Israelis have spoken – that is, 67.52% of Israel has spoken equaling 3,777,977 votes with a smaller percentage of Israeli Arabs voting than ever before. In the next six weeks we will learn what the ruling coalition will look like.
There were some big surprises in the final vote tally representing a kind of tikun (correction) within Israeli politics. Rather than continuing the trend towards a more extremist right-wing government, Israelis wanted their next Knesset to turn back towards the middle of the political spectrum.
The two most significant winners are Yair Lapid of “Yesh Atid” (i.e. There is a Future) representing the middle with 19 seats, and Naftali Bennett of “Bayit Yehudi” (i.e. The Jewish Home) from the right with 11 seats. Netanyahu was the big loser though he will likely remain Prime Minister. Kadima dropped to 2 seats and the ultra-Orthodox parties lost strength as well with a total of 19.
What does it all mean?
For the past two months I have been studying modern Hebrew by Skype with two wonderful teachers in Israel. Tomer lives in Tel Aviv, is 25 years old, secular, a graduate student in history and literature at Tel Aviv University, a jazz musician, and interested professionally in the media. He was among the 20% of “undecided voters” until he walked into the voting booth and cast his vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
My other teacher, Avital, lives in Efrat (on the West Bank), is 28 years old, religious, a graduate student in Hebrew grammar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and wishes to be an editor and translator. She was viscerally excited whenever speaking about Naftali Bennett.
Both teachers are smart, sophisticated, educated young Israelis. They are concerned about quality of life, the Israeli economy, the growing deficit, and the future of the middle class. Each was drawn to a candidate who is straight-talking and unencumbered by political corruption.
Tomer worries that Lapid yitkapel (slang: “he will fold/cave” to the pressures of Netanyahu and politics). Avital had wished that Bennett would have fared better. She liked his campaign's emphasis on family and Jewish study. Both Tomer and Avital liked that their respective candidates each emphasized the importance of shivyon b’nitel (“sharing the burden of military/civilian service, including the ultra-Orthodox).
Bennet and Lapid are alike and dissimilar, mirror images of each other. Lapid has called for a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians leading to a two-state solution, is against the division of Jerusalem and wants the large settlement blocs to remain in Israel with appropriate land swaps in a final settlement.
Bennett wants to annex 60% of the West Bank and is opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian State anywhere on the land west of the Jordan River.
Lapid is a secular Jew and attends our starship Reform synagogue Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv occasionally. He believes in a pluralistic democratic Israel.
Bennett is a modern orthodox Jew who is married to a secular woman and wants the government to support all the orthodox parties and not just Shas. He and Bayit Yehudi have provoked the scorn of Shas' 90 year old spiritual father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who branded them as a party of "goyim." Bennett does not speak about religious pluralism nor about equal rights for Reform and Conservative religious streams. He wants to change the way judges are appointed so as to prevent them ruling on the constitutionality of legislation passed by the Knesset. He charges that the media is controlled by the left, though neglects to note that the most widely read Israeli newspaper is Israel Hayom, financed entirely by the wealthy American right-wing Jew, Sheldon Adelson.
A defining decision will be whether Netanyahu includes Bennett in his coalition or excludes him. If Bibi excludes him the government will essentially re-affirm the goal of a two-state solution. If he includes Bennett, he will signal his disinterest in negotiations leading to a two-state solution.
Secretary of State designate John Kerry is planning to visit Israel and the Palestinian communities in February to get a lay of the land. I would hope that President Obama will come as well, or very soon thereafter, in order to speak heart to heart with the Israelis and demonstrate his personal concern for their security and welfare as a Jewish and democratic nation, and then do the same with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, thereby opening up the process leading to a final two-state solution.
Granted, the President has much on his plate, not the least of which is the Iranian nuclear threat. But only the President can act as the divorce mediator between the Palestinians and Israelis, and I hope he will take on that role.
Tomer and Avital, their generation and the people of Israel deserve nothing less.