Israel - Politics
The majority of Israeli voters skew to the right, whether nationalists, settlers or the ultra-Orthodox. For them, issues of security, support for settlements and protection of their interests are more important than economic concerns. Israelis are by nature critical observers who tend to focus on their failings rather than their successes. In Israeli politics, the integrity and leadership abilities of the candidate attract more votes than any given political platform.
Israel largely stays true to its democratic principles, but questions of equality and fairness of treatment for local minorities continues to plague the society. The Arab-Israeli population, religious minorities, as well as recent immigrants from countries like Ethiopia, do not fare as well as native-born Jewish Israelis on many scales - education, earned income, and political representation.
Israel's some one-million Arab population, which makes up about 20 percent of Israel's population, includes about 550,000-600,000 eligible voters, a relatively low proportion that is due to the Arab sector's large youth population. Those Israeli-Arab voters constitute only about 12 percent of Israel's total of approximately five million eligible voters.
Presumably, equalizing factors, such as the spread of internet access and technology to these underserved populations, will facilitate their engagement in Israeli politics. The question will be what a stronger voice for these minorities portends for the Israeli political system. There has been a rise in already existing tensions between those wanting to see Israel as a liberal and democratic state with equal citizenship for all, and those who want to give priority to Israel's Zionist identity as a fundamentally Jewish state.
Israel’s elections are confusing. They’re generally not much of a contest. No party has ever won an outright majority in the country’s 67-year history. No party was expected to win more than one-fourth of the seats. As a result, the focus was on whether right-wing groups or left-wing parties can win enough votes to form the next coalition government.
Knesset elections are based on a vote for a party rather than for individuals. Elections are general, national, direct, equal, secret, and proportional. The entire country constitutes a single electoral constituency, and all citizens are eligible to vote from age 18. On Election Day, voters cast a ballot for a political party to represent them in the Knesset. Knesset elections are based on a vote for a party rather than for individuals. To date, all governments have been based on coalitions of several parties, since no party has received enough Knesset seats to be able to form a government by itself.
Israelis take a great interest in the political scene, both in internal affairs and security as well as in foreign relations. In all elections to the Knesset so far, some 77-87 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots for one of the many political parties running for the Knesset. To every Knesset 10-15 parties have been elected, and in the course of every Knesset, factions have both split and united.
Meir Kahane was an extremist rabbi who wanted to establish a theocratic state and expel all Arabs from Israel. Kahane was assassinated in 1990 and his party was finally banned in 1994 for terrorism and racism. Meir Kahane left behind several heirs. But the most intelligent was Ben Gvir. He understood that he needed to soften the racist discourse because otherwise he could never enter the Knesset. After three unsuccessful attempts, Ben Gvir was finally elected a member of parliament in March 2021, leading a coalition of religious Zionist parties. Netanyahu pushed very hard for these small far-right groups to join forces with Ben Gvir. Facing several corruption trials, the incumbent prime minister was fighting for his political survival during these elections. He was desperate for a majority in Parliament. He thought that Ben Gvir was the solution. It was a victory for the racist ultra-right fringe and a bad sign for co-existence between Jews and Arabs. Tthe rise in Parliament of the ultraconservative coalition led by Ben Gvir encouraged violence among virulent groups of Jewish supremacists, and reinforced their sense of impunity.
Israel’s political system, while shaken after four elections in two years in 2020 and 2021, had long faced aggressive tactics – including from Netanyahu himself as part of the opposition in the 1990s, when his conduct was “far more aggressive, and worse” – and a post-Netanyahu era offers opportunities to move to a less rancorous, divided way of doing politics. Tribalism reached its apex under Netanyahu. If anything, tribalism may begin to decline now, but much depends on the coalition’s capacity to both survive and offer a fresh, exciting vision for Israel, one that both embraces the various tribes and sets a joint way forward.
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