Yogi Berra and Israeli Election Results
Yogi Berra is purported to have said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Rabbi Larry Kushner has gone one better than Yogi in his observation that, “For Jews, even when it’s over, it ain’t over.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inability to form a coalition government after his decisive election victory seven weeks ago is a political proof of Kushner’s statement.
So what happened? Let’s look to April’s election results. What was clear was that the majority of the country’s voters considered Israel’s economic strength, its relative security, and the diplomatic prowess of its prime minister to be secondary to any indictments that might be pending against him. As a result, Netanyahu’s Likud Party won thirty-five seats. As significant, former general Benny Ganz’s newly formed centrist Blue and White party matched Likud’s win. In the end, what pushed Netanyahu over the top was the number of other right of center parties that won Knesset seats, thirty in all. But although these parties share much of the same vision with respect to West Bank settlements and to the lack of any accommodation with the Palestinians, they are divided on the issue of drafting of yeshiva students into Israel’s army. Shas and United Torah, the two parties representing the ultra- Orthodox with eight seats each, are opposed to a universal military draft. But Avigdor Lieberman, whose secular Yisrayl Beiteinu party has five seats, refused to join Netanyahu’s coalition including them proclaiming, “I am against a state based on Jewish law.”
The irony that Netanyahu’s ‘victory’ was secured by anti-Zionist and non-nationalist haredim who refuse to serve and refuse to have their children serve was tempered by Lieberman’s refusal to join any coalition that included them. More prophetically, Netanyahu’s failure to form a government points to the growing chasm between the country’s ultra-Orthodox and secular citizens. With their stunning birthrates, demographers predict that by 2024, one quarter of the age eligible men for the draft will be exempted haredim. Since the founding of the modern State, the army has been the great acculturating force in Israel. Increasingly, the secular and ultra-Orthodox live in separate neighborhoods with their own rules. The refusal of the haredim to be part of the common denominator in Israeli society – i.e., the IDF – effectively puts them in different worlds. The long- term impossibility of this situation can be seen in the present election crisis.
Avrum Berg, a former Speaker of the Knesset and past chairman of the Jewish Agency, once observed that in Israel, there are always three pots simmering on the political stove. One pot contains the economy, a second, external security, and a third, internal issues such as religion and state. When any one of these pots boil over, it endangers the country. Netanyahu’s call to dissolve the Knesset because he was unable to cobble together a coalition proves Burg’s point. I doubt the September elections will mitigate the present impasse; but even if it does, we can be assured that the internal divisions within the State will only deepen in years to come.