Israel's Election Results: What Happened and What's Next?

March 3, 2020

This week, Israeli voters went to the polls for their third election in less than a year – an unprecedented occurrence, as NPR explains.

While the official and final results of the March 2nd election are not yet in, it appears as though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pulled yet another rabbit out of a hat, again winning a plurality of votes.

This presumed win is an extraordinary feat for the prime minister who, already indicted, faces trial on three charges of corruption, which will begin in two weeks’ time – a fact that did not seem to bother those who voted for him.

Despite his numerous declarations of victory, though, Netanyahu knows he hasn’t won just yet.

What Might Happen Next?

Israel’s electoral arithmetic requires the winning party to assemble a coalition of 61 members of Knesset in order to form a majority – and despite Netanyahu’s projected victory, the back-of-the-envelope math shows his possible right-wing bloc to fall short of this requirement, with only 59 likely seats.

Now, under pressure to end the vicious electoral cycle, Netanyahu and those in his corner are attempting to recruit two potential defectors from opposition parties, which would allow them to finally assemble a coalition of 61.

That may be unlikely, though – in which case, the only real option for maintaining power will be for Netanyahu to form a national unity government with rival candidate Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party. If exit polls reflect actual election results, this may be the only way to finally end Israel’s political deadlock and guarantee the two Benjamins' political survival – at least for now.

It is possible that Israel’s attorney general could rule Netanyahu unfit to form a government. It is also possible, however, that he will quickly replace the current attorney general with a more sympathetic legal advisor – one who will dismiss his pending cases and allow him unbridled rule.

And finally, in what has emerged as a new and fascinating turn in Israeli politics, Palestinian citizens of Israel have coalesced into a political force that can no longer be ignored. Following this election, they are projected to end up with 15 seats in the Knesset – the highest result for them in history.

During the past year, Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently demonized the elected representatives of Israel’s Arab community by questioning their loyalty, driving a wedge between them and their voters, and openly delegitimizing them. His efforts seem to have backfired, as the enmity felt by the Arab community has resulted in high motivation and significant voter turnout.

What Does this Mean for Reform Values in Israel?

If Netanyahu is able to form a right-wing coalition, it could mean a few things.

This election showed a near-complete decimation of left-wing parties: The left-wing combo, the Labor-Gesher-Meretz party, is predicted to end up with just six seats. In 2015, they together held 31 seats – and in 1992, they had a collective 56!

That means that issues of religious pluralism, equality, and civil marriage, along with the Kotel deal, will take a backseat, leaving the power of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate firmly in place and leaving little hope for change.

A Netanyahu victory could also lead to an unchecked green-light to unilaterally annex West Bank territory and apply sovereignty to Jewish settlements in Area C. This would significantly shift the balance away from the current status quo, heading toward a post-annexation, one-state outcome – which would pose a formidable challenge to the notion of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

After the election, the leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism issued a statement that says, in part, "We hope the next Israeli government will work to heal the rift with North American Jewry, and advance the equality of all the Jewish streams as part of the vision of a Jewish and democratic state." Read the full statement on their website

What Can We Do?

Those who condemn egalitarianism, who seek to keep women out of the public sphere, and who maintain that theirs is the only way to practice Judaism just got a renewed lease on power. It’s more important than ever, then, that Reform and Progressive voices be heard in Israel – and we must aggressively campaign for the values we hold so dear.

There is just one week left to Vote Reform in the World Zionist Congress election, and the outcome will be crucial for the growth and influence of Reform and Progressive Judaism in Israel and around the world. Those who are threatened by our strength are actively campaigning against us – but we know that a vote for the Reform slate is a vote to bring light out of darkness, to turn hatred into love.

Our time is now to make a significant impact for values, for freedom, and for equal rights, and to say that bigotry and hatred have no place in Israeli society. Join us as we show our love for Israel and our deep concern for her future.

Want to learn and read more about Reform Zionism? Subscribe to Israel Connections, our Wednesday email (part of the Ten Minutes of Torah series).

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