We think that elections in India with its multicultural society and multiparty democracy is difficult to comprehend, but after knowing Israeli politics we will stop thinking so as anything and everything can happen in Israeli politics.
- Dr Gulrez Sheikh
On Monday, March 02, 2020, Israel which was supposed to go for polls every 4 years, went for elections a third time in a row (Typically Israel has gone for elections every 2 years) to elect its government despite working on all possible permutations and combinations of a coalition government but failing to achieve one.
Though the Israeli population is about half of Delhi, its politics is much more complex than India, with all possibilities of coalition formation between the left-right-ultra right and center. One should never think that Israel is an uni-cultural and uni-ethnical society, as it is a very diverse society with different groups among Jews, about 1/5 of its population is Arab (and these are not the Arabs in occupied territories, but they are Israeli Arabs, who carry Israeli passport and vote in Israel).
Can we imagine in India, BJP & Congress forming a coalition government or Republicans & Democrats forming a coalition government in the US or Labor & Tories forming a coalition government in Britain? The answer is “NO”. But it has happened twice in Israel in the form of a national unity government.
How Israel votes
Israeli system of elections is a very peculiar one. There is a proportional representation i.e., the entire country is considered one single constituency. The Knesset (Israeli parliament) has got 120 seats, but the entire country goes for polls as 1 constituency on a single day. There is no candidate to candidate electoral fight in Israel. Once the voting is done and all votes are counted, on the bases of the no of votes a particular party has got, it is allotted seats in the Knesset and then the parties allot these seats to their party members, who become MKs (Members of Knesset).
The party leaders, be it Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) or Gen.Benny Gantz (the former chief of the IDF) or others, campaign for their party but there’s no direct candidate to candidate election like in India or Britain. Any party need roughly around 3.25% votes to enter Knesset.
This election is all about right and centre, as like in India there’s hardly any Left remaining in Israel. Last election, Netanyahu’s Likud (Right) got 25.1% votes and 32 seats, whereas his main rival Gen.Benny Gantz party, The Blue & White party (Centre) got 25.29% votes and 33 seats. So the battle for votes is neck to neck or as they say a cut-throat competition and the magic number to be in the Beit Aghion i.e., House of the Israeli PM is 61.
The fun doesn't stop here. There are multiple parties and the number of parties which entered Knesset last time were 17. Even among the right there are multiple parties with so many differences. There is an Ultra Orthodox Shas party which got 7-8% votes. Another member of the ultra orthodox alliance is United Torah Judaism which got 6.06% votes, yet another right party is Yamina with 5.87% votes, then there is a Yisrael Beiteinu with 6.99% votes. Together these right parties plus Likud made a bunch of 63 seats, which was more than the magic figure of 61.
But as said earlier, there are real differences even among the right as well, like as in the case of Yisrael Beiteinu which has been in power with almost everyone has issues with the special privileges which the ultra orthodox community of Israel enjoys. Now let me tell you what ultra orthodox Jews are, from a foreigner point of view the Jewish men we see dressed in the very traditional black colored clothing form the ultra orthodox Jewish community.
Complex politics of Israel
Israel is a very complex and interesting society, a tiny country with so many ideologies dwelling together. The ultra orthodox Jewish groups do not believe in the modern state of Israel and they believe that it's not the job of humans to create the state of Israel, rather it must be the act from the almighty. Due to this these groups do not want to serve in the Israeli army, and Israel being a small country with limited population and challenging neighborhood, every adult has to serve in the army for a limited period of time.
The ultra orthodox groups are exempted, and the centre and right parties and specially the Yisrael Beiteinu has a problem with this, even in the Gen.Benny Gantz's The Blue & White party, his second most important leader Yair Lapid is also very critical of special privileges the ultra orthodox groups have. Then there is a left alliance that has ruled Israel for decades, led by the Labor party and having 4.8% votes. Remember the % of vote of very important in Israel, as the entire country is treated as a single constituency.
Further there are Arab parties and the alliance of these parties is called Joint Arab List, which got around 12% votes and garnered 13 seats last elections. With all these complexities, last time the coalition talks to form a national unity government failed. Bibi too doesn't look interested in sharing PM’s post in case of a national unity government.
Though some of my Israeli friends are saying that this time Likud is having slight edge over The Blue & White party, but what will happen in election, whether it will be a coalition of the right/a national unity government/a 4th time election in a row, is very difficult to guess as anything and everything can happen in Israeli politics.