“וְהָיָה֙ כִּֽי־תָב֣וֹא אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ נַחֲלָ֑ה
וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֖הּ וְיָשַׁ֥בְתָּ בָּֽהּ׃”
“When you enter the land that Adonai your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and reside in it.” (Deut 26:1)
The 15th-century rabbi and commentator Don Yitzhak Abarbanel teaches that the weekly Parsha of Ki Tavo begins here in order to separate light from darkness. It’s a clear break from the previous week in which we ended with our arch-enemy Amalek – darkness – and we now come into the Land – light. He’s offering us a clean start, a fresh look and a new beginning upon entering the promised land. And too, this week, those who inherited the Land, got a second chance. A do-over repeat election to determine what society will look like for all those living in the Land that God gave us. In the book of Deuteronomy, we are told upon entering the Land to bring “every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that Adonai your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where your God will choose to establish God’s name.” We would recite a simple three-word formula “אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י” (“my father was a fugitive Aramean”) followed by a shared narrative of going down to Egypt, suffering, and eventual redemption in the Land of Milk and Honey. It was the closest thing we had to true unity. Of course, we come from different tribes but at the moment of entering the Land, we were unified (or so we were told).
Could actual unity work today?
After the results of Tuesday’s do-over elections, many are calling for a National Unity government. This means a coalition of 2-3 parties – combining the two largest parties and possibly with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, creating a centrist secular government. This scenario brings with it many advantages but, let’s not call it “unity”. Unity is the state of different areas or groups being joined together to form a single country or organization. A three-party coalition while true to pure democratic values would give power to the majority, but would not necessarily unify the diverse social, ethnic, religious, and political identities of the country. It would be likely the best possible outcome despite the potential obstacles of Netanyahu’s legal issues as he faces a potential indictment, his refusal of a rotational arrangement and the slightest hint of abdication of power.
For the sake of the country, Israeli democracy and the hope of avoiding a tragic 3rd elections, this is definitely the best possible outcome, but let’s not hold our breath.
This week the people of Israel got a second chance and have chosen their leadership. Sort of.
They rejected the radicals, exited the extremists, pulled in the polarities, maintained the mainstream, and solidified the center. If 80% of success in life is showing up, then Israelis came pretty close with a 1.5% higher voter turnout than in the last election, and a considerably higher turnout in the Arab sector.
With the official results almost all tallied, many are wondering why we wasted time and money for another round of elections with annoyingly similar results. Despite being similar, there are noticeable differences that are important to point out and even celebrate.
Winners and Not-Winners
The results of the election, while underwhelming, did produce some key victors and losers. Let’s examine some of the winners:
- Kahol Lavan, the large centrist party made up of three parties and a mishmash of political freelancers without a clear ideology other than ousting PM Netanyahu, won the highest number of mandates with 33. One can consider them to be the winners, but without a clear path to forming a coalition, their victory is somewhat mitigated.
- The Joint List of Arab parties came together with an impressive showing of 13 mandates, up from 10 in April. They are poised to be the 3rd largest party with the possibility of appointing the party head Ayman Odeh as a historic head of the Opposition. High voter turnout was key, and one could say that Netanyahu’s racist rhetoric threatening that Arabs will make up the coalition leading up to and especially on election day boosted their performance.
- Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu jumped to 8 seats positioning themself as the keystone party affording disproportional power and kingmaker status. If he recommends Benny Gantz to President Rivlin to form a coalition then he may be the key catalyst in finally ousting Netanyahu.
- The Haredim. With 8 and 9 sets to UTJ and Shas, they maintained their base and even grew. They have one mission only: be in the coalition. Despite early rumors of potential talks with Kahol Lavan it is reported that they will support Netanyahu with hopes for a right-wing/ultra-Orthodox coalition in exchange for his immunity.
- The Jewish Power party Otzmah Yehudit failed to make it in this time. Again. After key victories from our Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, who successfully barred three members from running due to their racist, xenophobic, anti-LGBTQ platform, they failed to cross the electoral threshold. This is good for Israel, the Jews, and all those who hope to rid racism from society.
- The Left. The fact that the Labor-Gesher list refused to join the Democratic Union to create a formidable left-wing power party is inexcusable and together their 11 seats (6+5) kept life into their lungs but it appears that they are still on life support. Many criticized their campaign as they failed to drum up wide support.
- Bibi. You gotta give him this, he fought and fought hard up until the last moment. He tried everything, from threats to promises to empty offers, even divulging classified information just to hold on to his seat. While 31 seats are nothing to sneeze at, his party (which swallowed up Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party) actually lost 8 seats.This is the major story of the day and could lead to the end of the Netanyahu era. But I wouldn’t count him out yet. He may have more dirty tricks, will do somersaults in the air, and has more lives than a Jerusalem alley cat. Instead of bowing out gracefully, avoiding jail time and saving face like a normal politician with even an olive’s worth of integrity, let’s just hope he doesn’t drag the entire country down with him.
Some are touting that the real winner here is Israeli democracy, as the system appears to work, and Israelis showed up and voted in high numbers. I don’t buy it, and not because I don’t like democracy. Lauding Israel’s democracy as the winner actually acknowledges that there could be a plausible alternative. This is akin to stepping on the scale to weigh yourself, and if you are not terribly pleased with the results you step back to say, “Gosh I should really celebrate the scale for working and doing its job.” No, we should see democracy as a foundation and while celebrating it is nice, and we shouldn’t take it for granted, it is neither winner nor loser in these elections. In fact, some are already preparing for a disastrous 3rd election. By calendrical calculations, they would likely be sometime around March 31, 2020, and we all hope that those in power will act responsibly to avoid us descending into an over-exercised democracy.
While we won’t see a coalition for a few weeks, we will continue watching closely. For Diaspora Jews, who choose not to “Come into the Land” (aka come on Aliyah and become a citizen of Israel), not to worry, our time will come soon enough and we’ll have our chance to vote and lend our support and implement our values in Israel.