Israel, like the United States, is a strong democracy. But not all democracies are the same.
The US is a republic and representative democracy. Israel is a parliamentary democracy, akin to many of Europe’s democratic nations. Israel’s parliament is modeled on the ancient Jewish court that functioned from the late biblical period through the beginning of the Rabbinic period which begins in 70 CE. Like that court, it is called the Knesset and has 120 seats, or members.
For a government to succeed in a parliamentary democracy, there must be a show of confidence in the government. The best way to obtain that in Israel, is to have at least 50% of the members of the Knesset pledge their support for the leader chosen by the party that garnered the most Knesset seats in the election. That translates into sixty seats and when that is achieved, a coalition is formed. When and if there are less than sixty votes supporting the leader, the prime minister, the government falls.
Over these past few weeks, the world has been witness to Israeli democracy at play. The ups and downs, the ins and outs, the drama and the intrigue of stitching together a government, the final hurrah of Israel’s longest serving prime minister after failing to form a coalition and the emergence of one of the most unlikely coalitions ever to be imagined since the birth of the Jewish state seventy-three years ago.
Over the past two years Israel has gone to the polls four times. And not once was the sitting prime minister able to garner the necessary sixty votes from members of other parties. And so they went, time and time again, back to the old drawing board – in this case, the voting booths.
The ousted prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who everyone called Bibi, the man who served his country as prime minister for the past twelve years (from 2009 to 2021) and for three years before that (from 1996 to 1999) was, quite frankly, a rather divisive figure. Extremely gifted and talented, most certainly – but not that easy to get along with.
Most Americans who love Israel, loved Bibi. He was the perfect face for the country they love. Standing tall and strong, with a dramatic-looking scar on his lip, his English is native and his use of idiom and metaphor are well placed and on target. But that sentiment is not shared by all Israelis. Only half of Israelis like Bibi, the other half despise him.
Bibi’s biggest weakness was his inability to groom a successor. Of the people who brought Netanyahu down, three of the leaders of the parties who joined against him and successfully formed the new ruling coalition – the thirty-sixth government of Israel, were his one-time protegees. That group includes Naftali Bennett, Israel’s newest prime minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the party called Yisrael Beiteinu and Gideon Sa’ar of the New Hope party. He saw their genius and their talent, he taught them and nurtured that talent and then he destroyed those relationships and forced them away. But before casting them off, Netanyahu taught them well and they each rose to great heights.
They created alternatives to Netanyahu’s government and today they are reaping the rewards and casting Netanyahu aside. The unspoken truth about Bibi Netanyahu is that he destroys his proteges and pushes his close friends away.
Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is a tech millionaire. The child of American Jews who moved to Israel, Bennett left tech start-ups in New York City after bringing several to sale at great profit. In Israel, he chose to become politically involved and moved into position as chief of staff for Netanyahu. According to pretty reliable rumors, after a contentious conflict with the first lady, Bennett split off and became the formidable politician who ousted his mentor.
The process that defeated the master was the creation of a coalition of disparate groups from Israel’s entire political spectrum, from the right and from the left. And for the first time in Israeli history, an Arab party is part of the governing coalition.
These parties have nothing in common except for their disdain for Bibi.
Many Israelis are saddened and many are relieved that a new – a very new, government is in place. Many Israelis are hopeful that this new chapter in Israeli politics will herald a new era and break the deadlock that has engulfed Israel.
Prime Minister Bennett is to the political right of former Prime Minister Netanyahu. He makes no bones about it and the name of his party – the party he created, is called Yemina which means “right” in Hebrew. This was not an arbitrary choice of party name. Bennett is saying “we are the authentic right. Bibi is a politician and his Likud party does not represent the true right.” Of the Arabs in thecoalition, some are Islamists. Other members of the coalition are centrists and leftists, socialists and communists.
There is more that separates these coalition members thanjoins them. Bennett, for example, is a strong believer in settlements while many of his coalition partners are totally opposed to settlements. And while, in general, Israelis are jaded they are also very direct and honest. They are, by necessity, a very practical people. And yet, one of the most overarching characteristics of Israelis is their optimism. They plan for the future. They love the future. They created a state in the shadow of the Holocaust in order to build a future. They are surrounded by enemies who for decades were bent on their destruction. Yet they are future oriented.
Israelis have a romantic optimism about their future. And that is one of the reasons they ousted Netanyahu. After twelve or fifteen years, depending on how you count, the feeling in Israel was that it was time for change. The looming question is whether the change they got will have its own future, or will it crumble and collapse when the first, inevitable, crisis emerges.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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