A Possible Silver Lining in an Ugly Election
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu finds himself now facing political challenges from all sides, from the left, the right and the center. He is also finding himself less and less acceptable to many American Jews. Having just made a pact with the devil to insure his re-election, down came the expected indictments from the Attorney General. While his legal woes will ultimately be decided in Court, his political actions will be determined by the Israeli voters on April 9.
Netanyahu chose the basest political maneuver imaginable when he opted for a political finesse. He convinced the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party to bring the extremist racist party Otzma Yehudit (Strength for Israel) Party on to its list. Netanyahu knew that Otzma Yehudit would not achieve the threshold of 3.25% to gain the minimum 3-4 seats in the next Knesset. By facilitating the merger of the lists of the right-wing Bayit Yehudi Party with the extremist party, Bibi created an avenue for his right-wing coalition to obtain several extra seats which could help him secure the 61 seats needed for a parliamentary majority.
Netanyahu’s maneuver is reported to have cost him a pledge to give these successors of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s banned Kach Party probably two Ministries in the Government as well as a seat on the critical security cabinet. Given Otzma Yehudit’s territorial annexationist platform and support for Arab expulsion, any possibility of a more moderate direction and support for a two-state solution appear to have been totally discarded by Netanyahu.
There is a very curious possibility that this entire strategy could produce a dramatic change, however, in the Israeli electoral system. If the early polls are correct, Netanyahu’s Likud Party will receive about 25-27 seats in the next Knesset with his major challenger, the new Blue and White Party, obtaining 44 seats. Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, the leaders of this new party will have a challenge according to some analysts to obtain the necessary 61 seats to govern, despite the fact that they may obtain almost 20 more seats than Likud.
The moderate left Blue and White leaders have a major opportunity, as do Israeli voters, who oppose the ugly sight of seeing the country being run by a leader some of whose coalition partners reflect abhorrent Jewish values. They must convince voters to vote for them or for parties which are possible coalition partners. They must insure that left wing and even moderate religious voters do not vote for parties which will not achieve the 3.25% voter threshold. It is also in their interest to try to rally even more support to their party. This would enable the Blue and White Party to form a possible Government with even fewer, small parties.
Electorally speaking the Israeli party system needs drastic reform. The power and leverage of small minor parties to shape Government policies are extraordinarily disruptive to proper decision-making. As has been true since the State of Israel was created, the power of small parties—even with today’s 3.25% minimum threshold—makes the deal-making and corruption in the political system pervasive. The upheaval that is apparent in this election could have the silver lining of bringing a serious wave of leaders into power who actually might be able to institute proper electoral reform.