Israel Elections Demonstrate A Robust Democracy

Even after its second election in six months, Israel’s political picture remains muddled. And yet, the very messiness and apparent chaos and drama after its complicated parliamentary elections are strong proof that its system remains robust and its status as the only democracy in the Middle East is intact. 

It also highlights once again, as Winston Churchill famously said, that democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others.

As the Jewish Light went to press two weeks ago, the rival political lists – the Likud-led coalition of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Blue and White Party led by Benny Gantz, a former Israeli Defense Forces chief – were locked in a virtual tie. Since then, neither Netanyahu nor Gantz have been able to gather the minimum of 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset to form even a razor-thin majority in the legislative body.

Under Israel’s parliamentary system, President Reuven Rivlin has the power to ask one of the contenders to attempt to form a government. Rivlin tried to cajole Netanyahu and Gantz into forming a government of national unity, with the two leaders each serving two years as head of the government. 

While this plan seemed to make sense, political reality prevented it from being adopted. Gantz refused to serve in the same government as Netanyahu, even though Netanyahu said he would be willing to serve with Gantz.

So Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first chance to cobble together a majority, but his task is daunting. The third highest vote-getting party was Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, originally created to represent the 1 million Jews who immigrated to Israel in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While Liberman generally supports Netanyahu’s pro-settlement and anti-Palestinian perspectives, he has become militantly secular and does not want to serve in a government with any of the various haredi political parties. Lieberman thus is in a position to become a kingmaker or a deal breaker in the post-election jockeying.

The local Jewish community had the good fortune last week to host a post-election forum featuring St. Louis native David Makovsky, a fellow at the highly regarded Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He just published a timely book, “Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped its Destiny,” written with Dennis Ross, who is also associated with the Washington think tank.

Both authors have advised various negotiating teams attempting to secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Their book discusses a series of Israeli prime ministers who the authors say had the right stuff to head Israel’s government at crucial times in the nation’s history. 

In his wide-ranging talk, Makovsky said that both Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, and Gantz, a highly respected military leader, have many positive qualities. He also noted wise advice from David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding head of government, who is said to have asked his advisers to tell him not just what the risks of taking action might be but also what the risks of inaction were.

Makovsky said Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon proved that they were willing to take calculated risks to advance the interests of their small nation. We hope that whoever emerges from the latest horse trading in Israel will have the same approach to the current situation in the Mideast and will demonstrate the qualities of leadership that will be vital to address the daunting task of heading the next government of the Jewish State.