Knesset Reporter Predicts Bumpy Road for Israeli Left

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu face corruption charges, but could remain the Jewish State’s leader. ( / Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

With Israel’s 2019 legislative election just over a month away, the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC) invited former Times of Israel Washington correspondent Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil to give a crash course on Israeli politics for its board. Shimoni-Stoil’s Feb. 28 address at the offices of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore came a mere hours after Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced plans to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges stemming from three separate investigations.

During her talk, an unscripted and enthusiastic Shimoni-Stoil, now a political historian at Loyola University of Maryland, explained that Israel’s government is a coalitional system in which political parties form alliances to control, at minimum, 61 of the 120 seats of the Knesset, the parliamentary legislative branch of the Israeli government. In Israeli elections, citizens do not vote for politicians, but rather for a political party that releases lists of prioritized candidates ahead of the election. The amount of those candidates who earn a Knesset seat is determined by how many votes the party receives during that election.

Even after the indictments were announced, Shimoni-Stoil was skeptical that Israeli left-wing parties will fare well in the upcoming election, calling their current predicament a “lose-lose scenario.”

“As of right now they actually will get the plurality of votes,” Shimoni-Stoil said, referring to the Blue and White coalition, an alliance of left-wing parties. “But if the elections are going to be tomorrow, they will be tasked by the president, Reuven Rivlin — who on the one hand is an old Likud hack, and on the other really personally hates Netanyahu — with forming the government, which is getting to this magic number of 61. And it looks like it’s not going to be possible, as of right now.

“If I look at all of the polling of all of the parties up until today, they can win the election, but lose the parliamentary formation.”

The same thing happened to the liberal Kadima party in 2009. After receiving a plurality of votes, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni could not find 61 members to join her coalition. Seeing that Likud had enough allies to form a narrow coalition, then-President Shimon Peres instead tasked Netanyahu with forming the government.

Shimoni-Stoil believes the only way for Blue and White to reach a coalition of 61 now would be to bring in a collection of small Arab parties. However, if Blue and White announces before the election that they will add the Arab parties to their coalition, Shimoni-Stoil says it is likely they would lose Jewish Israeli votes, possibly costing them their plurality.

“Or they could bring in the [haredi] Orthodox party, but there is super-duper personal bad blood between the journalist Yair Lapid, who’s one of the headliners of the Blue and White party, and Shas,” said Shimoni-Stoil. “Because Yair Lapid’s dad was Tommy Lapid who campaigned on one agenda alone, and that was breaking the religious authority in Israel.”

The Times of Israel reported on Feb. 24 that the leaders of United Torah Judaism, another haredi-Orthodox party, have already ruled out joining a government led by Lapid.

A board member in the audience asked Shimoni-Stoil if Netanyahu’s endorsement of Otzma Yehudit, the far-right descendant of the banned Kach party, would have a negative impact on his numbers on Election Day. Shimoni-Stoil noted that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has disavowed Netanyahu for doing so, but that Blue and White has not taken the opportunity to capitalize off of it.

“For AIPAC to publically disavow [Netanyahu’s] merger with Otzma Yehudit was a momentous signaling within the American Jewish community,” but not as much in Israel, where Netanyahu’s appeal is his claim that he knows how to make Israel’s place in the world secure, said Shimoni-Stoil. It would be smart for Blue and White to say, “Look, you managed to get AIPAC mad at you? How did you do that?” “I think it could be a more significant development than it appeared to be initially,” she added, “but only if it’s used effectively in the hands of those who yield it.” JT

The BJC hosts Shimoni-Stoil for an Israeli Elections 101 event open to the public at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC on March 13.

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  1. Blue and White will probably not win the elections next week. Not unlike the U.S., Israel is dominated by a criminally corrupt, racist and incitement riven hard Right coalition. Unlike the U.S., Israel has authentic and immediate ‘national crises’ to manage on a day to day basis. Regretfully, Netanhyahu has become a master of manipulating political sentiment using ‘crisis’ has his framework while continuing to lack any vision for the future of Israel other than keeping his day job and trying to stay out of jail.

    But that Likud will likely win on April 9 does not remotely ensure an extended stay for Bibi. Over the next year, despite his repulsive and dangerous attacks on the media, law enforcement and about anybody he sees an an ‘enemy’ (of him), he will be indicted and likely found guilty. That also means over the next year, Netanyahu will be out of office no matter how loudly he screams at TV the cameras.

    Before that happens, Israeli politicians not Likud – all conveniently called the ‘Left’ in Israel – need to give serious thought to having serious thoughts about a forward thinking vision for Israel.

    A place to start is right now and for Gantz and Lapid’s Blue and White to not base their current electoral strategies and plans towards still more pandering to and cowering from Netanyahu and his racist coalition’s rants, threats and name calling. The opposition must first demonstrate it’s ability to stand up to and handle Likud and the allied-in-desperation ultra-orthodox factions before talking about responding to Hamas and so much more.

    Blue and White’s ‘promise’ to reject bringing in any Arab parties was cowardly as in yet another ‘afraid of what Netanyahu will say’ moment while also not being very politically astute. Israel can continue to be a ‘Jewish state’ without so minimizing degrading a whole sector of its own represented citizens who don’t happen to be Jewish. Such demonization and minimization is Israel’s loss to include the understandable contempt which follows from it’s Arab citizens.

    And since the Palestinians and the Palestinian question cannot continue to be kicked down the road, a stronger coalition with Israel’s Arab citizens is a pivotal point. Blue and White should promise to work and participate with identified Arab parties in the Knesset.

    Blue and White must next resume Tommy Lapid’s focus on breaking up the ultra-orthodox pseudo-oligarchy which continues to feed off of the state while contributing precious little in return but more acrimony and division among Jews both in Israel and among the Diaspora. It’s time for the ultra-orthodox to become participants in rather than still more opponents to the State of Israel.

    I also seriously doubt Shas’ hysterics that Blue and While will ‘move’ Israel’s gay pride parade to the Western Wall. But so what if that happened? Individuals who don’t like it can continue to face the Wall and pray while the rest can turn around in a show of show of support for other Israeli Jews.

    Israel’s strength has long been comprised of all Jews rather than those selected out by the ultra-orthodox and/or hard Right governments. Israel’s strength would also be by giving true relevance and representation to its Arab citizens by and through their MPs. It’s time to stop pandering to Netanyahu while fearinghis next authoritarian anti-democracy rant. Even with a win on April 9, Netanyahu and Likud are on a political egg timer.

    Now’s the time for the Blue and White; the opposition – or the ‘non-Israeli Right’ – to truly get their act together and create an honest, secure and strong future vision for Israel


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