Showing posts with label Shas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shas. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

LSAT Style Israel Election Puzzle 2021 and Other News


The Israeli election will be held on March 23, 2021.  To get you ready for the election, I have come up with an LSAT  style problem that you could work on starting next week.  This problem may be so complex, depending on actual results, that I am giving you a head start so that you can begin working on it even before the election results are formally announced.

Just a refresher about the problem style.  To get into law school, you have to write the LSAT.   One of the sections is a series of logic questions.  Something like this:

There are 8 people at a table, A through H.  

A hates B and C and would prefer to sit near F.

D will only sit between B and E and or between A and G.

C must sit directly across from E.

F and G must sit at least two seats apart from each other.

The table is a rectangle with 3 seats on each side and 1 on each end.

Which of the following statements is true?  (I'm not going to list all the statements). (Eg. F can sit next to E, G must eat Sushi, B cannot sit across from H, etc., True or False...)

I did reasonably well on the LSAT but that was a few years  ago.  Okay, many years ago...

Here is the more complicated 2021 Israeli election version....

The Israeli Knesset has 120 seats and you need a combination of at least 61 elected Knesset members to form a government.

A.   The Sephardi Ultra-Religious Shas party (Estimated to get 7 or 8) will only agree to a government formed by Likud (Bibi - estimated at 28-32).  They will absolutely not agree to go with Yesh Atid (Lapid)(Estimated at 18-22) or Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman) (Estimated at 7-8);

B.  The right wing New Hope party (Saar) (Estimated at between 7 and 9) will absolutely not go with Likud.  However, they will go with just about anyone else other than the Arab parties (or maybe they will).

C.  The right wing secularist party Yisrael Beitenu will not go with either of the two Ultra-Religious parties, Shas or United Torah Judaism (Estimated at 7-8) but will go with just about any other parties, other than the Arab parties (or maybe they will).

D.  The centrist Yesh Atid (Lapid) will go with any other parties other than Likud and the far right Religious Zionist Party (Ben-Gvir) (Estimated at 4-5 if they make it in to the Knesset).  

E. The left wing Labour Party (Michaeli) (Estimated at 5-7) and left wing secularist Meretz (Horowitz) (Estimated at 4-5 if they pass) will not go with Likud or the Religious Zionist party.  They will recommend Lapid and they might agree to go with Yamina (Bennett) (Estimated at 9 to 12) or New Hope.

F. The far right wing Yamina party will not go with Meretz or the two Arab parties (estimated at 9 to 13 and 4-5 respectively if the 4-5 group passes).  Yamina will not agree to join a government led by Yesh Atid.  They don't rule out joining a government  led by New Hope or Likud.  They don't rule out "allowing" Yesh Atid to join a government that they  lead.

G. The extreme right wing Religious Zionist Party will recommend Likud and wants to join a Likud-led government.  Bibi says they can be in the government but not get any cabinet posts.  Lapid, Meretz, Labour, and the Arab Parties have ruled out joining a government with the Religious Zionist Party.  The Religious Zionist Party says that it will not join any government that is supported by the Arab Parties.

H. The Ultra-Religious, Ashkenazi, United Torah Judaism (Estimated at 6-8) will recommend Likud.  They might join New Hope, Yamina or even Yesh Atid with the right offer.  

I. The centrist Blue and White Party (Ganz) (estimated at 4-5 if they pass the threshold) say they will not go with Likud again....and that they will recommend Yesh Atid to form the government.  But for the right price, they might change their minds.  Though they swear they  won't.

J.  The Arab parties are unlikely to join any potential coalition formally.  However, they might support a government explicitly or tacitly from the outside or perhaps this could be one of the first times that they actually join the government.  As listed above, some of the parties including Yamina and Religious  Zionists insist that they will not join a government that is in any way reliant on the support of the Arab parties.

Starting on Tuesday night or early Wednesday next week, you can take all of this and try to figure out how to come up with a governing coalition agreement that has at least 61 members.  You have four weeks though you can apply for an extension of three more weeks.  You can offer any combination of cabinet posts, legislative promises, cash for constituents, future government posts and, pretty much any other enticements that  you think of to get the different parties to change their positions on who they are willing to sit with.  Remember, you don't necessarily have to commit  your promises to writing and, even if you do, you certainly don't have to honour them all later.

Ready...Go!.

In other news, an anonymous group installed a statute of Bibi in central Tel-Aviv, looking like Golem from Lord of the Rings....Some have suggested it is a picture of Bibi in a prison cell. 

No one has claimed credit and the statute was removed, fairly quickly.  It is not the first time that protest artists have unveiled statues of Bibi.   I'm not going to list all of the different interpretations that have been suggested of this particular sculpture.

In other news, restaurants across Israel are opened for business, the infection rate is rapidly declining, the rate of people becoming seriously ill is rapidly declining and the vast majority of new cases, including those who have become seriously ill, are people who were not vaccinated.  Things are looking very promising as the vaccine rollout continues.  This may translate to a very optimistic outlook for North America and other parts of the world that are properly administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.  Not sure that these results  will apply to people innoculated with the other available vaccines or in cases where governments administer vaccines without following the proper timelines for doing so.

Pesach is 10 days away.  It is unusual this year with a Saturday night start which makes things that much more difficult for people who observe the holiday.  All of the dishes will need to be changed over one day early on Friday - and bread eating becomes an issue on Friday night and Saturday morning.  Although it is permissible, it gets a bit tricky where the hametz (leavened products) have already been removed from the house and symbolically burned.  I suppose we can eat some bread on the balcony just before the meal....

As you know, Passover is observed differently in Israel - only one Seder instead of two.  As of now, it looks like many people are planning to have large family gatherings, perhaps even "pre-Covid" size  and that plan is likely to be blessed by Bibi himself, along, of course, with his ultra-religious coalition partners, unless infection rates start increasing rapidly between now and next week.

I couldn't resist mentioning that one of the parties running in this election, the Shas party, has been using this lovely slogan "Choose God, Vote for the Shas Party."  They have also been proclaiming that it is a "Mitzvah" (a good deed, according to Jewish law) to vote for Shas.  The accompanying picture for these campaign slogans is one of the  former Rabbis and inspiration for Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph who died in 2013.  In Israel, we are used to seeing pictures of the deceased Lubavitch Rebbe, Schneerson, with the slogan "Long Live the Messiah," plastered on buses and buildings.  But Shas seems to have outdone the Lubavitch and actually linked Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph to God rather than to a mere messiah.  

I guess we will see soon enough if the outstretched hand of the Lord will ensure that Shas and Bibi are able to form a government together and bless them all with "Get Out of Jail Free" cards so that they don't have to waste valuable time facing ongoing criminal proceedings.  It would indeed be ironic if the Lord were to bless the secular parties instead of the Ultra-Orthodox after such earnest supplications, but I guess His plan will only be revealed in the coming weeks, maybe months.  Either way, it is worth remembering that Pesach is the "Holiday of Freedom,"  which in this case could mean freedom for Bibi or alternatively, freedom for Israel from Bibi.  Israeli voters, observant and non-observant, believers and non-believers, Jewish and non-Jewish, will soon decide.  

I will try to write one or two more  blogs over the next week or so with all of the exciting election news.  Wishing  everyone the best of health and all the best in preparing for Pesach or other upcoming holidays that you may be celebrating.









Thursday, March 11, 2021

Pre-Passover Blog - Election Analysis and Vaccine Update

 

This picture was taken earlier this week.  Just after Purim ended, the Matzahs arrived - signalling the pending arrival of Passover (Pesach).  Stores here don't seem to go as crazy as the stores in Toronto with Kosher sections.  They don't cover the shelves with paper or otherwise close off the "Kosher  for Passover " areas hermetically.  But they do carry quite a variety of products.  And just as Pesach arrives, they actually seal off all of the  non-Pesach products so you can't even buy them for 7 days unless you go to an Arab area or a part of Israel in which the stores are willing to take their chances with law enforcement.  It doesn't really affect us since we observe the holiday but some people go out of their way during  Pesach to drive to a nearby Arab down and have some pita and humus.  For the most part, the only "pita" you can get in many parts of Israel during Pesach is made with potato flour (sometimes corn flour for the kitnyot eaters) and it may not be particularly tasty.

This year, as Pesach is about to arrive, we have quite a bit going on in Israel.  As you may know, we have an election scheduled for March 23, 2021.  It will be the fourth election in the past 3 years and, if the polls are to be believed, it is unlikely to result in a stable government.  So we may face a fifth election soon enough.

Election News and Analysis

There are 14 parties runnning for election in the 120-seat Israeli Knesset.  Israel has a proportional election system in which everyone simply votes for the party of their choice.  There are no ridings, districts or other divisions of the country.  The cut-off percentage for making it into the  Knesset is 3.5%, which ensures that a party has 4 seats if it makes it into the Knesset.  If a party that is running winds up with less than that, their votes are simply allocated on a percentage basis to the parties that made it in.

If you would like to follow along with all of the latest polls, this Wikipedia link shows the latest poll results.  According to most of the latest polls, 13 parties are likely to make it into the Knesset.   The question is - what happens the day after the election with such a wide variety of parties?

At  this point in time, Prime Minister Netanyahu ("Bibi") and his Likud party are  the clear front-runners with most polls estimating that they will get between 28 and 32 seats.  After that, the fun begins.  To form a government, the party must come up with a coalition of at least 61 seats to have the confidence of the Knesset.  

Bibi can count on the support of both of Israel's ultra-religious parties - Shas and United Torah Judaism.  Both parties have pledged their eternal loyalty to Bibi in exchange for promises to fund yeshivas, support the ultra-religious establishment and ensure that the ultra-religious have key cabinet portfolios.  Shas has been running campaign adds that compare Bibi to the Messiah and claim that a vote for Shas is a vote for the Kadosh Baruch Hu (a vote for God).  These two parties combined are likely to get between 14 and 16 seats.  So that means that Bibi has between 42 and 48, depending on how things go.

After that, things get a bit murky.  There is a new, merged, far-right national religious party running, the Religious Zonist party ("RZ").  They are running close to the cut-off line in most polls but if they make it into the Knesset, they could wind up with 4 or 5 seats and they will happily support a Likud government.

This means that Bibi  could now be at between 42 and 53, depending on whether the RZ party makes it in and the general results.  Here, the options become challenging but not insurmountable.

One party that  is polling at between 10 and 13 seats is the "Yemina" ("Right") party, led by Naftali Bennett (a fellow Ra'anana resident).  (Though he lives on the "other side of the tracks," having made his fortune by selling shares of a successful high-tech company).  Bennett has stated that he would like to replace Bibi and become the Prime Minister.  At the same time, his attacks on Netanyahu have not been particularly vociferous.  His party is self-described as a solid right wing party - nationalist, pro-religious, free-market and in favour of signficant changes to the judicial system in Israel to limit the power of the Israeli Supreme Court. For the most part, his party is a natural ally of the Likud party and is likely to join Likud under the right conditions.

This means that with all of the above, Likud could be at between 52 and 66.  If they are over 61, they will almost certainly form a government under  Netanyahu's leadership.  Such a government would be made up of Likud, Yamina, RZ and the two ultra-religious parties.  It would be one of the most right wing governments in Israel's history.  It is likely  that this  government would agree to pass legislation granting Bibi immunity from his ongoing criminal proceedings.  It would also proceed with various right wing policies dealing with the Palestinians, issues of religion and state, limiting the power  of the courts to conduct judicial review  proceedings and  many other areas.  One commentator stated that this type  of government would put Israel somewhere between Hungary and Turkey - on a path towards fascism but not quite there.  Perhaps that anyalysis might be a bit extreme.  But from my perspective, this type of government would be very frightening.

If this collection of right  wing political parties winds up at between 52 and 59, things get really interesting.  They may be unresolvable and simply lead to another election.  But  again,  the actual numbers will be key.

If this "bloc," including Bennett winds up with 56 or less, they will have a very difficult time forming a  governmment. They would have to convince one of the other left or centre parties to  join the bloc, even though the other  parties have all vowed that they would not do so.  Bibi's options here would include convincing a 4 or 5 seat Blue and White party to join him, the "New Hope Party" which is made up of  former Likud members or, perhaps the Labour party.  Bibi has a formidable knack for working these situations out.  He would  play the different  parties against  each other and do whatever it takes  to get to 61.  Ironically,  he may  even  find a way to rely on a small 4 or 5 seat Arab party "Ra'am" that could make it in to the Knesset.  It is hard to imagine that  such a hard-core, far right government would agree to be beholden to a small anti-Zionist Arab party but Bibi is definitely willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power.

If he is able to do this and  create a coalition but  with parties  other than the "right-wing" parties, he may not be able to get his immunity bill passed.  And the other parties might temper the right wing agenda.   So this may be a slightly better alternative than the first scenario.  

Given the current polls one of these two scenarios seems to be the most likely outcome of the coming election.

The chance of the "anti-Bibi" parties  forming a government looks slim.  The Yesh Atid party is the current leader of this bloc and is running at between 18 and 21 seats.  They could, perhaps, count on the New  Hope party to join them, which could  add 9 to 12.  Add in the Labour party (4-7), the Israel Our Home  Party (7-9).  That all adds up to between 38 and 49.  If the left wing Meretz party passes the threshold with 4 or even 5 seats, that could get this bloc to 53 or 54.  Maybe they could also add in Blue and White, if it passes the threshold, with 4 or 5 seats.  On the low side, all of this only adds up to 46 seats.   On the high side, it adds up to 57.   But some of these parties are competing against  each other for votes, so it is unlikely that the number  would be as high as 57.  

Assuming this  "left-centre bloc"  obtains between 50 and 55, there would be two possible scenarios for forming a government.  One would be to rely on the support of the Arab party - the "Joint List" as supporting the  government from the  outside or as actually joining the government.  It is not clear that all of these bloc members would agree to this arrangement. In particular, the New Hope party may not agree.  

The other possibility would be to convince the Yamina  party to join the group.  As discussed above, they are idealogically much more  comfortable with Bibi.  Bennett seems to feel that he can offer his party's  support  to this bloc in exchange for  an  agreement that  he becomes the Prime Minister.  But negotiations over policies in this scenario would be extremely complicated and in my view, close to impossible.  Alternatively, he could  agree to join  a Lapid-led government in exchange for getting some fairly senior posts for himself and his senior party members.  This all seems unlikely unless Bibi's numbers are low enough to convince Bennett that he has no choice.

Lastly, there is a distinct chance that the split will be close to 50-50  and  no one  will be able to form a government.  We will then face the prospect of several weeks, if not months, of negotaitions, all while Israel is led by another  interim caretaker government.  Unfortunately, this sounds like a distinct possibility.

To add to all of this, the election is just three days before Pesach.  Everything closes down in Israel for  Pesach.  We  may not even have all of the official results of the election by the start of the holiday.  Buckle up - we are in for a very turbulent  period.

Positive News - Vaccine  Effectivenesss

On the positive side, a large percentage of the Israeli population has now been vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.  The numbers of newly infected Israelis are dropping rapidly.  More importantly,  the numbers of people  who are  becoming seriously ill are also dropping.  Things have been opening up since Purim (Feb 25, 2021). Even after about two weeks  of many places opening up, the new infection rate has not skyrocketed as some predicted it might.

This past Sunday, Israel opened up restaurants.  Outdoor seating for those who have not been vaccinated  and indoor seating only for those who have a "green pass" to show that they have been jabbed.  Concert halls, sporting events, wedding halls and other event venues are all opening up for those who have a green pass.  I guess we will see over the next few weeks if the vaccine is as effective as it seems to be so far.

Bibi is putting  all of his eggs in the vaccine basket  for this political campaign.  If the rate of infection continues to dwindle, he will try to take credit for getting Israelis vaccinated ahead of most other countries and argue that this is something only he could have done.  Bibi will say that nothing else matters  - his corruption, the economic policies of the past year or two, the ultra-orthodox-secular tensions, and many other difficulties.  Instead, he will focus on two areas - one is the vaccines and the other is the peace-deal breakthroughs that Israel has had with the UAE, Bahrain and  Sudan.  If Israelis buy what Bibi is selling, he  could wind up at 35-40 seats which would allow  him to form a new government quite easily.  So far the polls suggest  that this has not happened but  we still have almost two weeks to go.

I will try to put together at least  one more blog just before the election and perhaps a few afterwards, in between getting ready for Pesach.

Wishing everyone the best of health!












Friday, July 10, 2015

Current Government: Religious Issues and Some Predictions

Chief Rabbs Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau
Does it look like Iran?  It's not.  It's Israel and here are a couple of Israel's major power brokers (under the current government) - the two chief Rabbis of Israel.

The rabbis and their supporters have had a busy week, filled with lots of newsworthy items.

Last Sunday, they were successful in rolling back a conversion initiative that was intended to make it easier for people to convert to Judaism in Israel.  This was rolled back at the behest of the Shas and Degel HaTorah parties which are major partners in the current governing coalition.  The rollback has widely been viewed as an effort to consolidate power over religious affairs in Israel back to the Ultra-Religious and away from the Zionist religious (i.e. the "modern Orthodox").

On Tuesday, a woman from Colorado, Linda Siegel Richman, was ordered to leave the Kotel (the "Western Wall) in Jerusalem because she was wearing a kippah (a skullcap or yarmulke).  The Western Wall ushers told her that she did not belong and asked her to leave the area.  She had come from the U.S. to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Israel and was at the Kotel to pray and to place notes in the wall. The notes had been given to her by her students at a Denver school.  The incident attracted enormous public attention.  The next day, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch issued a half-hearted apology in which he noted that it was not clear that the incident had actually even occurred.  Rabbi Rabinovitch has, of course, made concerted efforts over the past few years to prevent women from having access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel, from praying out loud and from wearing tallithot.  So it is really no surprise that a woman wearing a kippah encountered such difficulties under his watch.

On Wednesday, the Israeli Minister for Religious Affairs, David Azoulai, (of the Shas party), lashed out at Reform Jews and stated that he did not even consider them to be Jews.  He had other choice comments for Reform and Conservative Jews that were along the same lines.  Prime Minister Netanyahu swiftly issued a condemnation of these remarks and called them "hurtful." Education Minster Naftali Bennett also condemned the remarks in no uncertain terms and stated that all Jews are Jews.  Bennett went on to say the home for all Jews, including Reform and Conservative, is in Israel.

Is all of this related?  Well, the current government includes 7 Shas members and 6 Degel HaTorah members as part of its 61 seat bloc, which gives the government the slimmest possible majority in the Knesset, facing 59 opposition Knesset members.  Prime Minister Netanyahu paid an enormous price to enlist these Ultra-Religious parties into the governing coalition.  Both parties were granted a range of powerful political portfolios as as significant policy and financial concessions. 

This is in marked contrast to the previous government.  After the 2013 Israeli elections, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid had won 19 seats.  His party insisted that it would not join a government that would make so many concessions to to the Ultra-Religious parties.  Lapid held out and an Israeli government was formed without the Ultra-Religious parties - for the first time in quite a while.  As a result, the previous government began to make certain changes.  These included mandatory military enlistment for the Ultra-Orthodox, reducing government grants for non-working Yeshiva students, ensuring that secular subjects like math and science are mandatory for everyone and numerous other changes.  Many of these changes as well as other proposed changes that were in the pipeline were quite popular among secular and other non-ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

But when it came time to negotiate a coalition agreement this time around after the 2015 election, Prime Minister Netanyahu simply gave away everything.  He agree to roll back all of the changes that had been made or proposed in the last government and to go beyond that by providing additional monetary incentives for the Ultra-Orthodox to join the government.  The disappointing aspect of all of that is that Moshe Kahlon and his allegedly centrist Kulanu party simply agreed to all of these terms and conditions.  This was in marked contrast to Yair Lapid in 2013 who had retained some principles during the previous round of coalition building negotiations.

As the Ultra-Religious establishment increases its power during the current mandate, many Israelis are becoming more and more disaffected with this turn of events.  This will cause many Israeli voters to turn away from Kahlon and Netanyahu in the next election.  Who will benefit?  Bennett will be the winner among religious and more conservative voters and will take away some seats from Netanyahu and/or Kahlon on the right.  But the big winner is likely to be Lapid.  If he stays the course and continues to fight as an opposition member, Israelis will view him as one of the few principled politicians who is willing to stand up to the Ultra-Orthodox.

It is a fairly common viewpoint that the Labour party, Zionist Camp or other name that it might run under would be as willing as the Likud party to court the support of Shas and/or Degel HaTorah by making similar concessions in order to form a government.  Only Yair Lapid and, perhaps, Tsipi Livni, have shown that they would be willing to hold out against these demands.  It will be clear to Israeli voters that Kahlon will simply agree to anything in order to get a cabinet seat.

While there are many Israelis who simply do not care about many of these secular-religious issues or other issues of religious pluralism, more and more Israelis are starting to pay attention.  Many Israelis are looking for alternatives to Orthodox weddings, which currently have a monopoly in Israel.  Opening the door to civil marriage ceremonies could lead to widespread change and could also open the door to same sex marriages in Israel.  Easing the conversion laws could benefit a large number of Israelis including thousands of immigrants whose religious status as Jews has been called into question. Still other Israelis would like to see public transportation on Shabbat, demonopolization of Kashrut authority, or more liberal laws in other areas affecting personal status.

The more that the current government acts in a fashion that is viewed as extremist, the greater the resentment will be among centrist Israelis.  This may all lead to a large shift of voters from Kahlon and Netanyahu to Lapid and others.

The Shas and Degel HaTorah voters will not change.  Those parties will continue to attract similar numbers in any given election.  Their elected officials are doing a good job in advocating for policies that they support.

But the Israeli political landscape has a large number of undecided centrist voters who are mobile.  These voters have swung around over the past number of years, from the Kadima party, to Tsipi Livni and Yair Lapid and now to Moshe Kahlon and Kulanu.  Lapid and the Yesh Atid party make a strong case that the centrist voters should shift back to him and his party and that they are the only party that will stick to some principled positions on certain issues.

The current coalition is very tenuous.  It is hanging on by a thread and Prime Minister Netanyahu's government even lost its first legislative vote this week, although that vote was not a "non-confidence" vote.  We will probably see another election in Israel sooner rather than later.  And if the current trend continues, Lapid and his Yesh Atid party are likely to be the big winners.
       

 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Post Purim 2015: On to the Israeli Elections 2015

It was a busy week in Israel - for me, for our family and for the country.  Purim was on Wednesday night and Thursday.  That always brings with it lots of festivities in Israel - parties, parades, carnivals, mishloach manot (gift baskets) and shul.  Just preparing for Wednesday night was busy for our family, as we (three of us) read 4 of the 10 chapters of the Megillah at our shul.  Add to that - a wonderful fundraising evening of Jazz on Tuesday night that we were invited to attend (to raise money to build a well in Sudan) and a bar mitzvah celebration on Thursday night of some close friends - and things were quite busy and tiring.

Today marked the start of another week here in Israel.  Since Sunday is a normal work day, that meant back to the army for the oldest, back to school for our younger two.  It also meant that there is just over a week until Israel's next national election.

So after watching "Matzav Ha-Umah" - the "State of the Nation" - Israel's equivalent of Saturday Night Live - which featured Naftali Bennett this episode - I thought I would try to put together a few comments about the upcoming elections in Israel.

Of course it seems that these elections have arrived so soon after the previous national elections which were held in 2013.  If you would like a few refreshers, here is a link to my 2013 Israel Elections Preview.  Here is my link to a summary of the results of the last election.

However, there have also been a few changes since 2013 in the various parties and the coalitions and possible coalitions between the various candidates.  I thought I would highlight a few:

1.  The Zionist Union

The Labour party and "Hatnuah," a party led by Tsipi Livni, joined forces in December 2014 to campaign together as the "Zionist Union."  This centre-left coalition is now the main opposition to Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party.  Some polls have put the two parties neck and neck at anywhere between 23 and 26 seats each out of the 120 seats in Israel's Knesset.  As of today, it seems too close to call which party will wind up with a plurality of seats.

According to Israeli political convention, the party that wins the plurality of seats is supposed to be asked by the President of the country to form a coalition government by putting together a bloc of at least 61 Knesset members.  It seems unclear to me at this point how the Zionist Union could cobble together enough support to get past 61, even if the party wins more seats than Likud in the election.  But if they do come out ahead, they would most likely earn the right to try.

2.  Likud/ Yisrael Beitenu

In the 2013 election, Likud campaigned jointly with Avigdor Lieberman's party, Yisrael Beitenu.  The two parties obtained 31 seats, jointly.  This time around, they are running separately.  However, most polls I have seen have put Likud at between 23 and 26 seats.  They have also put Lieberman at anywhere from 5 to 8.  While Lieberman could surprise people and join a government led by the Zionist Union, it is probably more likely that he would put aside any personal differences he might have with Likud and join a Likud coalition once again.  The overall impact is that the combination of Likud and Yisrael Beitenu is still likely to be in the range of 28-32 seats.

3.  Yesh Atid/ Kulanu

The surprise winner of the 2013 election was certainly the Yesh Atid  party which won 19 seats and claimed some key cabinet posts including ministries of finance and education.  At this point, polls have put Lapid's party at anywhere from 11 to 14 seats.  Where are these votes going?  The most logical answer is that they going to another centrist party - the new "Kulanu" party, led by Moshe Kahlon, which has been focusing on economic and cost of living issues.  There is probably still time for both parties to go up or down.  The polling results are likely to fluctuate.  Nevertheless, it seems likely that Lapid will lose a number of seats and that Kahlon will win at least 5 or 6.  Either Lapid or Kahlon - or both them - could wind up in a government led by Likud or a government led by the Zionist Union.  They may well be the power brokers in the next election, which could be a very good thing for the Israeli centre.

4.  Bayit Hayehudi 

This right wing national religious party, led by start up mogul Naftali Bennett is currently polling at approximately 11-12 seats.  The party held 12 after the last elections.  My sense is that there is some momentum for the party and that it could wind up with a few additional seats - perhaps 15 or 16 - which would be seats that would come at the expense of Likud or Yisrael Beitenu votes.  On TV earlier this evening, Bennett reiterated that his party would not give up "one centimetre" of land in exchange for a peace deal and that its proposal to the Palestinians would be "peace for peace" rather than "land for peace."  Bennett could not join a government with the Zionist Union so he would either bolster a Likud coalition or he would sit in opposition.  Sounds to me like a recipe for an early war but maybe he figures that deterrence prevents war.  Doesn't seem to me that Israel's history, to this point, supports that viewpoint completely. 

5.  Arab Parties

In previous Knesset elections, there were three Arab parties.  They are now all running together as a "United Arab List" which could claim 12 or 13 seats.  It may well be that this party, ironically, would bolster a Zionist Union government as part of some type of express, official deal, or as part of some sort of unofficial deal.  There may even be a chance that the joint party would come to terms with the Zionist Union to become part of the government though that seems unlikely at this point.  In any case, this voting bloc is likely to hold a reasonable amount of power and may be able to generate some positive changes for its supporters.

6.  Shas/ Yachad

Shas is the ultra-religious eastern (Mizrachi) religious party.  In 2013, it won 11 seats.  It has historically been part of Israeli governments and has usually been able to wrangle significant concessions for its voting bloc.  It did not join the government for this past session, for which it blames Yesh Atid, the party viewed as public enemy #1 by Shas and its supporters.  While in the political wilderness, Shas fractured.  A splinter party, led by Eli Yishai was formed called, ironically enough, Yachad ("together").  Between Shas and Yachad, the two parties are polling at a total of 11 to 13 seats.  They would be strong candidates to join a Likud led coalition.  They would try to insist that Lapid remain outside of the government.  They could probably live with Kahlon's party, Kulanu.

Summary

In reviewing the Likud math  (the math that Netanyahu would hope for - or that he could live with) - that would mean - (all estimates), 25 likud, 7 Yisrael Beitenu, 12 Bayit Hayehudi, 12 Shas, 4 Yachad, 6 UTJ (Ultra-religious Ashkenazi party).  That all adds up to 66 before Kahlon's votes.  So Netanyahu would still have room to court offers from Yisrael Beitenu, Yachad and/or UTJ to form the government.  Only Lieberman, Shas and Yachad would be real threats to leave and join the Zionist Union.  With this math at a minimum, Netanyahu would be in the driver's seat and would have the upper hand in forming a government.  He could well see higher numbers for his party or for some of the other parties listed above.

On the other hand, with enough of a monetary offer, both Shas and Yachad could also join a Zionist Union government. Let's look at that math (the math that Herzog would hope for - or could live with).  Zionist Union (27), Meretz (6), Shas/Yachad (16), Kahlon (8)....I'm only getting to 57.  Add in UTJ (6) and you have a razor thin government.  If  Lapid won 13 seats and replaced Shas/Yachad - I'm not sure that would get the coalition to 60.  Even if this type of government was formed - which combined the Zionist Union with three different ultra-religious parties, it is likely this would be a very unpalatable government for quite a large number of Israelis.  It could also add in 12-15 Arab seats but that might make it even more unpopular among the Israeli centre.

It seems to me that in order to form a government, the Zionist Union will either need a joint "national unity" government with Likud - or it will require some very surprising results (i.e. a big swing to the left by the Israeli electorate).  Neither seem incredibly likely at this point.  While there is certainly a move in some circles to create a change of leadership and elect a new Prime Minister in Israel, there is also significant support for some right wing parties including Habayit Hayehudi.  There is also some level of lack of confidence in Isaac Herzog ("Boujee") who has been painted in the media as weak and indecisive.

All in all, it is difficult to predict what might occur.  Although there is a possibility of some type of national unity government led by Likud and the Zionist Union, that seems to be the only real possibility of governmental improvement in Israel in my view.  The alternatives of a right wing coalition (i.e. replacing yesh Atid with the ultra-religious parties) or an unholy alliance between the left and the ultra-religious parties (possibly with support from the Arab parties) both look like grim options to me.

But 8 days can be a long time in Israeli political life so we will stay tuned and wait to see what happens.  Hopefully, a high percentage of Israelis will make it to the polls and will participate in this important election.







Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Israel Elections 2015 - Latest Trends

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu
What to make of the upcoming elections in Israel which are scheduled for March 17, 2015?  According to the most recent polls, Israel's 20th Knesset may well look quite a bit like the current Knesset.  It is likely however that the religious parties will join the government, replacing Yesh Atid, in what would be a more right wing government than the current one.

However, there is a fair bit of time until the election, about 40 days.  Much can change as it often does in the swirling Mideastern winds of an Israeli election campaign.

Over the past week or two, there have been numerous stories in the press about the excesses of the Netanyahu family in the Prime Ministerial home.  One story involved allegations that Prime Minister Netanyahu's wife was pocketing a huge amount of money from refunded deposits on the return of water bottles.  Another story focused on excessive wine consumption in the Netanyahu quarters and a third story questioned a patio furniture purchase that the Netanyahus had recently made.  Listening to the Israeli news broadcasts, one might have thought that the reaction to this accumulation of allegations would be overwhelmingly negative.  But surprisingly, in polls that have come after this media barrage, Netanyahu has emerged, according to the polls with an even higher number of predicted seats than he had before the scandals broke.  The latest polls have put him at anywhere between 24 and 27 seats in the 120 seat Israeli Knesset, which would likely give him enough to have a plurality and have first dibs at forming a government.

Where there was some apparent momentum in the media for Isaac Herzog, leader of the Labour Party and Tsipi Livni (who together have joined forces to campaign as the "Zionist Camp"), the poll numbers do not seem to be reflecting the media enthusiasm.  The latest polls put the Zionist Camp at a similar range - 23 to 26 but the additional questions that pollsters have been asking suggest that the confidence in Herzog as a potential Prime Minister is lacking in the Israel public and that the Zionist Camp numbers may not wind up as high as the numbers that are currently being reported.

At election time, Israel usually winds up with a few new parties.  In this case there is a new centrist party, led by Moshe Kahlon.  The party is a centrist party, focusing on economic issues.  Does this sound familiar?  A look at the pools suggests that they are currently at a predicted eight seats, most of which were probably taken from Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid's party.

Of course many of these numbers could change quite a bit between now and election time.

So far, however, there seem to be few scenarios under which Herzog could become the Prime Minister.  Assuming he obtained 26-28 seats, how could he get to 61?  He could add in 13 seats from Yesh Atid (on a good day), 6 from Meretz and 9 from Kahlon.  So that would get him to 56.  And those are some very flattering and highly optimistic assumptions all around.  He would then need to find 5 or 6 more seats.  One option would be Lieberman's "Yisrael Beitenu" which would bring this coalition somewhat to the right.  Hard to imagine making a successful shiduch out of that arrangement.  Another option would be to add in the religious parties - Shas, United Torah Judaism and "Yachad" - a new Shas splinter group.  That could amount to 10 or even 15 seats but the cost would be the reversal of most of the gains that Israel achieved in the two years of governing without these parties in the Knesset.  It would be very unpalatable for Lapid - unless the Haredi parties greatly toned down their historic demands.  Of course another option is that the "Zionist Camp" could be supported by the three Arab parties - that have now united under one banner.  But how ironic would it be for the "Zionist Camp" to form a government that is held together by 12 Arab Israeli legislators?

On the other hand, if Prime Minister Netanyahu emerges with 25 to 27 seats, his path to a majority seems somewhat less difficult (at least ideologically).  He could add in Yisrael Biteinu with 6, the "Jewish Home" under Bennett with 12. That would put him at 45.  He would now have the possible options of a mixture of Shas/Yachad/UTJ (10-15), Kahlon (8/9), Yesh Atid (9-12), which could get him close to 70.  Even if Lapid chose not to join this unholy coalition, there would likely still be enough for Netanyahu to exceed 62 and form a government.  However, it would be a significantly more right wing government than the one that is currently in place.

A third option would be some sort of Labour-Likud coalition - which Israel has seen in the past.  Hard to imagine as things sit right now.  However, Prime Minister Netanyahu has certainly had his differences with most of his current coalition partners - ranging from Bennett to Lapid.  Perhaps a government with fewer partners would be more manageable?  Not that this would be a "Zionist Camp" fantasy - but it might be preferable, even for Herzog, to the alternative of a few years of a hard right Israeli government or a government that is dependent on the demands of the ultra religious parties.

It is somewhat unclear what Netanyahu's inclinations really would be with these different alternatives.  The easier route for him might be a government with 13-17 ultra-religious seats bolstering his core group.  But the cost would be quite high for Israeli secular society.  I'm really not sure that it is a cost that even Netanyahu is willing to pay, after having been able to see what can be accomplished in a government without the ultra religious parties.  He may have already made some type of deal with Shas (and certainly there have been rumours to that effect).  But until the election results are in and the deal is consummated, nothing is certain.

In my view, a right wing coalition with the various ultra-religious parties and Bennett's "Bayit Yehudi" will create many challenges for Israel, both domestically and internationally.  It would be a coalition that would continue to increase the gap between the rich and the poor in Israel and one that would reverse many of the changes that had been made to secular-religious issues in Israel.  In particular, it is a coalition that would spend much more money funding Yeshivas and new settlements and would halt the very modest trend towards increased religious pluralism in Israel.  And it is a coalition that could lead to the further isolation of Israel in many international circles by taking an even harder line in matters involving the Palestinians.  I find it hard to imagine that a majority of Israelis would view this as the best type of government but I guess that is for Israelis to decide at the polls. 

It should be a very interesting period in Israel as we watch the changing poll results come in and wait to see if any of the parties are able to create some momentum in an unforeseen direction over the course of this campaign.  I'm not betting on it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Israeli Election is Over: Coalition Talks Begin

On Wednesday, we received the official results from the January 22, 2013 Israeli election.  These results have now been slightly adjusted and we have received the "final" official result as of approximately 5 p.m. on Thursday January 24, 2013.  Apparently, there were still ballots to be counted from military personnel, prisons, hospitals and foreign-stationed diplomats.  After counting all of these ballots  (approximately 220,000), a few changes have now been announced.  Naftali Bennett's party, HaBayit Hayehudi has increased by one seat to 12 and the United Arab List has dropped to 4 from 5. Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party have remained stable at 19 seats.  The Yesh Atid party still seems to be in the driver's seat as the front runner to help build a government with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Lapid has a wide ranging and interesting background.  The son of Tommy Lapid, late leader of the Shinui ("change") party, a secular party which reached 15 Knesset seats in 2003, Yair Lapid has politics in his family background.  In addition to his political career, he has also been involved in many other activities.  He has written well known Israeli songs, tried amateur kick-boxing (which he still practices 1-2 hours a day - even while on the campaign trail), acted in Israeli shows and worked as a TV news commentator.  He has also brought a refreshing approach to bridging the secular-religious divide in Israel.  For example, or a number of years, he ran a Shavuoth night "tikkun" - an all night learning program that  focused on a wide range of topics of Jewish interest rather than pure Torah study.

With his new political party, Lapid has emphasized a new approach to politics in Israel and an effort to represent the silent majority - the non-ultra-orthdox, army-serving, middle class, zionist Israelis.  Among other platforms, Lapid has called for efforts to increase the availability of lower cost housing, and to ensure that all Israelis, at the age of 18, including ultra-orthodox and Arabs, serve in the army or perform some type of national service.  He has vowed to insist on these demands as part of his fundamental terms for joining any coaltion government.  He has also vowed to insist that the peace process with the Palestinians be re-ignited.

As of yesterday, the left-centre "bloc" in Israel, including the Arab parties and Yesh Atid made up exactly 1/2 of the new Knesset - 60 seats - with the right and right-centre bloc, including the ultra-orthodox, making up the other 60.  As a result of this afternoon's announcement, adjusting the results, the right bloc now has 61 seats and could, theoretically, form a very right wing/ultra-orthodox coaltion that could hold the majority by 2 seats.  Most commentators feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want to go down this road for a number of reasons.  The government would be very fragile.  The Prime Minister would be under constant threat of different coalition members leaving the government if they were not provided with new concessions.  Many of the concessions Prime Minister Netanyahu would have to make, particularly to the ultra-orthodox would be unpalatable to much of the Israeli public including many who voted for Netanyahu's party, Likud.  So there is a real sense that Prime Minister Netanyahu  very much intends to enter into a coalition agreement with Yesh Atid.

But this is where the fun starts.  Lapid has indicated that he has three key demands in order to enter the government:

1.   Most imporantly - an equal sharing of the "burden" of military/ national service.  Lapid proposes that all Israelis, with the exception of a very small number of ultra-orthodox, super-bright scholars, will be required to serve in the army or perform national service.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has made statements indicating that he is prepared to support this idea, although it is unclear whether he will be willing to follow it through.  The other left and left-centre parties - such as Labor, Meretz, Hatenuah and Kadima would support this type of legislated change.  It may also be the case that Naftali Bennett's party, Habayit Heyehudi, would also support a modified version of this type of law. Bennett might also support changes to Israeli laws that deal with zoning restrictions on land and other laws that would, generally, help bring about a lower cost of living in Israel.  So there is a good chance that Lapid could wind up in a government with Netanyahu and Bennett, which would make significant domestic changes that many Israelis would appreciate.  It is hard to imagine that these terms (at least universal conscription) are terms to which the Shas party (with its 11 Knesset seats) would agree.  So this scenario might see a government without Shas, the ultra-religious party that has historically extracted massive concessions in exchange for joining coalition governments.

2.  Lapid has also indicated that another key demand is a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue with a view to negotiating an agreement.  Of course, just starting talks does not mean that they would go anywhere.  Lapid has firmly stated that he would not be prepared to divide Jerusalem and that view probably represents a significant majority view in Israel.  The Palestinian Authority described the visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Kotel on the eve of the Israeli elections as a "provocation."  But this is Judaism's holiest site.  There are no conditions, in the foreseeable future, under which Israel would cede control of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Lapid has also indicated that the Palestinian refugee problem should be solved by the Palestinians in their new state when an agreement is reached.  This makes eminent sense and is a view that also enjoys wide ranging Israeli public support.

These two issues, Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem, have supposedly caused or contributed to collapses in talks in the past.  But realistically, no Israeli government, even a left wing government would be prepared or even able to make major concessions on these points.

On the other hand, Lapid has indicated a willingness to support a two-state solution and to come to terms with Palestinians on mutually agreeable borders, which could even include the removal of some Jewish settlements.  It is quite clear Bennett's party is not prepared to make any such concessions and would refuse to join a government that planned to do so.  So while Bennett may be prepared to support some of Lapid's domestic agenda, he will not support Lapid's foreign policy. 

3.  Lapid's third demand is for a reform to education to ensure that everyone studies secular subjects in school. This is strongly opposed by Shas, but not necessarily by Bennett.  Netanyahu has indicated that he would be prepared to support this type of change.

Overall, Shas is on the opposite of Bennett on a number of these issues.  While they might support Bennett's foreign policy views, they would oppose most of his domestic agenda and would insist on continued support for much of the ultra-religious political agend, which Lapid has staunchly opposed, and which make up two of his three main platform ideas. 

So it looks like the Netanyahu-Lapid coalition, if it happens, will either include Shas - and maintain much of the status quo on the domestic front while moving ahead on the diplomatic front - or it will include Bennett and it will make signficant changes domestically but drag its feet on foreign policy matters including negotiations ,with the Palestinians, if they take place at all.

For now, the likeilhood seems to be the addition of Habayit Hayehudi.  This may well result in some very real and tangible gains for the left-centre, domestically, but it is unlikely to result in any progress with respect to peace talks and peace efforts.  Of course, if Lapid is able to demonstrate tangible accomplishments for at least part of his platform, that may well improve his political capital and open the door to changes in other areas in the future.

In the meantime, it is worth remembering that the Shas party negotiators are very experienced in these matters.  They may yet offer some concessions on the issue of universal conscription and may show a willingness to support a broad peace initiative.  It is quite conceivable, though, admittedly less likely, that Shas could be part of a Lapid-Netanyahu government that could make progress in a few different areas.

Some commentators are estimating that it may take up to six weeks for this coalition negotiation process to unfold.  This is where we will see the real results of this election.  This process is sure to be even more interesting than the election itself.







Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Israeli Elections 2013: Preview

With Israeli national elections approaching on January 22, 2013, I thought it was about time that I provided a bit of information and perspective on the coming elections.  It will be my first opportunity to vote in Israel, though I'm not writing this article as a partisan piece.  I thought I would look at trends and anticipated outcomes.

As many of you know, Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a 120 seat legislative assembly, the "Knesset."  Like in other similar systems (Canada, Britain, to name a couple), a party is required to cobble together a majority in order to govern.  A governing coalition requires more than 61 seats to hold the confidence of the Knesset.

The Knesset


The challenge in Israel, of course, is that each Israeli believes that he or she can and should run the country.  New political parties are constantly being formed, old ones disbanded and new coalitions arranged.  Things are very volatile, to put it mildly.

Following the last election in 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put together a very stable coalition (by Israeli historical standards).  The numbers ranged from 66 to 74 over the course of this term in office but the coalition was never really threatened.  The government was made up of a multi-party coalition which included the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Yisrael Beitenu party lead by Avigdor Lieberman (who has now been indicted), some religious and ultra-religious parties and the leftist Labour Party.  It is interesting to note that some of the most vociferous condemnation of the current government has come from the leader of the Labor Party, even though Labor was an integral part of the governing coaliton.


Prime Minister Netanyahu
For the current election, there have been some very interesting changes for some of the parties. While at this point, there seems to be little doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be reelected, the big issue is what type of coalition he will put together and what policies that government will embrace.

The "Right Wing" Parties

The two major right wing or right centre parties are Likud and Yisrael Beitenu ("Israel, Our Home")Founded by former Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1973, Likud has been one of the two dominant Israeli political parties for more than 30 years.  Its membership includes members with a range of view points from those who support a negotiated two-state peace solution with the Palestinians to those who favour annexation of much, if not all, of the disputed territories (Judea and Semaria or the West Bank).  On its own in the last election, Likud won 27 seats.

Avigdor Lieberman
Yisrael Beitenu is a party led by Avigdor Lieberman, who was serving as Israel's Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister until December 2012 at which time he was charged with fraud and breach of trust.  Yisrael Beitenu won 15 seats in the last election.  While characterized as a right wing nationalist party, Yisrael Beitenu favours a two-state solution including territory swaps with the Palestinians.  Lieberman has called for the Israeli government to demand "loyalty" from its Arab citizens and has also called for a reduction in the power of Israel's religious authorities.

Likud and Yisrael Beitenu have now merged and are running as one party for the current elections.  Most recent polls estimate that they will win anywhere from 32 to 37 seats.  The combined total will almost certainly be lower than the 42 that these two parties won in the 2009 election.

One of the big surprises of the campaign to date has been the newly named party Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home).  Its leader Naftali Bennett, a youthful and successful entrepreneur oversaw a merger of the Jewish Home and National Union parties and won more than 60% of the combined leadership race.  The party has an avowedly right wing platform, favouring annexation of the disputed territories, even though Bennett himself lives in the wonderful city of...Ra'anana.  Bennett has used a mixture of facebook advertising, carefully produced videos and his own energetic appeal to build growing support.  While many might characterize Bennett's views as extremist, current polls have estimated that Bennett may win between 13 and 18 seats in the Knesset.

Naftali Bennett
 One other "right wing" party, Otzma L'Yisrael ("Strength for Israel) could also win anywhere from 0 to 4 seats.  This was a group that splintered off from the newly merged Bennett party.

Overall, the "right wing" parties, which are not characterized as "religious" are projected to win anywhere from 45 to 59 seats.  This is quite a variance and will have a tremendous impact on the type of government that is formed.  If the combined numbers are closer to 45, the group will almost certainly be forced to combine with some of the centrist parties to form a fairly broad coalition.  If the group is close to, or even over 60, it could combine with some of the religious parties and produce a very stable, very right wing government, politically and even economically.

The Religious Parties

Shas is an ultra-religious party dedicated to furthering the interests of observant Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews.  It has formed governments with the right and the left over the past 20 years - and has been willing to bend on some of its principles, as long as there is lots of money available for its constituents.  Several Shas Knesset Members have been convicted of offences including fraud, forgery and bribery.   One of those convicted, well known member, Aryeh Deri is now the number two candidate on the Shas list and will almost certainly be elected in the coming elections.  Polling numbers for Shas have been quite consistent.  Estimates range from 9 to 12 seats, with most polls at 10 or 11.

Aryeh Deri

United Torah Judaism, another ultra-religious party, is estimated to win between 5 and 6 seats.

So the ultra-religious block is expected to have somewhere between 14 and 18 seats, which would position it well to join a government in exchange for all kinds of concessions.

Throughout Israel's history, left wing and right wing governments have been prepared to make major concessions to this religious block to bolster their governments.  Some of the resulting policies have included exemptions from the army for Yeshiva students, exclusive legal jurisdiction for the religious over personal status matters including weddings and funerals and control of many other aspects of Israeli life, ranging from limitations on public transportation on Shabbat to laws prohibiting the sale of Hametz (leavened bread) on Pesach.   Of course the flip side is that at least some of these laws enjoy fairly widespread public support, even among non-Orthodox Jews.


The Centrist Parties

There are currently three centrist parties that are expected to win seats in the coming election - Kadima, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah.

Formed in 2005 by moderate Likud members, Kadima reached a high point of 29 seats in the 2006 elections, with a policy platform emphasizing efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.   In the 2009 election, the party won 28 seats under the leadership of Tsipi Livni.  Rather than join a coalition with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Livni opted to remain in opposition.  In 2012, Livni lost a leadership race to Shaul Mofaz.  Following Israel's history of politicians founding new parties, Livni left Kadima and set up her own party, arrogantly named "Hatnuah" - "the Movement."  The party's campaign has featured some fairly bizarre advertising slogans.  Tsipi Livni herself has been viewed as ineffective as an opposition leader.  Nevertheless, it looks like many of the Kadima supporters have deserted Mofaz and flocked to Livni.  The party's platform has emphasized peace, social justice, environmental protection and religious pluralism.  Current estimates suggest that Livni's party may win between 7 and 10 seats.

Tzipi Livni
The other centrist party expected to do well is the party led by well known Israeli media personality Yair Lapid named Yesh Atid ("There is a future").  Lapid's party's platform has included an emphasis on education, religious pluralism, an end to exemptions from military service for the ultra-religious, and efforts to change the Israeli political system.  Lapid's party seems to be running at 9 to 11 seats.

If these two parties, which should be natural allies, combine for between 16 and 21 seats, they could be part of a government and have substantial power.  Lapid has already suggested that he would like to be part of a Likud led government if Likud wins the election while Livni has been more circumspect.
Yair Lapid
The number of seats won by the centre may be the most significant factor in determining what type of government Israel has.  If the centre attracts some Likud supporters and helps limit the cumulative right wing block to less than 50 seats, it will be very important for Likud to include the centre in the government.  If the centrist parties are less successful, Likud may be able to form a government without them, relying only on the religious parties.




The Left

Though the Labor Party was one of Israel's two strongest parties and has been the governing party throughout much of Israel's history, it seems fairly clear that this has been a party on the decline over the past several years.  Perhaps Israel's new economic realities, with a shift over time to more of a capitalist economy have been instrumental in creating this result.  Or perhaps there has been disenchantment over Labor's role in participating in a staunchly right wing Likud coalition.  In any event, under its current leader, Shelly Yacimovich, the party has emphasized social justice issues rather than national security and has tried to position itself as the party most willing to tackle issues of widespread Israeli middle class decline and increasingly high levels of poverty.  Predictions have varied for the Labor Party, but most seem to estimate 16 to 21 seats.     


Over to the left of the Labor Party is Meretz, a party that touts itself as "Israel's Left."  Emphasizing human rights (especially in the area of sexual orientation), social justice, separation of religion and state, dismantling of most Israeli settlements, and humanism, the party is expected to win 3 to 5 seats.

If Labor and Meretz do well in the coming elections, they could have as many as 25 or 26 seats.  This would either be a considerable opposition block - or it could elect to try to form a national unity government though that seems unlikely.    Even if the political left and centre were to combine, the ceiling would probably be in the range of 40 to 45 seats.  Given current Israeli political realities, it seems quite unlikely that the left wing parties will play a significant role in the next government.

The Arab Parties

Israel currently has three Arab or Arab-Socialist parties in the Knesset.  UAL-Ta'al, Balad and Hadash.  They currently have 10 seats between the three of them.  The expectation is that they will be in a similar range following the coming election.  It is unlikely that they will form part of the next government, though it is theoretically possible that these parties could bolster a left-centre coalition.  Given the expected number of seats, it appears that even if the left and the centre combined with the Arab parties, they would still have less than 61 seats.

Israeli MK Ahmed Tibi

Finally, this type of survey article would not be complete without mentioning at least some of the "novelty parties" that are not expected to win seats.

There is the "Green Leaf Party" - I will leave it to you to figure out what they stand for...

How could I not mention the "Kulanu Haverim" ("We are all friends") party, whose members include follows of Rabbi Nachman of Breslev?



And finally - the "Pirate Party" whose members advocate the "freedom to copy" and promote the lifestyle of the piracy sector.

This list is not complete - there are many other parties running, including, for the first time, an Arab Zionist party (El Amal Lat'gir), led by Bedouin politician Aatef Karinaoui.  But time limitations keep me from making this blog article more comprehensive.
Green Leaf...

I will see if I have time to add some additional information between now and the election date.  I will want to be sure to research all of the issues thoroughly to make an informed decision.

For now, a couple of things seem fairly clear to me.  Prime Minister Netanyahu will almost certainly be the next Prime Minister.  Labor and Meretz will almost certainly be in the opposition along with the Arab parties.  The real issue is whether Netanyahu will lead a broad right-centre or right-centre-religious coalition or whether it will be a much narrower right-religious government.  Stay tuned and if you are in Israel and you are eligible - make sure to vote!!