By Logan Heller
Due to the political makeup of the Israeli electorate, coalition governments are critical to run the Israeli parliament, known as the Knesset, efficiently. Given that the Knesset is composed of 120 seats, parties band together and elect a prime minister to hold a majority. In other words, Israeli citizens vote for parties, which in turn select a prime minister. This is more important now than ever, since the Israeli election was held Sept. 17 and coalition talks are going on currently.
Once again, it was the political powerhouse of the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, current prime minister, against his left-leaning opponents who were created with the explicit goal of defeating him, the Blue and White Party. Dissimilar to the American system, the Israeli system consists of multiple parties who hope to achieve a coalition or unity government. Therein lies the problem with the Israeli democratic structure. The solution to this problem is for the Likud and the Blue & White, the two largest and most popular parties within the state of Israel, to unite and create one of the strongest coalition governments the Knesset has ever seen in the history of Israel.
As a Jew, I am well aware of the notion that two Jews will have three opinions. The sentiment holds true within Israeli politics, as there are 17 parties that have passed the electoral threshold alone in a nation of just eight million. As a result, it is not uncommon for fringe parties to experience disproportionate levels of power. By fringe, I am referring to political parties that are far beyond the normal spectrum of politics.
To compare to American politics, consider former Louisiana State Representative, KKK Grand Wizard, and known Holocaust denier David Duke having a position in the U.S. Congress. Clearly, this would never happen, as his views are deemed unacceptable and would never reflect the views of any constituency. However, if this was Israel, the leading party would reach out to a member of such fringe parties in the hopes of securing a majority within the Knesset. After all, passing bills with a strong majority is as easy as finding a good hummus guy in Bethesda: pretty straightforward. So where does this problem come into play in Israel?
Out of all the groups within the Knesset, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties Shas, the National Religious Party and the United Torah Judaism wield massive amounts of power. Despite holding less than 15 seats combined, the ultra-religious groups form a bloc against any leading power. This forces the leading party trying to form a coalition in the Knesset into a difficult position. They must either allow the ultra-religious factions a seat in high ranking positions as the religious bloc demands, or run the risk of imminent re-elections as the leading government fails to make a coalition.
Despite being only 30% of the Israeli population, the backers of these extremely religious groups demand the control of key finance leadership positions in the government to ensure their controversial policy is maintained. Entitlement programs continue to flow and their young men can legally avoid serving in the IDF. I witnessed the resentment expressed by mainstream party supporters while interning in Israel for the summer.
Everyday, Israelis expressed a feeling of hopelessness as administration after administration allowed these groups to control key positions within coalition governments. It is unacceptable and must be addressed to ensure fringe groups, in this case the ultra-orthodox parties, do not override the majority views of the Isreali mainstream populous. To be clear, my concern over these religious parties has largely nothing to do with their religious affiliation itself, but rather, the disproportionate power they exert on the total Israeli population in critical areas like defense and finance.
Despite clear differences existing between the Likud and Blue & White Parties, I strongly urge both parties to unite in a single coalition government to remove the stranglehold of the religious bloc and allow moderate policies to come into play. Failure to do so will ensure more of the same: snap elections, frustrated Israelis and powerful fringe political leaders.
Logan is a sophomore government and politics major with minors in global terrorism and international development and conflict resolution. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.