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After election win, Netanyahu set to be Israeli PM again

Nov 4, 2022 | AIJAC staff

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11/22 #01

 

The results are in from Israel’s general election on Tuesday, and parties supporting former PM Binyamin Netanyahu have won a 64-seat majority in the 120 Israeli Knesset, meaning he will almost certainly lead Israel’s next government. This Update looks at the results, why Netanyahu was successful, and what might happen next – including the controversy over one likely Netanyahu coalition partner, right-wing extremist activist Itamar Ben Gvir and his Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) party.

First up, Amy Spiro from the Times of Israel lays out all the basic facts about the election outcome – including distribution of seats, voter turnout, and the political process going forward. She also reports on the concession speech by outgoing PM Yair Lapid, and speculation already occurring over who will get what cabinet post in a new Netanyahu-led ministry. For all the basic facts about this election and its aftermath, CLICK HERE.

Next up, the Wall Street Journal offers a sensible and knowledgeable evaluation of the scope and meaning of, and the reasons for, the Netanyahu victory. Even though the paper’s editors are of course not Israeli, the editorial nonetheless offers an informed discussion of the reasons many Israelis may have looked to Netanyahu as a safe pair of hands after years of political deadlock and instability. Furthermore, it also cautions against an excessive focus on the success of Ben Gvir and his party, given the relatively small percentage of the vote they received. For the Journal‘s solid analysis in full, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post editorialised that the new pro-Netanyahu coalition won the election and must be allowed to govern – but also needs to reassure its opponents that it will genuinely govern for all Israelis.

Finally, veteran Israeli journalist and political pundit Shmuel Rosner dives directly into the Ben Gvir controversy. Rosner makes it very clear how far from the mainstream Ben Gvir has been, at least in past years, but argues that assuming Ben Gvir remains a serious danger to Israeli democracy today is premature and unwarranted. Rosner also offers an excellent explanation of why some ordinary Israelis might be supportive of Ben Gvir, rooted primarily in acts of violence and high crime rate emanating from the Arab sectors of Israeli society, which many Israelis see as a drastic problem. For Rosner’s insightful explanation and argument in full, CLICK HERE.

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Conceding defeat, Lapid wishes Netanyahu luck ‘for the sake of the Israeli people’

 

Final election results show Likud leader to head 64-strong right-religious bloc in 120-seat Knesset despite only narrow lead in overall vote, as Meretz, Balad fall below threshold

By AMY SPIRO 

Times of Israel, 3 November 2022.


A jubilant Binyamin Netanyahu, with his wife Sara, on Wednesday, as he claimed victory in Israel’s election the previous day (Photo: Facebook)

As the final thousands of votes were being tallied Thursday evening, Prime Minister Yair Lapid called opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to concede the race and congratulate him on his election victory.

“The State of Israel is above any political considerations,” Lapid said in a statement. “I wish Netanyahu good luck for the people of Israel and the State of Israel.”

Lapid’s office said the outgoing prime minister told Netanyahu he has instructed all branches of his office to prepare for an orderly transfer of power.

With all the ballots tallied following Israel’s national election on Tuesday, Netanyahu will control not just the largest party in the Knesset, but is poised to return to power leading a 64-strong majority bloc of his religious and right-wing allies in the 120-member Knesset.

Netanyahu’s Likud will be the Knesset largest party, but the major success of the elections was the rise of the Netanyahu-allied, far-right Religious Zionism faction, which includes the Otzma Yehudit party of Itamar Ben Gvir, who was barred from IDF service because of his extremist activities and positions, and the anti-LGBT Noam party.

The last of the close to 4.8 million votes cast by Israel’s citizens were counted by Thursday evening, with the final “double envelope” votes confirming that the left-wing Meretz would not cross the threshold to enter the Knesset, and adjusting the seat allocation slightly to shift one seat from Likud to Yisrael Beytenu.

The “double envelope” votes counted Thursday were those cast by IDF soldiers on base, those in hospitals or prisons, envoys serving Israel abroad and people using accessible polling stations. They take longer to count since the Central Election Committee must first ensure that such voters did not also cast a ballot at their official registered polling station.

The final tally gives Likud 32 seats, Yesh Atid 24, Religious Zionism 14, National Unity 12, Shas 11, United Torah Judaism 7, Yisrael Beytenu 6, Ra’am 5, Hadash-Ta’al 5, and Labor 4.


The official vote totals as published by Israel’s Election Commission. 

The bloc of parties loyal to Netanyahu — Likud, Religious Zionism, Shas and UTJ — will control 64 seats, while those parties who made up the outgoing government control 51 seats, as Hadash-Ta’al vowed to join neither side.

When it comes to actual votes cast, just 48% went to the parties in the predicted incoming right-wing government. But the Netanyahu-led bloc secured far more seats because both the Arab nationalist party Balad and Meretz failed to clear the 3.25% threshold, erasing more than 275,000 votes combined.

While Netanyahu personally intervened to ensure that the far-right parties that backed him ran on a joint slate this election, Labor repeatedly resisted Lapid’s efforts to broker a merger with Meretz, while Balad split from Hadash-Ta’al just before party registration closed.

The final results point to a stunning comeback for Netanyahu, currently on trial in three corruption cases, and will likely end four years of political deadlock that has dragged the country through a series of draining elections.

All eyes are expected to now turn to coalition building, with Netanyahu reportedly aiming to wrap up negotiations within two weeks and quickly return to his former post.

Formally, Netanyahu will only be handed the mandate at the earliest sometime next week, after President Isaac Herzog meets with each party leader to hear their recommendations for who should form the next coalition.

Herzog has until November 16 to announce which lawmaker he will task with forming a government, though he can do so earlier. In previous rounds, party consultations at the President’s Residence typically lasted two days. Herzog can hold an additional round of consultations if deemed necessary, but most expect the process to be a technicality, with Netanyahu set to easily receive the nod from the president.

Unofficially, Netanyahu’s allies have already begun the work of negotiating with Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism to coordinate all of their requests for ministerial portfolios and other demands.

While the three parties are steadfast supporters, Netanyahu will still need to haggle with them over policy goals and cabinet posts to secure their support, which could include complicated negotiations in areas where the factions have far-reaching demands or do not see eye-to-eye.

Still, Netanyahu is said to hope that he will be able to balance the demands of the various factions so that the coalition remains stable.

According to Hebrew media reports, Netanyahu charged Likud MK Yariv Levin, a seasoned negotiator, with the task of managing talks, and he has already begun reaching out to the factions to start negotiations. Speculation is already running rampant over potential future cabinet posts for the four parties expected to make up the next coalition.

Shas and UTJ are expected to seek to roll back the current government’s reforms, including taxes on sweetened beverages and single-use plasticware items as well as reforms to the system for certifying kosher food. Both Shas’s Aryeh Deri and UTJ’s Yitzhak Goldknopf have indicated interest in the Finance Ministry, though Deri could also consider a return to the Interior Ministry.

Netanyahu’s far-right allies in the Religious Zionism party are expected to demand far-reaching judicial reforms and prominent ministerial positions. Ben Gvir has said he will demand the Public Security Ministry, which oversees the police.

Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich has expressed interest in the ministries of finance, justice and particularly defense, although Netanyahu is seen as more likely to give the latter role to Likud MK Yoav Gallant, a former senior Israel Defense Forces general.

Luke Tress and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.


Editorial –  A Decisive Win for Netanyahu in Israel

 

The right surges in the Jewish state, leaving behind political paralysis and a rump left.

Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2, 2022 6:45 pm ET


A graph illustrating the solid majority pro-Netanyahu parties will hold in the new Knesset. (Hadash-Ta’al is an anti-Zionist, largely Arab-supported party which refuses to support either bloc.)

Benjamin Netanyahu has been around long enough to have done something to rankle almost every Israeli. But as his victory in Tuesday’s election shows, Israelis still trust him for the job of Prime Minister he has held twice before. In a rough neighborhood, with enemies that seek Israel’s destruction, that’s no small vote of confidence.

With nearly 90% of ballots counted, Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party is set to win 32 seats, up from 30 in 2021, with a path to a coalition government as large as 65. Barring a late swing, this would be a larger majority for the right in the Knesset than anyone saw coming, ending the political paralysis that has plagued the country since 2019.

This reflects important realities in Israeli politics. Mr. Netanyahu is still considered the Israeli leader best able to deal with great powers. With Russian troops in Syria, the poisoned chalice of Chinese economic engagement and an America that is hot and cold, Israel needs a strategic vision. Mr. Netanyahu has one, as he laid out recently in these pages, whereby economic and military strength lead to diplomatic success, not the other way around. The Abraham Accords with the Gulf Arabs are a vindication of that vision.

Mr. Netanyahu also benefits from keeping his eye on the threat from Iran amid the distractions, and from his record of free-market reform. As finance minister from 2003-05, Mr. Netanyahu led Israel’s transformation from a socialist economy to the “start-up nation” it is today.


At the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020: Netanyahu (left) is seen by many Israelis as an experienced leader able to deal with Israel’s international interlocutors effectively, as the Abraham Accords illustrate. (Photo: Shutterstock, noamgalai). 

Meanwhile, the Israeli left has collapsed. Its two parties, including the Labor Party that dominated for decades, received less than 7% of the vote—combined. Far-left Meretz is now likely to win no seats. The left lost credibility after the Palestinians refused to accept a state when it was offered and pocketed Gaza only to use the territory for attacks on Israeli civilians.

The left was also outflanked by centrist politicians who focused on the cost of living. Counting the center-left, led by current Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the left is still getting only 25% of the vote. The breakup of the Arab Joint List into its constituent factions also aided the right.

Shas, a Haredi party, and the Religious Zionist slate are also on track for more seats, driven by support from the once-marginalized Mizrahi Jews from Arab lands, and from voters deserted by right-winger Naftali Bennett when he joined Israel’s previous government. He had previously filled a gap between Likud and the far right. The rise of the Religious Zionists, on pace for 10% of the vote, is unsettling; its extreme ideas make it a Jewish counterpart to some Arab-Israeli parties.

Yet the outraged international press may be over-reading the result: The slate’s radical Otzma Yehudit Party attracts only around 5% of the vote, and many of its new voters disclaim its worst ideas but like its punchy Mizrahi leader, who presented a moderate face. Ninety per cent of voters didn’t choose the far right, which is more than can be said for many European countries.

The vote means Mr. Netanyahu will have a mandate he lacked in the final years of his previous turn as Prime Minister. That should make Israel more confident in meeting regional threats, as it remains America’s most valuable ally in the region.


Dealing with Ben Gvir

 

Shmuel Rosner

Jewish Journal, November 1, 2022


The most controversial figure of this election campaign, far-right activist Itimar Ben Gvir, now likely headed for a seat in Cabinet in the new government (Photo: Shutterstock, Barak Shacked)

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Let’s talk about Itamar Ben-Gvir. As I write this column, the outcome of Israel’s election is still an unknown. But the dominant presence of Ben-Gvir is an established fact. Yesterday’s outcast is now a legitimate player. On Sunday, he vowed to demand a specific ministerial portfolio — the ministry of Homeland Security. Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of Likud, shot back: Ben-Gvir isn’t going to get it. But the voters know better than both. It all depends on the outcome. It all depends on Ben-Gvir’s ultimate power to make or break a coalition.

Ben-Gvir is not a newcomer. He has run for office more than once. Israelis are familiar with his undistinguished past. He was convicted and arrested for various crimes, including support of a terror organization. He was a bully, a provocateur, a follower of rabbi Meir Kahane, a radical. He was a leader of fringe groups, making outrageous statements, raging, battling with policemen and soldiers, causing trouble.

He was as far from the mainstream as anyone could be, yet slowly made his way toward acceptance. How? Part luck (the political gridlock), part circumstances (the Arab riots of last year), part demography (the rise of right-religious groups), part tactic (restraining himself). He says he no longer fully supports the ideology of Kahane. He says he had changed. Until not long ago, a photo of Baruch Goldstein, a butcher of 29 Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs, was hang on his wall. He called Goldstein, a despicable murderer, “a hero.” Then he said he matured and no longer considers him a hero. He also said that he no longer calls the slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin “a traitor.” Rabin, he says, engaged in objectionable acts, but “the word ‘traitor’ is no longer a part of my vocabulary.”

He surely became more articulate in playing the game of politics. Some Israelis believe this only makes him more dangerous. Others believe he no longer poses a threat.

Did he truly change? He surely became more articulate in playing the game of politics. Some Israelis believe this only makes him more dangerous. Others believe he no longer poses a threat. A politician with radical ideas? Sure. A politician that should be banned and ostracized? No more than others.

A moderate Israeli looks at the acceptance of Ben-Gvir as a respectable member of the right-wing bloc with great unease, and more than a grain of worry. And yet, there it is: Last month, we polled Israelis about Ben-Gvir and three out of four Likud supporters — that is, most supporters of the largest party in Israel — told us that Ben-Gvir is “good for Israel.” Others can call him “racist” or “fascist” or “dangerous”; they can call him what they want. This doesn’t seem to weaken him. In this election cycle, no matter the outcome, his voice was heard, his ideas spread, his agenda advanced.

Why would anyone support him? There are two main reasons. First, to spite the establishment, to enrage the leftists, to troll the media and the intellectuals. Ben-Gvir is in many ways like Donald Trump, giving voice to an Israeli version of the “basket of deplorables.”

Second, to convey a clear message against what many Israelis feel is a drastic problem, the rise of Arab crime and violence, and Israel’s hesitant response to curb it. Farmers who see their crops stolen by Arabs in the Galilee consider Ben-Gvir a possible remedy. Shop owners in Beer-Sheva who must contend with Bedouin organized crime hope that he might help them. Jewish residents of mixed cities, who must worry about the security of their children amid Arab hostility, look up to him. Whether Ben-Gvir can truly do anything to improve the situation is a good question. But voting for him is one way for Israelis to say enough, or else we must search to radical solutions.


Israeli police move in to stop violent attacks on Jewish homes and synagogues by gangs of Arab residents in the Israeli city of Lod in May 2021. Many Israelis feel violence of this sort from the Israeli Arab sector is a drastic problem, and see Ben Gvir as offering solutions. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons). 

There are two questions for which we do not yet have good answers. First, would accepting and normalizing him be the better way to deal with his radicalism and tame it? Or is exclusion and rejection the only path forward. Second, how dangerous is Ben-Gvir really? Some believe that he truly had changed, softened, that he may not be mild and soft, but is no longer unbearable. These believers usually come from the camp in which Ben-Gvir gained power.

Others believe that he has not changed, that his newly found congeniality is just a pretense, a trick. These usually come from the opposite political camp. The answers to both these questions are usually shouted, formulated with firm conviction and little clear evidence.

Here is the truth: We have no way of knowing because some things are known only in retrospect. Whoever warned of the “fascist” Mussolini was right in retrospect. Whoever warned of the “fascist” Menachem Begin (and many leaders in Israel did) was wrong in retrospect. Most likely, Ben-Gvir is neither a Mussolini nor a Begin. Most likely, he will not save Israel, but it’s also premature to assume that he will destroy it.

Shmuel Rosner is an Israeli columnist, editor, and researcher. He is the editor of the research and data-journalism website themadad.com, and is the political editor of the Jewish Journal.

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