From the Editor: Who will form Israel’s next government?

By Michael Regenstreif, Editor

As a student of politics (my BA and MA are in political science), this is a fascinating time for me with the second Israeli election in less than five months about to take place on September 17 (after this issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin goes to press but before it comes out), the October 21 federal election campaign here in Canada underway, and a possible election on the horizon in the United Kingdom. As well, of course, the battle in the Democratic Party to see who will take on Donald Trump in the 2020 U.S. presidential election is well underway.

This Israeli election was called because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not put together a governing coalition of at least 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the weeks following the April 9 election. The stumbling block was Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman (a former defence and foreign minister) who insists that exemptions from military service for haredi men studying Torah be ended. With that demand, Yisrael Beiteinu members will not serve in a coalition with the haredi Orthodox parties – whose support is crucial to Netanyahu’s coalition numbers.

The last Smith Research poll published before the election suggests Netanyahu’s Likud Party could win 33 seats and that his potential coalition partners (Yamina, Shas, and United Torah Judaism) could win a total of 24 seats for a possible coalition of 57 seats. If those predictions are accurate, Netanyahu will again not have enough support to govern.

Netanyahu’s rival for the prime minister’s office is Benny Gantz, a former chief of the Israel Defense Forces, who leads the Blue and White Party. That last Smith Research poll suggests Blue and White could win 32 seats, putting them in a neck-and-neck horserace with Likud.

The poll suggests Blue and White’s likely coalition partners (the Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher) could win another 11 seats. The wild cards are the Joint List (an alliance of Arab parties) which is predicted to take 12 seats and Yisrael Beiteinu which is predicted to win eight seats. If the Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu join Gantz’s potential coalition (and that’s a very big if), he will be in a position to unseat Netanyahu and form a government. Such a coalition would be precedent-setting as Israel’s Arab parties have never before participated in a governing coalition.

Another scenario being discussed is Blue and White forming a power-sharing unity government with Likud. This is a scenario Liberman is said to favour, as it would mean the haredi parties could be sidelined on the opposition benches. However, there has been speculation that both Gantz and Liberman would insist that Netanyahu step down from the Likud leadership. And Netanyahu has indicated that he’s not interested in such a unity government.

In all likelihood, it will be some time before we know what’s to be. It typically takes weeks of wheeling and dealing after an Israeli election to form a governing coalition. But if neither block is able to form a governing coalition, there may be no other choice but a unity government, as it is doubtful the public would stand for a third election in less than a year.