After last week’s decisive election in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is on his way to forming a ruling coalition and returning to the prime minister’s office. The election results point the way to a governing majority that is conservative, nationalistic and religious. And potentially problematic.
In addition to his Likud party, which won 32 seats, Netanyahu’s likely coalition will include the Religious Zionists party, an extreme right-wing party led by Bezalel Smotrich and Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, which won 14 seats; and Haredi, non-Zionist parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, which won 11 and 7 seats, respectively. The most moderate leadership voice in the anticipated coalition may be Netanyahu himself. And management of his coalition partners will likely present a challenge to Netanyahu’s legendary political deal-making skills.
All in all, last week’s vote was a devastating defeat for the anti-Netanyahu parties that forged a government over the last year. Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party garnered 24 seats; the center-right National Unity party of Defense Minister Benny Gantz won 12 seats; and the right-wing Israel Beiteinu led by Avigdor Lieberman won 6. Significantly, this election saw the almost complete disappearance of Israel’s shrinking left — with the Labor party barely crossing the 3.25 percent election threshold with four seats — and the disappearance of left-wing Meretz. In addition, neither Ayelet Shaked’s right-wing Habayit Hayehudi nor the Arab nationalist party Balad was able to attract enough votes to cross the election threshold.
The irony is that if the center-right parties were willing to join the coalition, they could balance or even replace the far-right parties. But each of the center-right leaders has been burned by Netanyahu before and has pledged not to join him now.
U.S. Jewry is overall more liberal than the steadily more conservative Israeli public. Some Jewish groups expressed distress over the election results, while others merely congratulated Israel on the election and kept silent about concerns regarding the far-right elements of the likely coalition.
On the eve of the election, Israeli President Isaac Herzog told the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, “The results may or may not be to your liking, but the vote of the Israeli people should be respected.” We agree. We need to respect and accept the will of the Israeli people. This is so even if the likely direction of several government policies could be uncomfortable for a significant segment of Diaspora Jewry. For example, no one from Netanyahu rightward supports a two-state solution. And the restoration of full control of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Rabbinate to Haredi leadership is not likely to support religious pluralism in Israel or LGBTQ+ rights.
But this is the government Israel’s electorate wants. As such, when it comes to the makeup of the government and the policies it pursues, the decisions aren’t ours to make. We don’t have to agree with every policy and decision. And we certainly don’t have to support decisions with which we disagree. But we shouldn’t prejudge things based upon what we think will happen. Instead, let’s see what they decide to do. Let’s see which ministries are given to far-right leaders. And let’s see what policies are pursued.
They may surprise us.