Politics at the national level in Israel are brutal. Israel is not a two- or three-Party political system. It’s not even a four-party system.
Israeli national politics are more like a fight-club. Here, multiple Parties team up to fight other Parties. Then they turn and fight each other.
Right now, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a ruling coalition made up of five Parties (leader’s names in parenthesis): Likud (Benjamin Netanyahu), Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Liberman), Habayit HaYehudi (Naftali Bennet), Hatenua (Tzipi Livni) and Yish Atid (Yair Lapid).
Each of these Party leaders serves as a Minister in the government. Each has power. It’s a safe bet that each wants to be Prime Minister.
Sometimes, these leaders work together as a team. Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, they won’t.
This week, we learned that Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to believe that some in his coalition aren’t cooperating enough with his political agenda. He appears to have problems with Livni, Lapid and Bennet (“Netanyahu to Tell Party Heads: Compromise or Else...”, Arutz Sheva, October 22, 2014). According to this story, he’s threatening to call for new elections if the coalition doesn’t start following his orders.
But that same day another news stories emerged. Netanyahu wasn’t planning new elections after all (“New elections? Netanyahu says they’re the last thing Israel needs”, Times of Israel, October 22, 2014).
Well, which is—will Netanyahu call for new elections, or not? In Israel, the answer is simple: he’ll do both--maybe!
Make no mistake: there’s trouble afoot. Within Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, there are tensions that threaten to break things apart. There’s tension over a bill in the Knesset to change the rules for religious conversions (to Judaism). There’s tension over peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas. There’s tension over next year’s budget.
These tensions won’t go away. Open warfare, never far from the surface among people who so disagree with each other, is close to breaking out.
To keep the lid on, Netanyahu needs to act. He needs to crack the whip.
He’s doing that by sending his coalition a message: fall in line behind me, get ready to compromise your ideological positions to vote my way—or I’ll call new elections.
That’s a real threat.
For example, Tzipi Livni, Justice Minister, could end up out of politics altogether if an election were held next Spring, as some reports speculate could happen. She has no reason to want new elections—and almost every reason to avoid them.
Yair Lapid, Finance Minister, could see his power base shrink considerably as a result of new elections. He controls Israel’s purse strings. Israelis aren’t happy with some of his decisions. He hasn’t yet succeeded in proving to the Israeli public that his austerity moves have improved the economy. An election before he’s got that ‘proof’ could push him into a political oblivion.
Then there’s HaBayit HaYehudi’s Naftali Bennet. Recent polls show him gaining seats in a near-term election. His enemies in the political arena won’t want to see him gain that power. A Spring election that benefits Bennet would be the worst thing that could happen to them (“Analysis: Who’s afraid of Moshe Kahlon?”, Jerusalem Post, October 22, 2014).
Israel’s politics aren’t driven by religious law. They aren’t driven by what’s best for Israel. They aren’t driven by oligarchs, class considerations or any kind of social agenda. They’re driven by raw power.
If you want to lead Israel, you have to know how to attract allies who might normally hate each other—and you. Then, you have to be able to keep them happy. Then, you have to know how to keep them in line. Finally, you have to know how and when to threaten them so that they stay in line.
Then, while you’re doing all that, you have to watch out for outsiders who want to destroy Israel altogether. You also have to watch out for politicians (some of whom are your supposed allies) who are looking for any reasonable excuse to destroy your coalition, thereby provoking new elections—so they can replace you.
Of course, while you’re doing all of that, you still have to do something for Israel. You still have to govern.
In ancient Rome, the Circus Maximus was entertainment for the masses. Chariots raced, often destroying each other. Lions ate humans, then, possibly, each other. Gladiators fought to the death. This circus was often flamboyant, bloody and celebratory.
Why must Jewish Israel make politicians behave this same way? Does Israel benefit from it? Are we safer because of it?
The G-d of Israel has a Story for you. It’s the Story of the Final Jewish Redemption. Do you think Israel’s current political fight-arena will play a role in that Story?