January 05, 2021
by Sondra Baras
While Christians all over the world were celebrating Christmas and New Years, the Government of Israel fell. The upcoming election will be the fourth in just under two years, coming just one year after the last elections.
Israel went to the polls in March and September of 2019, but no party was able to form a coalition government, so each time new elections were called. Following the last elections, in March of 2020, after months of seemingly failed negotiations between the main parties, a national unity government was formed between Blue and White and the Likud, and a few smaller parties. But from the beginning, that government has failed to function. After months of constant in-fighting, bickering between rival politicians and parties within the government, inconsistent and rapidly changing decisions regarding the COVID pandemic and, most importantly, the failure to pass a budget for 2020 or for 2021, the government fell. Elections will be held on March 23, 2021.
I have lived in Israel for more than 36 years and have been an avid follower of politics ever since arriving here. Politics in Israel was always more about ideology than personalities. I have always voted right-wing as a result of two main issues — support for traditional values and for the settlement movement. The Likud was the largest party on the right for most of the past few decades, but the national religious party played an important role as well.
All that began to change during this recent election season. I credit two parallel phenomena for this change: the growing resentment of Netanyahu found in huge sectors of the population and the solid majority of Israelis who are right-of-center in their political leanings. Seemingly, these two trends contradict one another, but in reality they have created strange bedfellows. Add the COVID pandemic to the mix, and the result is lethal.
Netanyahu is arguably the best prime minister Israel ever had. He has been in office for longer than Israel’s mythical David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. He has turned the Israeli economy into one of the strongest in the world. Just a few years ago, Israel was considered a pariah among nations because of the successful boycott campaigns of the Palestinians and their many allies. Today, Israel is sought after by most countries, including in the Arab world, for its technological knowhow and ingenuity. The Abraham Accords recently signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and similar agreements between Israel and other Arab countries, are a testament to this change, in large part thanks to Netanyahu.
But for years, Netanyahu pushed aside rivals, even within his own party, rather than cultivate them as possible heirs. As a result, many of the leaders and Knesset members of rival parties are former Likud members. They were pushed out by Netanyahu because he felt threatened by their popularity and today they challenge him from without. Netanyahu often takes policy criticism personally rather than politically or ideologically. Today, the Likud party is primarily a chorus of yes-men and women, parroting Netanyahu’s messages, including those which are aimed merely at preserving his position as prime minister, without any connection to policy or issues.
Netanyahu has failed to govern, to command respect from his political partners, and to earn the trust of vast sectors of society. As the COVID pandemic has affected countries all over the world, fewer Israelis trust their government to choose the best course in handling the crisis. And it is not because there are differences of opinion on how best to respond to the pandemic. People lack confidence in their leaders, prompted by a lack of confidence felt by the leaders in themselves and each other. When Netanyahu argues with his fellow ministers and the government changes its mind daily on which measures to implement, the citizenry looks at this mess, shakes its head and cries for help. Something had to give! So the government fell and new elections were scheduled.
Given the fact that the electorate is overwhelmingly right-wing, it should have been easy to create a unified right-of-center government these two years. But because Netanyahu has made so many enemies, too many of those who share his political, economic and defense views are not willing to sit in a government led by him. And when Blue and White tried, the result was total failure.
So will anything change with these elections? Some believe that Netanyahu is a political wizard and will always find a way to ensure that the Likud is the largest party in the Knesset. That is probably true. But the opinion polls are finding significant drops in support for the Likud because of Netanyahu. And there is no reason to doubt that the results of these next elections will be worse for Netanyahu than before — he will not be able to form a government.
There is no doubt, that if Netanyahu were not the leader of the Likud, all of the right-of-center parties would be able to join in a relatively cohesive government. But given the existing electoral system in Israel, the only way to get rid of Netanyahu as the head of the Likud is for him to resign or for his party members to force him out. But most Likud party leaders believe that he is still their best bet for leadership, partly because he has not fostered an heir who inspires confidence.
The Likud has lost the support of wide portions of its political base. But it still has the support of many. But only a weakened Likud will enable the country to move forward. Only a weakened Likud will force Netanyahu to resign and will open the doors for a broad-based right-wing coalition.
Many have mourned the change in politics world-wide — the decline in ideology and the increase in personality worship. In Israel this problem is felt deeply. We long for the leaders of old, David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin and Yitzchak Shamir, who did not pander to egos and whose only priority was the best way to govern Israel.
It is a tired nation that will go to the polls in March — tired of egotistical politicians, tired of the COVID pandemic and its social distancing requirements, tired of the divisions between whole sectors of society which calming and trustworthy leaders could do so much to mend. Israel is a country of wonderful people, of people who love to argue with one another, but who will do anything for one another. We do not deserve the leadership we now have. We deserve so much better!