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After the Kneset Election of 18 March 2015

On 18 March 2015 Likud captured 30 of the 120 seats in parliament, compared with 24 seats for its main challenger, the Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog. Exit polls had projected a tight race, with the two sides at 24 seats apiece. This was a situation where many people wanted to replace him but there was no one whom they wanted to replace him with. Especially in the last few days of the campaign – when Israeli opinion polls were suggesting Netanyahu would not win a fourth term – the prime minister portrayed himself both as a strongman bent on protecting Israeli security and a victim of opposition news media and some foreign leaders, including Obama.

The campaign exposed a rift that some thought had subsided: the deep-seated schism between Jews of European and Middle Eastern descent. Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern, Jews heavily backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, while Ashkenazi, or European, Jews mostly identified with the opposition Zionist Union. The sides exchanged insults, with Mizrahi voters called primitive and Ashkenazi voters viewed as elitist.

Labor party head Isaac Herzog peaked in the March 2015 elections. The 24 Knesset seats won by his Zionist Camp with Tzipi Livni were a kind of miracle for Labor. But there has been no forward momentum since. Labor was unable to present a coherent and effective alternative to Netanyahu’s Likud. Netanyahu’s win meant security trumped domestic issues. Moderate Israelis had hoped that public frustration with Netanyahu's six straight years in office would bring voters to pull Israel away from what they perceived as its rightward march toward international isolation, economic inequality and a dead end for peace with the Palestinians. After the election, columnist Ben Caspit wrote in Maariv "Israel is split - between left and right, between Bibi and anti-Bibi, between aspirations for normalcy and aspirations for territory... Two states, two styles, two world views, split once again."

Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of Haaretz, Israel’s liberal newspaper, wrote that Netanyahu: "... viewed the election as an opportunity to fulfill his old dream of “elite change,” doing away with the dominance of the Oslo-era-speak of peace and compromise with the Palestinians, replacing it with opposition to any territorial change in West Bank.... Israel’s mainstream media parrots Netanyahu’s narrative: the Jewish state faces a permanent threat of annihilation, the Palestinians are the present-day Nazis, and the West is either anti-Semitic or oblivious to the fate of the Jews, just as it was during the Holocaust."

On 06 May 2015 Israel's prime minister convinced Naftali Bennett of the the far-right Jewish Home party to join his coalition just before the deadline to form a new government. Netanyahu's Likud party, together with its coalition partners, the orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism and now the far-right Jewish Home, can now achieve a majority of 61 seats in Tel Aviv's 120-member Knesset.

The pro-settler Jewish Home was the only alternative left for Netanyahu after Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the anti-Arab Yisrael Beiteinu and foreign minister in Netanyahu's outgoing government, refused to join the Likud's coalition. Netanyahu's bloc did not "reflect the positions of the nationalist camp," Lieberman said, after Likud offered his party two positions in the coalition government.

The Knesset plenum approved the 34th Israeli government on 14 May 2015. The newly-appointed cabinet was represented mainly by the members of the ultra-Orthodox parties and the right camp who support further occupation of the Palestinian territories. The coalition of five parties won a parliamentary majority by a narrow margin with 61 MPs against 59 in the ranks of the opposition that criticized Netanyahu for the stagnation of the peace process with Palestine, attempts to disrupt the nuclear deal with Iran and complicate relations with the US and Europe. The ruling coalition voted entirely in support of the Cabinet, while the whole opposition voted against.

On 20 May 2016, some said reflecting the principle of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman was the presumptive defense minister, outgoing Likud Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon abruptly took a break from political life over the rift with Netanyahu and his demotion. Netanyahu and Yaalon had public disputes in recent days over the role of military officials in discussions of policy. Netanyahu has argued that military officials should avoid speaking about policy matters publicly, while Yaalon has encouraged senior officers to “speak their mind.” Ya’alon had defended Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan’s expression of concern over fascist trends in Israeli society. In his resignation speech, Ya’alon said dangerous men had gained control of the country.

Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said he would be willing to align his far-right Yisrael Beitenu party with Netanyahu’s coalition, but only if he was named defense minister. With the predictably off-script and far more hard-line Liberman’s five seats joining the coalition, Netanyahu had seemingly solved the problem of political extortion in his 61-MK razor-thin coalition, in which every Knesset member, with the weight of their single vote, had the leverage to make serious demands.

Liberman’s appointment as defense minister sent shock waves across Israeli society. The governing pendulum swung sharply to the right on a host of issues, including war and peace, racist trends in Israeli society, the rule of law and Israel’s international standing.

A survey by Israel Radio published on 27 May 2016 indicated that a new center-right party would beat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud by four seats, with Israel’s ruling party dropping from its current 30 seats to 21. A new [ie, presently non-existent] political party with former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon and former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar would get the largest number of seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament — 25. With the new Ya’alon-Kahlon-Sa’ar party in the running, the Zionist Union would fall dramatically — from 24 seats to 11 — and the center-left Yesh Atid, right-wing Jewish Home and right-wing Yisrael Beytenu would all snatch up two more seats than they had (Yesh Atid would rise from 11 to 13, Jewish Home from 8 to 10, and Yisrael Beytenu from 6 to 8). The Joint (Arab) List would remain steady with 13 seats, as would the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism with eight. Ultra-Orthodox party Shas and left-wing Meretz would each lose one seat, according to the survey.

Ya’alon, Sa’ar and Kahlon had not suggested they will run on a joint ticket in the future, and the survey is entirely speculative. Without the formation of such a new center-right party, the Likud would shrink by two seats (28) but remain, by far, the largest party in the Knesset, according to the Israel Radio poll.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon announced 16 June 2016 at the Herzliya Conference [Haaretz]. "I intend to run for the leadership in Israel in the next elections," he said during his speech. Ya'alon lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming he is trying to scare Israeli citizens about security threats in order to distract them from other problems in Israel.

"At this time and in the foreseeable future, there is not existential threat to Israel. It is the strongest state in the region and there is an enormous gap with every country and organization stationed around it. Therefore, it is appropriate for the leadership in Israel to cease scaring the citizens and to stop telling them that we are on the verge of a second Holocaust."

Ya'alon sharply attacked Netanyahu's behavior and blamed him for incitement, factionalism and creating a divide in the nation. "The leadership of Israel 2016 is busy with inflaming passions and causing fear between Jews and Arabs, between right and left and between different ethnic groups in order to survive in power and earn another month or year. The job of leadership is to bring together the people and not to tear it apart, incite and urge attacks."

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Page last modified: 03-07-2022 15:25:50 ZULU