Today is election day in Israel. As of 10:00am local time, 13.7% of eligible voters had cast their ballots. (The link is also to Haaretz’s live blog of the day.) This is a number higher than the previous two elections. Israeli citizens have until 10:00pm to cast their ballots. Israel is +7 hours to American CST, meaning the polls close at 4:00pm ET / 3:00pm CT today, March 17.
It seems lost on many American Christians that Israel is not a monolithic voting bloc. The Israeli electorate has Left, Right and moderate voters, Arab and Jewish voters. Not everyone in Israel wants Gaza emptied of Palestinians, just as not everyone in Gaza wants Israel destroyed. These are straight-line, erroneous narratives that give power to the hardliners on both sides.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the sitting prime minister, was recently hailed in the U.S. as “a real leader” as opposed, one might guess, to John Boehner or Harry Reid. Unfortunately for Bibi he’s revered more in America than in his homeland where the latest polling suggest he’ll be swept out in an electoral reversal.
Here are three things American Christians should know about this election in Israel.
1. Israel’s government is not designed by God. Israel is not a theocracy, though it is a religious state. It is led by a legislative body (the Knesset) with a elected members (MKs), that elects the president and a prime minister. Via Wikipedia, the Knesset:
is the unicameralnational legislature of Israel. As the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset passes all laws, elects the President and Prime Minister (although the latter is ceremonially appointed by the President), approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government. In addition, the Knesset elects the State Comptroller. It also has the power to waive the immunity of its members, remove the President and the State Comptroller from office, dissolve the government in a constructive vote of no confidence, and to dissolve itself and call new elections. The Prime Minister may dissolve the Knesset. However, until an election is completed, the Knesset maintains authority in its current composition.
2. Israel’s MKs, political parties, president(s) and prime minister(s) both launch and are subject to political cheap shots, accusations of cheating, extremism, racism, lies, backroom deals, etc, as most any government on Earth including ours. Just this week Netanyahu flip-flopped on the two-state solution he announced in 2009. Now, in a seeming attempt to attract the Israeli far-Right, he opposes a separate Palestinian state. (Truly a single-state is Netanyahu’s only logical position since he’s driven the building of settlements designed to fragment the West Bank beyond any possibility of unity.)
The above mentioned ability for the Knesset to dissolve itself happened recently in 2014.
Due to rising political tensions and infighting within Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet, on December 8 2014 the 19th Knesset voted to disolve itself after fulfilling less than half of their term. The vote to disolve the parliamentary body passed unanimously, with 93 out of 120 Knesset members in favor and the rest abstaining. The parliament collapse followed Netanyahu’s firing of his Justice and Finance Cabinet Ministers Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid.
The Joint List in Israel was formed when several small, predominantly-Arab political parties combined to avoid potential ouster from the Knesset (see also this in The Guardian). Why was this necessary? Because a recently passed law requires any party not holding at least 3.25% of seats in the Knesset to be removed. It was a racist effort to remove even the small part of the legislature that represented about 20% of the population.
3. Benjamin Netanyahu is not a hero to many Israelis in Israel, or to Jews living outside Israel. A number of Israeli Jews have committed to vote for the Joint List as a means of protecting Israel’s non-Jewish population from “those who are trying to drive 20 percent of the population here out of civil society and to delegitimize them.” After his speech to the Congress, Bibi returned home to an estimated 40,000 protestors, with the ex-Mossad chief having less than positive comments about said speech. Netanyahu himself blames a vast left wing conspiracy for his troubles.
The short of it is that Israel’s government operates as, and faces the same issues as most democratic governments around the world. While we certainly should pray for Israelis as they vote, we need not feel a removal of Netanyahu from power equates to a weakening of Israel or that Israel has no right to determine whether or not they like their leaders.