…try try a third election!
The 22nd Knesset, sworn in just two months ago managed to legislate only one law – to disperse itself. Rookie Knesset members who were elected for the first time in April are now veteran campaigners facing their third elections in less than one year. What should we make of this? Is this a case of Groundhog Day, that Israel will just keep going to elections until they get it right (Groundhog Day had a happy ending by the way).
President Ruby Rivlin, tasked with giving the coalition forming mandate, is understandably wary of the effect of a third election on Israeli society.
“After two rounds of elections and as a third election campaign begins, I believe this is also a critical moment for the Israeli public, which will choose its leaders. Israeli democracy was and still is a source of pride, and we know that the democratic system comes at a cost,” Rivlin said in a statement.
Yes, a big cost. A cost to the Israeli taxpayers and the ripple effect of not having a working government for 11 months. But there is also the cost of voter fatigue, skepticism, and even despair.
Many are quick to play the blame game and point the finger at particular politicians or parties.
On the one hand, we have our politicians to blame. Why couldn’t they just simply compromise?
Some imagined that the last few days before the hard deadline would see a mutual recognition and need to save Israel from such a political nightmare.
Some may have imagined an emotional reconciliation like Jacob warily encountering Esau in an emotional and heartfelt reunion in this week’s parsha:
וַיָּ֨רָץ עֵשָׂ֤ו לִקְרָאתוֹ֙ וַֽיְחַבְּקֵ֔הוּ וַיִּפֹּ֥ל עַל־צַוָּארָ֖ו וַׄיִּׄשָּׁׄקֵ֑ׄהׄוּׄ וַיִּבְכּֽוּ׃
“Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.” (Gen. 33:4)
Maybe the politicians would recognize their grudge-bearing stubbornness was wreaking havoc on the country and would clearly come to their senses.
But sadly, that didn’t happen.
So many frustrating questions are being asked:
Why couldn’t Netanyahu simply give up his claim for immunity providing the necessary criteria for Gantz & Co to join a centrist government with Likud?
Why couldn’t Avigdor Lieberman simply compromise and figure out a way to take his keystone party and form a narrow majority with either of the large parties for the sake of saving us from dreaded third elections?
Why couldn’t Benny Gantz – who already succeeded in getting his number two Yair Lapid to rescind his claim on a largely theoretical Prime Ministerial rotation – simply let Netanyahu lead for an initial 5-month period?
Because that’s not what their voters wanted.
We can blame their stubbornness in causing unwanted unprecedented third elections – Or – at the very least we can praise them for sticking to their guns.
Avigdor Lieberman campaigned on the promise that he would not sit with the Haredi parties in the government and he is not going back on that.
Gantz campaigned that he wouldn’t sit with an indicted Prime Minister who refused to give up claims for immunity, and he is not.
Even veteran politician Amir Peretz, who with six mandates to his Labor-Gesher party, refused outlandish last-minute panic-laden offers to join with Likud and the right-wing bloc.
So, while on the one hand third elections are less than ideal to put it mildly and the cynics are already calculating the date for a 4th election to be held in early September 2020, asking where is the limit, and President Rivlin is calling on the public to not despair.
But, let’s offer a twinkling of praise to the parties for sticking to their guns and not betraying the faith of their constituencies. If sparing us the agony and headache of a third elections means compromising our values for a narrow 61 seat majority that wouldn’t have the backing to accomplish very much anyway, then going to another election might be, in fact, preferable.
This round might be different and could produce a slightly varied playing field.
Due to a relatively short time, this round will likely keep new parties from entering the race, and it will also cut down on the time for parties to merge as they will be required to present their final slates for the Knesset by January 15, leaving only one month to reorganize partnerships, re-think mergers, and reshuffle lists.
At the risk of naïveté, Israel could come out stronger from this process. It’s easy to be cynical, and there is plenty of fuel to feed the fire of the skeptics, but maybe this process was somehow necessary to pivot and change the trajectory of Israel’s leadership.
The good news is that on March 2, 2020, the two largest Jewish communities in the world will be going to vote. Israelis will vote (of course 20% of Israelis who are not Jewish will be voting as well) and the Jewish community of the United States will be voting in the World Zionist Congress Elections to determine who will represent them at the Parliament of the Jewish People.
As we enter into Shabbat we will recount the giving of our people’s name Yisrael. Jacob is told that “your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”
We are still in the middle of this struggle and have yet to prevail and let us only hope that we can come out of this political process worthy of our name.