Political paralysis in Israel

There is no real ideological commitment on the part of secular parties, just animosities, leading to no dominance by Left or Right. Op-ed.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin ,

נתניהו וגנץ היום
נתניהו וגנץ היום
צילום: דוברות הכנסת, תדמית הפקות

Just when you thought that things could not get worse, they do! After its fourth election cycle in two years, Israelis could still not agree on anything. Or did they?

A curious feature of Israel's political system is that it allows its Arab citizens the right to vote in elections for Knesset members and hence have a potential say in the make-up of Israeli political coalitions. This is to prove that Israel is a true democracy and is hard to gainsay. But this democratic system of allowing non-Jews to vote in the elections of the Jewish state comes at a high price. It means that the proportions of Jewish votes count less because Arab votes count for a minimum of ten Knesset seats out of a total of 120 seats. Deduct the Arabs' 10 seats and re-aportion the votes among the Jewish parties and you have a clear consensus for a Netanyahu led right wing government.

But for now, that is a political fantasy, while the reality is that the logjam in the Israeli political system is here to stay for some time. In Judaism, something that happens three times makes for a Chazakah: "In Jewish law, a chazakah (Hebrew חזקה, "presumption") is a legal presumption. There exist many such presumptions, for example regarding the ownership of property, a person's personal status (e.g. whether they are a kohen or Levite), and presumptions about human behavior" as Wikipedia puts it. And certainly something that happens four times confirms it even more!

There are various levels to analyze this political conundrum. The simplest is to conclude that Israeli society is split down the middle between right and left. And that it is also split down the middle between those favourable to religion and those who look at the world in a secular perspective. This seems to be reflected each time Israelis go to the polls. The two sides of left and right are unable to resolve their differences on any level, political, social, religious, and the Arab bloc of voters makes sure to keep the balance between the two sides of Jews. Were the Arab bloc of 10 Knesset seats to be discounted then the Right would unquestionably outweigh the Left in the Knesset, although it outweighs the Left now as well. The problems on the right are personal animosities between leaders.

Another perspective is to opine that there is not much difference in essence between most secular Israelis be they from the left or the right. The age of strong ideological views, such as when left wing David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) or right wing Menachem Begin (1913-1992) were leaders of Israel. There is no real large strong left wing political party in Israel. The self-named as centrist Yesh Atid party has taken the place of the far left labor parties that are now political midget parties, but it, too, leans left. Gantz's Blue and White party also lacks a clearcut ideology.

The Right consists of people who are either pro Netanyahu such as the Likud, or oppose Netanyahu such as Bennett's and Saar's small parties, as well as Liberman's party. Bennett, Saar, Liberman and a few others started out their political careers under maestro Netanyahu and consider themselves right of center but entertain thoughts of all kinds of combinations. So where there is no real ideological commitment on the part of these parties, one that overrides personal feelings, what follows looks like no real dominance by either the Left or the Right. A true political stalemate if ever there was one.

Then there are Jewish religious political parties as well as those with a Jewish religious world outlook. The religious political parties are growing by the decade. Right now Shas with 9 Knesset seats, UTJ with 7, and Religious Zionists with 6 have a total of 22 Knesset seats, if one adds Yamina's more liberal religious members with 7 Knesset seats, that creates a bloc of 29 Knesset seats, controlling almost one third of the current Knesset! Quite an impressive achievement for religious Jews in the political hurly-burly of Israeli politics. Imagine for a moment if the ten Arab seats were subtracted, then the 29 seats of this bloc would proportionately jump to more than a quarter of the Knesset! But, for now, the Arabs are in the Knesset, and as is known the right wing bloc with the three main religious parties has insufficient votes to form a ruling governmental coalition. So we are still stuck in the mud!

Why is God letting this happen? Big question! Let me get at this in a roundabout way. Someone asked me recently what I thought of Trump losing the recent elections in America to Biden. I thought for a while and I said that for everything you need Zechusim, "merits". You need to be worthy of gaining God's blessings and of not incurring the opposite, of God's rejection.

When Jews pray the Shemoneh Esrei, the Eighteen Benedictions also known as the Amidah or silent prayer they invoke their three great forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in whose merits they then proceed with the remainder of this great prayer that they pray three times a day on weekdays, four times on Jewish holidays, and five times on Yom Kippur. Again, and again, and again, they say it in their prayers "Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, Velokei Yaakov" - "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob" as they beg, beseech and entreat God to come to their help and provide for their needs and redeem them etc.

Somehow, and very sadly we have to conclude that when it comes to the recent elections in America and Israel - unless the Israelis manage to get their act together - lately our prayers are not being answered and that can only lead to the conclusion that we lack the merits, the Zechusim to be granted our wishes for the kind of endings that would make us happy as believing Jews. Something is very wrong with us, and we need to fix it soon so that our metrits will outnumber our demerits, God will truly hear our prayers and grant us our wishes!

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin is president and founder of the Jewish Professionals Institute. An alumnus of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and Teachers College, Columbia University, he has dedicated his life to Jewish outreach and education, served for 7 years as full-time director of Sinai Heritage Centers in Manhattan and 3 as an AJOP trustee, .among many oher endeavors.