Last month’s elections in Israel – the fourth in two years – have yet to produce decisive results, and the country is wondering if there is a way out of its current political impasse. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party once again emerged as the largest faction in the Knesset with 30 seats, the party actually lost six seats, and the right-wing bloc of Likud-aligned parties just fell through. below a majority of 61 members.
Part of this electoral madness arguably has to do with Netanyahu’s extremely polarizing leadership, whose dominance in the Israeli political landscape has produced pro and anti-Netanyahu camps – of almost equal size – whose staunch support or opposition. to the current Prime Minister has become their dominant, if not decisive, political attribute. The dual allegiance of several small right-wing parties to both the anti-Netanyahu cause and traditional right-wing agendas has kept them from joining Netanyahu or his left-wing opponents. This, added to the failed experience of building a grand coalition after the third elections in 2020, resulted in a political stalemate and the inability to form stable governments.
On a deeper level, however, one can see the Israeli political crisis as being centered not so much on directing Netanyahu’s personal destiny, but rather on the future of Israeli democracy: will the country be successful. first and foremost Jewish or democratic? This fundamental tension, which manifests itself in a host of unresolved political issues – including the relationship between state and religion, commitment to civic equality and the rights of members of minority groups, and the reach of judicial review of political decisions – is increasingly moving. at the forefront of Israeli politics due to a combination of political developments.
First, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which for many years was the defining political problem facing the country, has declined in importance in recent years in the eyes of most Israelis, due to the sharp reduction in the level of violence. it generates, and the feeling that the two parties to the conflict are too far apart to break the political impasse and conclude a peace agreement in the foreseeable future.
This gave rise to the rise of other political tensions in Israel – between Jews and Arabs within Israel, and increasingly between liberals and conservatives within the Jewish electorate – and the readjustment of the political map according to these new tensions. For example, Yisrael Beytenu, a party that traditionally represented hard-line voters who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union, found itself taking increasingly anti-religious positions and gravitating towards the liberal left. and the anti-Netanyahu camp. At the same time, the Arab-Islamic party has joined ultra-Orthodox parties in voting against a bill advancing LGBT rights and is now even considering supporting a right-wing Likud-led coalition.
Second, the ongoing corruption trial against Prime Minister Netanyahu has sparked extensive debate in Israel around fundamental questions about the ethical and legal limits placed on Israeli politicians. The pro-Netanyahu camp has seized on the lawsuit to advance a populist agenda against the liberal elites who dominate the courts, the state attorney’s office and the media, and who allegedly seek to restrict Netanyahu’s power in the media. ballot boxes by “manufacturing” or magnifying the criminal charges against him.
At the same time, opponents of Netanyahu see the trial as a reaffirmation of basic democratic principles, such as the rule of law and equality before the law. Here too, the old distinctions between Left and Right ring increasingly hollow. Thus, a veteran right-wing politician like Benny Begin (the son of Likud founder – Menachem Begin – who recently left Likud to join the newly formed New Hope Party) who opposes the new populism, finds himself in the anti-Camp Netanyahu alongside far-left Arab and Jewish politicians. Likewise, ultra-Orthodox politicians who have traditionally taken moderate positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are now openly advocating for illiberal legislation to restrict the judicial oversight powers of the Supreme Court.
The four rounds of the elections can therefore be seen not only as an epic battle between Netanyahu and his opponents to gain political control of the country, but also as a process of realigning the Israeli political map with the breaking of old alliances and the formulation progressive new. What is at stake is not only the political and legal fate of Netanyahu, but also the general direction that the country’s politics will follow from the current inflection point: will it be ruled by a political constellation. attached to the values of a liberal democracy? and strong and independent democratic institutions, or continue to be led by political forces supporting traditional or conservative values and the rule of “elitist” democratic “gatekeepers”.
Professor Yuval Shany is Vice President of Research at the Israel Institute of Democracy and a member of the Law School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.