Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the first working cabinet meeting of the new government at the Chagall Hall in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. Photo: Abir Sultan / Pool via Reuters.
The 2021 Israeli election ended — once again — without a clear outcome.
Although the right-wing bloc won 59 seats (if you include Naftali Bennett), a slight strengthening of the mandate from the 2020 elections, Netanyahu once again failed to gain a majority of 61 MKs. The center-left bloc also failed to obtain a majority in the Knesset, although it received a significant strengthening from the right-wing. In fact, if it were not for the parties of Avigdor Lieberman and Gideon Sa’ar, the center-left bloc would now stand at only 38 seats, a drop of two seats from the 2020 election.
The bloc of Arab parties also suffered a severe defeat, from only 15 to 10 seats, as many Arab voters again chose not to vote, expressing a firm distrust of their authentic representatives. As a result, there are currently two options for forming a government in Israel: First, the establishment of a unity government between the Zionist parties that are closer to the center of the political spectrum (from Likud to Yesh Atid). But sadly, this scenario has little chance of succeeding in light of the fact that in Israeli politics, everything is personal and not ideological.
The second way is to form a government with the support of the Arab parties, a scenario that also seems difficult to implement because of the objection of some of the future coalition parties, both in the right-wing bloc and the anti-Netanyahu camp.
There are two main takeaways from the latest round of elections.
First, the new Knesset introduces extremist elements from both sides of the political spectrum. Indeed, we have become accustomed to seeing MKs from the Arab parties, who support Palestinian terrorism and call for the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. But this year, they received a boost from right-wing extremists.
On the right side, one can find in the Religious Zionist party, led by Bezalel Smotrich, two new MKs that the Israeli legislature should not be proud of. The first is Itamar Ben-Gvir, who praised and supported the Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinian worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in February 1994. The second, no less notorious, is Avi Maoz, who is currently waging a despicable struggle against the rights of LGBT people and Reform Judaism.
But a radical figure has entered the Knesset from the left as well. Surprisingly, this time it is the Labor Party, which brings to the Knesset an extremist figure, Ibtisam Mara’ana, who does not honor Memorial Day for IDF casualties and even expressed support for an operative from the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.
The second takeaway is that the center-left bloc failed to create an alternative in the form of a leader who has the appropriate skills to become prime minister.
Compared to the last few elections, in which Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz led the center-left bloc, the 2021 election illustrated that the center-left bloc is divided, as each of the leaders of the bloc’s parties thinks he is the right person to lead Israel. The center-left bloc needs to recalculate its path, especially if it wishes to return to power one day. It must find a leader with a rich security and public background, a person who will have the skills to convince the Israeli public that he or she could lead Israel in the face of the security and socio-economic challenges it faces — and not just blame Netanyahu for the evils of the world.
Although some claim that Israeli democracy is in danger, the repeated elections prove that Israeli democracy is alive and kicking. I strongly believe that Israeli society — a strong society that has already proven itself in times of crisis — will figure out how to overcome the political tangle. But in order to do so, we need real leaders who will stop boycotting each other, and form a government that will work for all the citizens of Israel.
Ori Wertman is a PhD candidate and research assistant at University of South Wales, UK, and an Adjunct Researcher at the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, Israel.