodox.
“The time has come for us to be the landlords of our country,” Ben-Gvir said in a speech the morning after the election.
Why should this, and the many other matters too long to deal with in this article, be of concern to Jews who don’t live in Israel?
Israel defines itself not just as a Jewish state but as the Jewish state. And as Rabbi Irving Greenberg reminded us:
Rebuffed by the secular right, the Likud had to look to the three religious coalitions that made it into the Knesset: Religious Zionism (14 mandates), Shas (11), and United Torah Judaism (7).
In joining with Likud, these three religious right-wing parties will appoint a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sectarians want nothing else other than to expel the majorities and take their place. If Israel is the state of all the Jews, then all Jews, and not what is a tiny minority, have the right to define and impose what it is to be a Jew.
Jews that don’t live in Israel vote with their feet and their purse, and above all, have an obligation to define the difference between Jewish sectarianism and Jewish culture, the values of a group vis-a-vis the values of a people, the right middle, rather than the extremes.