IN THE MEDIA
AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro discusses the Israeli election aftermath on ABC News Radio
Apr 7, 2021
AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro discussed the Israeli election aftermath on ABC News Radio with Glen Bartholomew, 7 April 2021.
Glen Bartholomew: Just some of the stories making news today. Well, here’s another one:
The state of Israel is not to be taken for granted. And I fear for my country.
Those were the extraordinary words of Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, as he urged the many different political parties to try to come together to form a government and avoid a fifth election in about two years. Two weeks after the country’s latest inconclusive election, the president gave current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu the difficult task of trying to form a government, even as he stands trial on corruption charges. Ahron Shapiro is Senior Policy Analyst with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, and joins us once more. Ahron, good morning to you. It’s an extraordinary comment from the president to say he fears for his country. Is he trying to remind everyone of how important it is to form some sort of working government after these years of political turmoil?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, yes, I think so. We, you know, Ruvi Rivlin is near the end of his presidential term – he finishes on July 1st – and he’s very conscious of what’s been going on in the country. He, as the president, he stands above politics and he comments when he feels necessary, and when his job gives him an opportunity to, he says things which the country needs to hear. And he’s very upset with the five elections – Well, the four elections. I speak too soon – but the potential of the fifth election if they don’t come to an agreement.
Glen Bartholomew: Despite four elections, no party leader has the necessary support to form a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset, the parliament, but has again given Benjamin Netanyahu the task of cobbling together a working government. How do you rate his chances of breaking this unprecedented period of political stalemate?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, you know, it’s interesting because if you looked back at where these different parties are supposed to stand, it would appear on paper that Netanyahu has a good chance, because he has, if you look, what they used to call right-wing and left-wing in Israel, it would appear that there are more right-wing parties than left-wing. But all that really doesn’t matter that much anymore. You have left-wing parties saying they’ll work with right-wing parties, right-wing party says they’ll work with left-wing parties all towards the goal of changing leadership. And this has been going on for some time and the voices are getting louder and louder.
So, Netanyahu does not really have a good path to government right now. In fact, it’s worse than it has been in the previous elections. And the only way that he will be able to form a government is if somebody is going to go back on their election promises and that’s not at all clear that’s going to happen.
Glen Bartholomew: The president also said, “this is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis” and noted that many believe Netanyahu’s unfit to serve as prime minister in light of his corruption trial that’s currently underway. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
Ahron Shapiro: Well, you know, Netanyahu, in a way, is digging his pit a bit deeper because just the other day he attacked the judiciary, and he accused them of actually working towards – he even used the word coup – and this really shouldn’t be the sort of thing that a prime minister should be saying. He was criticized in a Jerusalem Post editorial, and in many other places, for using that kind of language. And I think the president is very concerned about these attacks on the judiciary.
Glen Bartholomew: And his defense did indeed include claiming that it’s all part of a left-wing coup to unseat him, whether anybody’s buying that it’s unclear, but there seems to be still some strong support for him and a similarly strong level of support for his removal from office. The charges were pretty much outlined in the last couple of days, suggesting that, what, he’s been trading influence for positive coverage, amongst other things.
Ahron Shapiro: Yes, you know, the witnesses that they’ve had in the past couple of days have been about influencing media coverage in a beneficial way towards the prime minister. And if you take the witness testimony alone, it’s very damning. You know, I don’t think there has been a case that’s ever been prosecuted anywhere in the world that, swaying, using a bribery charge about media coverage. And yet here we are, where there is some evidence that’s growing and it’s very disturbing.
Glen Bartholomew: Benjamin Netanyahu now has what, four to six weeks to try to cobble together some kind of coalition. Dare I ask what happens if he doesn’t?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, he will get these weeks to try and assemble a coalition. Then the president will have an option to either find another, to tap another candidate for prime minister – and there are two others, at least two have said that they want to be prime minister – and he could go with that or he could just throw it back to the Knesset and say, you have to choose somebody or we’re going to elections again. But people believe that the challengers, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett – these are the two people who said we want to be prime minister, separately – and it’s believed that maybe with a bit more time, behind the scenes, they may be able to get their act together and maybe agree on a rotation.
And you know, what’s really interesting about this election is the role of Israeli Arab parties in all this. They are really the deciding factor in any government. They have to support a government, either from the inside or outside. And that will be the case, whether it will be a right-wing government or a left-wing government. And this is unprecedented in many ways.
Glen Bartholomew: Remarkable that they could be so crucial and in the Israeli parliament and the potential Israeli government. Ahron, we’ll watch with interest what happens next. Thanks for keeping us up to date.
Ahron Shapiro, senior policy analyst with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. They’re still trying to form a government in Israel.