This coming Tuesday, April 9th, the citizens of Israel will go to the polls to elect their parliament. By late afternoon EDT, we’ll have a sense of the outcome – which, of some 40 parties on the ballot, will be represented in the 21st Knesset and, within a seat or two, how many seats in the 120-member body each party will hold.
As in the past, we can expect to wake up on Wednesday to at least some media declarations about who won the elections. But seasoned observers of Israel’s electoral process know that, barring a blowout not forecast in any of the polls, congratulating a winner next week would be a foolish mistake.
We recall 2009, when Tzipi Livni led Kadima to a 28-seat plurality, but Benjamin Netanyahu eventually formed a government led by the 27-seat holding Likud, beginning his current decade-long run in office. And of course, there was 1984, when Shimon Peres (Labor, 44 seats) and Yitzhak Shamir (Likud, 41 seats) fought a hard campaign, and when both failed to bring smaller parties to a coalition, formed a national unity government with a rotating premiership.
For Israel, a multi-party parliamentary system, election day is but one step in a process of choosing a new leader. Following the election, President Rivlin will invite each party to recommend any Knesset member for prime minister. He must then decide which individual has the highest likelihood of successfully forming a 61-seat majority. Once that person is invited to form a coalition, they will have up to 36 days to do so.
The next Knesset, like the current one, will also have parties within the parties; factions that run as a joint-list for the ballot but have different priorities once seated in parliament. And each party will have very different demands about what it “must have” to be in a coalition, whether that is investment in women’s issues or legalizing marijuana, economic reforms, and, predictably, specific policies on security and peace issues. Someone will find a way to get to 61 and have a coalition agreement that paradoxically both reflects and alters the platforms of the parties involved.
So, as in past election years, do not look for a congratulatory statement from JCRC on Wednesday. Instead, we’ll be getting out the proverbial popcorn and observing negotiations that will likely run into mid-May. We will be educating ourselves and our community about the election results and their significance. We’ll invite you – on our social platforms and in our programs, including our monthly Israel Engagement briefing on April 17th – to pay attention to how the smaller parties did and what they are prioritizing. We’ll wonder about different coalition possibilities and what they will prioritize. We’ll pay attention to a diverse group of Israelis with expertise as they make sense of the results.
Later this month we’ll sit down with our Council, our own diverse community of 44 organizations covering the gamut of Jewish communal views about Israel – everyone from AIPAC to Hadassah, ZOA and the Boston Workmen’s Circle, AJC, ADL, J Street, and the Israeli-American Council, along with representatives from the community at-large. Together we’ll try to make sense of how we as a collective understand the results.
And then, when a new government is formed, we’ll make a statement. We will articulate once again how we, as one organized Jewish community, perceive the new Israeli government. And we will do so rooted in our commitment to support our Israeli partners in the pursuit of a secure, Jewish, and democratic state of Israel, living side-by-side with a viable Palestinian state in peace, security, and mutual recognition.
For now, Shabbat Shalom.
p.s. A tidbit: In Israel, election day is a national holiday. People go to the polls and then to the parks. And voter turnout is quite high, 72% in the last election (compared to 56% in the U.S. in 2016). Something for us all to think about.