11/26/18 Elections in the Next Year

Trying to make sense of events in Israel can certainly give one the feeling of whiplash. On Sunday night, the Israeli news programs led with two main stories.  The first feature spotlighted the surprise visit to Israel of the president of the all Muslim country of Chad, as a first step to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations — which took place on the same day the president of the Czech Republic visited to establish a cultural center in Jerusalem. The second news item focused on the report of the State’s Prosecutor in charge of the cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which recommended indictment of Netanyahu on charges of bribery and breach of trust, in parts, or all of the first two cases (“Case 1000” and “Case 2000”). Police are also expected to recommend Netanyahu be indicted on a third case (“Case 4000”).

How can one judge a Prime Minister applauded by many long-established critics for his actions to avoid an unnecessary war; actions for which he was vocally criticized by his traditional supporters? How can one understand the motivation of a Prime Minister, who until recently, attempted vehemently to bring about early elections, against the wishes of his coalition partners, and now successfully fights tooth and nail to avoid new elections? Netanyahu’s fight tactics included giving a speech to the nation, warning the Israeli public that “great sacrifices await them”, asserting we are “in the midst of a very difficult military situation”, and therefore it was “not the time to change governments.” The Prime Minister’s speech forced his coalition partner to back down from his threat to resign and thereby bring down the government. Now, a week later, those Israelis who still remember the address, are left wondering exactly what “very difficult military situation” Netanyahu was talking about.

How does one evaluate a political climate in which a Knesset bill calling for the creation of a parliamentary panel to investigate violence against women is defeated? It should be noted that 21 women have been killed by their husbands or other relatives in Israel, so far this year — a figure which represents a 30% increase from the previous year. The aforementioned bill, raised by the opposition, was defeated by the coalition (led by Netanyahu), who decided to invoke party discipline in order to force coalition members who have been leading spokespersons for women’s rights to vote against it. Two days later, after visiting a battered women’s shelter with his wife on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Prime Minister told government ministers he had “discovered we are doing almost nothing to those perpetrating these crimes. It’s as if we are dealing with terrorism, and it is terrorism in every sense, but we are not dealing with the terrorists themselves.” Netanyahu then declared that he would personally chair the committee on this matter. Critics pointed out there have already been several task forces to investigate this issue, all of whom have made recommendations, but whose proposals have never been funded.

How can one assess the performance of a Prime Minister who continuously warns about the dangers of the Iranians establishing a permanent presence in Syria, but under whose watch the Iranians arrived in Syria to begin with? How can one classify the potency of a Prime Minister who boasts about his good relations with Vladimir Putin and now is unable to arrange a meeting with him?

Israelis are confused. 2019 will be an election year. The regularly scheduled election is calendared for November. No one believes the present government will successfully remain intact until then. The coalition currently has a one-member advantage. Meaning, that any one Knesset member can hold up a government bill. Moreover, any one member could bring down the government — and that could happen almost any day.

Election years in Israel are always uncertain. Issues of war and peace intercede/interfere/barge in in Israel, more so than in almost any other place in the world. Such issues may very well do so this year as well. Recent polls show the Likud party led by Netanyahu maintaining a comfortable lead. However, there are two wild cards in this year's upcoming election. One question seemingly repeats itself every election cycle — i.e., will the center-left be able to unite a field of candidates with sufficiently strong security backgrounds to address the core issue that remains the deciding factor in securing Israeli votes (despite what people tell pollsters). The second pivotal question is at what point will the State’s Attorney General formally decide to indict Netanyahu? And if that comes to pass, will Israeli voters ignore the indictment and vote for a Prime Minister whom the police believe has committed serious crimes?

According to Jewish tradition, the last prophet died over 2,000 years ago, therefore, it would be hazardous to even guess the answer to most of the questions raised here. One thing we can be sure of is that over the next 12 months we will receive answers to these questions, along with responses to others we cannot even anticipate.

Netanyahu with newly drafted tank soldiers