Bibi’s back, what does it all mean?

Depending on your political beliefs, it’s either “the best of times” or “the worst of times” in Israel.
Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on November 2, 2022, after the end of voting for national elections. (Photo by Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)

We’re curious…

Another Israeli election has come and gone. With Benjamin Netanyahu returning to office, it looks like we are right back to where we were in 2021… or are we?

“We must come out of the trenches and work together,” Netanyahu said following his victory.

Results clearly show Netanyahu’s bloc securing the 61 Knesset-seat threshold required to form a government. So, what exactly will Israel’s new government look like?

Who’s in and who’s out

Voter turnout was the highest in years. Here are the parties that received the highest number of votes and Knesset seats:

  • Netanyahu’s Likud party was the overall winner of the election, securing 32 seats. 
  • Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party came in second with 24 seats.
  • Hatzionut Hadatit, also known as the Religious Zionism party, headed by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, came in third with 14 seats.

Election watchers speculate that Netanyahu and the Likud party will form a government with the Religious Zionism party, Shas and United Torah Judaism. 

In total, Netanyahu’s coalition won 64 seats. Lapid’s centrist bloc won 51 seats. The Arab parties Hadash-Taal won five seats but do not want to join any coalition.

With 120 total Knesset seats, a majority of 61 seats is needed to form a government, so Netanyahu and his allies won a small but clear majority of seats in parliament. Read more about how Israeli elections work.

Which parties didn’t make it into the Knesset? The left-wing party Meretz party, Arab nationalist party Balad, and Ayelet Shaked’s Habayit Hayehudi party each failed to cross the electoral threshold.

What will the government look like?

“It’s going to be an unprecedented government,” Sima Kadmon, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot, wrote.

Israel will have its most religious government ever in power. Religious parties are projected to make up 33 of the 64 coalition seats, a historic number for a governing bloc. 

This new government also reflects a political trend in the country: Israeli voters have moved further to the right in recent years.

The religious parties having a majority in the government “is expected to have major implications on religion-and-state issues in Israel,” Judah Ari Gross of The Times of Israel wrote.

“Each of these parties has already laid out plans both to reverse reforms put in place by the outgoing government, and to institute new ones to reinforce Orthodox control over religious life in Israel.”

According to some experts, this isn’t a complete victory for the religious parties: the Likud Knesset members are both secular and religious, and the more secular members could act as a firewall.

“I don’t think they’ll so quickly change the status quo” on religion and state issues, Shlomit Ravitsky Tur-Paz, director of the Shared Society Center at the Israel Democracy Institute, said.

Despite the religious fervor, many government watchers speculate that it’ll be hard to change Israel’s secular fabric. The country’s courts, rather than the Knesset, handle many key decisions on what role religion plays in everyday life.

On top of the strong display by religious parties in the election, all eyes are also on what Netanyahu is going to do with Itamar Ben-Gvir.

On the campaign trail, Ben-Gvir repeatedly made headlines for his anti-Arab language and calls to deport “disloyal” Israelis. He is a follower of the late popular and polarizing Rabbi Meir Kahane.

On the campaign trail, Ben-Gvir talked heavily about security and the feeling that Israelis are losing control of their country, speaking to the fear that some Israelis are experiencing, argues Daniel Gordis in his latest newsletter.

Recently, Ben-Gvir has also toned down his rhetoric, promising to “work for all of Israel, even those who hate me.”

He is personally campaigning to be the public security minister, a position that would put him in charge of Israel’s police, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Netanyahu is still drawing up coalition guidelines (the “who’s in and who’s out” in the top government posts). The wrangling has already begun, with Likud lawmakers stressing that they should be given priority.

Diversity of perspectives

Depending on your political beliefs, it’s either “the best of times” or “the worst of times” in Israel.

Haaretz is firmly in the latter camp. The newspaper took the boxing gloves off and left nothing to the imagination, running headlines such as:

  • “It’s official now: Fascism is us”
  • “Netanyahu’s election win dealt a grievous blow to Judaism”
  • “Israel election final results: Netanyahu, Jewish far-right win power, fiasco for Left”
  • “In America, Israel will pay a catastrophic price for far-right Ben-Gvir’s victory”

Asa Kasher, a prominent Israeli philosopher who helped write the IDF’s Code of Ethics, expressed a similar sentiment. In a now-removed Facebook post, he called the rise in religious parties a “mutation” and “not Jewish.”

“The nationalist mutation is a transition from the religious way of life where there is adherence to the principles of justice and fairness, honesty and compassion; [a life] that reveres God but with humane conduct, to an unruly, wicked way of life that [primarily] sanctifies the land and controls its inhabitants with violence,” Kasher wrote.

This way of life uses “uses methods that have no justice, no compassion, no morals. [It] has, more than anything else, a idol-like worship of the land, the nation and its corrupt leadership,” he added.

On the other side, Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations argued that “the critics on the left here have gone well over the line in their comments and predictions.” 

Abrams wrote that the reforms Likud are proposing would actually bring Israel more in line with how the U.S. government functions.

“So let’s hold off on the doomsday talk,” he concluded. “Churchill once said ‘Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business.’ In Israel as in most places, it is both.”

“[T]he voters proved once again that Israel is a traditional, center-right country,” Alex Traiman wrote for JNS.

The rise of the Orthodox parties and Religious Zionism party “demonstrates their constituents’ strong desire to safeguard Israel’s traditional and uniquely Jewish national, religious and social values.” This “runs counter to the leftward, globalist trends affecting many of the Jewish state’s Western allies,” he wrote.

If Netanyahu were to make Ben-Gvir and Smotrich senior ministers, this would come at a price, Dennis Ross and David Makovsky argued in The Times of Israel.

It would “have consequences in Israel with the Israeli Arabs and the legal system; with the Palestinians and the likely increase in violence; and with Israel’s Arab peace partners.”

Diversity of perspectives from across the world

Jewish organizations weighed in as well. Both the ADL and the National Council of Jewish Women called out the inclusion of the Religious Zionism party, citing their “history of racism, homophobia and misogyny.”

The ADL said that it “will not shirk from calling out expressions by, and policies of, the Israeli government and Israeli leaders that are hateful, racist, anti-Arab, homophobic and anti-democratic.”

The American Jewish Committee said that “past statements of some potential members of the governing coalition raise serious concerns about issues we prioritize: pluralism, inclusion, and increased opportunities for peace and normalization.”

In the United Kingdom, the British Board of Deputies also expressed concern.

“We are gravely concerned that the potential government will include individuals whose stated views and actions are in contrast to the tolerant and inclusive values of our community. We look forward to continuing working with those in the new Israeli government and in civil society who seek to advance peace, security, prosperity and fairness,” the Board said.

However, other organizations simply lauded Israel’s democracy and did not weigh in on the results. AIPAC put out a Twitter thread after the election congratulating the Israeli public for “again demonstrating its commitment to democracy and free and fair elections.”

The Jewish Federations of North America also praised “Israel’s vibrant democratic process.” 

Meanwhile, the Zionist Federation of Australia congratulated Netanyahu on his victory. However, the organization’s president, Jeremy Leibler, said in a speech at the organization’s biennial conference ahead of the election:

“To my mind, if Zionism aspires to position the Jewish people as a light unto the nations, as a torchbearer of morality based on Jewish values, Ben Gvir’s approach is inherently anti-Zionist.”

The bottom line

Recently, on the Jewish Education Project’s podcast with David Bryfman, Noam Weissman spoke about the need for literacy as it pertains to the Israeli elections. 

Part of literacy is understanding who Israelis are, what they are passionate about, what challenges they face, and how Israeli society functions.

Across the world, let’s remember that voter turnout in this election was the highest since 1999. These election results represent current Israel. Regardless of what one thinks of the election results, this is Israel as it is now. 

Many Israelis are incredibly excited about the results of the elections, and others are not. When talking about Israel, let’s not paint a false picture of what Israel is and expect it to be in our own image.

Most importantly, let’s ensure our classrooms and our social media discourse are environments where we demonstrate an awareness of Israel’s story and current reality and that we can learn to respect those with whom we disagree.