Although Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party are thought to be most capable of forming a stable government, the results of this election and Israel’s future are still uncertain.
According to World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, electoral reform is the most important issue facing Israel right now. “This is counterproductive, it strangles creativity, it wastes time, it just doesn’t work” is what Lauder said in a September speech about Israel’s current electoral system that’s yielded a 5th election in 3 years, arguing that reform is necessary.
A person largely driving the need for reform is Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the current opposition leader of center-right Likud, was Prime Minister of Israel for 15 years.
Netanyahu’s divisive campaign for prime minister is complicated by his ongoing corruption trial, which has contributed greatly to Israel’s political instability. While Netanyahu’s personality has alienated former allies and those across Israel’s political spectrum.
In spite of this, Netanyahu and his party Likud will have the most seats in the Knesset after the election according to Maryland Professor Ilai Slatzman
“The leader of the opposition’s party, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, that will be the biggest party by any account by most of the polling done already, [and] based on previous election cycles,”
UMD Jewish studies professor Scott Lasensky agrees reform is needed for stability, though based on the Israeli government’s history with political reform, the path through seems unclear.
“Israel had a major experiment in the late 1990s and early 2000s with political reform,” he said, referring to a short-lived decision to separate election results for the prime minister and the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
“That reform is largely seen as a failure and was eliminated after two elections. it’s going to be hard to drive meaningful and effective change [to the current system].”
Netanyahu’s main competition is current Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his centrist party Yesh Atid. Lapid is allied with left-wing parties Labor and Meretz, attempting to form a government coalition together, though some worry this effort will likely fail.
“Lapid, Labor, and Meretz are not enough to form a coalition on their own,” Saltzman said.
Sophomore electrical engineering major Yoav Lavy, an Israeli citizen with extended family in the country, views Yesh Atid as the best option.
“I looked through the party list, Yesh Atid isn’t so bad. I’m not a big Yair Lapid fan, but I think Yesh Atid is definitely better than all the other parties,” he said.
Due to Netanyahu’s primacy in election polling, Saltzman maintains Lapid and his allies will need an untraditional alliance to succeed at the polls and thwart a potential Likud coalition.
“They will need Benny Gantz or the new triumvirate of Benny Gantz, [Gideon Sa’ar, and Gadi Eisenkot.]”
Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, chairman of the centrist Blue and White party, is allying with Minister of Justice Gideon Sa’ar’s center-right party New Hope, in a new political enterprise formed to oppose Netanyahu.
Saltzman believes Netanyahu holds Likud back from creating a coalition with any opposition parties.
“[Without Netanyahu, Likud] would be in a position to form a very stable and long term durable coalition government,” he said.
Even as Netanyahu weakens Likud’s standing, Saltzman maintains that Netanyahu’s position within Likud is solid because of his political maneuvering within his own camp.
“He’s unchallenged for a variety of reasons, one of which is he was very capable and effective at decapitating all possible potential competition, and he was able to groom all kinds of supporters within and outside the party,” he said.
Two of the latest outside supporters are Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, both far-right anti-Arab politicians. Ben-Gvir and his party, Otzma Yehudit, are actively linked to Kahanism, an extreme right-wing Jewish ideology that originates from the thought of Meir Kahane.
Lavy doesn’t support the extremism of Ben-Gvir or Smotrich.
“I don’t have favorable views towards them. [I think] Ben-Gvir is a terrorist.”
Many in the US government dislike Ben-Gvir as well. Earlier this October, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez publicly warned Benjamin Netanyahu against including Ben-Gvir in any government.
Though many American Jews share Menendez’s views, Lasensky outlines difficulties of the Jewish diaspora speaking out.
“It’s tricky with Israel, as even with the Jewish diaspora, the wrong kind of intervention in [Israeli]politics can lead to some pretty decisive and defensive responses from Israelis,” he said. “As a relatively small and vulnerable country they have a particular sensitivity to outside intervention, even among allies or friends in the Jewish diaspora.”
Both Lasensky and Saltzman agree that Arab turnout and participation will impact Israel’s political future and current election.
Although the Arab Joint List, once Israel’s 3rd largest party, split into three, Lasesnky believes it and Ra’am, which was included in the current coalition, have created some positive precedents.
“There’s now a model out there for maximizing Arab political participation. Even [when] talking about this and pointing to the precedent of Mansour Abbas and [Ra’am] sitting in the Israeli government coalition, I’m very conscious in suggesting that these are limited steps forward,” he said.
Saltzman argues that Lapid will need high Arab turnout for success.
“If Arabs vote in higher numbers, Yair Lapid might have a good chance to form a coalition government. If they don’t, it’s a done deal,” he said.
With days to go, the outcome of the Israeli election is still unclear as the country continuously falls victim to a political system more complicated than ever before.