News from March 22 to March 28

Israeli election results, Passover celebrations around the world, and honorable mentions

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Israel remains in a political stalemate after 4th election:

Does Israel have a government yet? Let’s bring this back, shall we? The answer, to nobody’s surprise, is no.

What were the election results? For an explainer on the parties who ran in Tuesday’s election, check out last week’s newsletter. Without further ado, here are the results, broken down by bloc:

Pro-Netanyahu (52): 

Likud: 30

Shas: 9

United Torah Judaism: 7

Religious Zionist Party: 6

Anti-Netanyahu (57):

Yesh Atid: 17

Blue and White: 8

Labor: 7

Yisrael Beiteinu: 7

New Hope: 6

Joint List: 6

Meretz: 6

Kingmakers (11):

Yamina: 7

Ra’am: 4

Netanyahu got the most seats. Does that mean he’ll be Prime Minister? No. He still needs to assemble a coalition with the support of 61 MKs, something he does not presently have.

Break this down for me. What’s going on here? Although Netanyahu’s bloc did not achieve the 61 seats necessary for him to remain Prime Minister, his opposition does not have a clear path either. To form a government, Netanyahu’s bloc would need both Yamina and Ra’am to join him. The anti-Netanyahu bloc only needs one of the two parties. Simple, right? No, it’s ever that simple. 

It will be very challenging for Netanyahu to form a coalition with Yamina and Ra’am because it would require the assistance of a far-right, racist party (Religious Zionist Party) and an Islamist party (Ra’am). Although Netanyahu has openly embraced Ra’am’s leader Mansour Abbas, the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) has already ruled out working with Arabs in a governing coalition, and Ra’am has similarly ruled out working with RZP. Reports suggested Netanyahu was lobbying RZP to change its stance, so things could always change. 

As for the anti-Netanyahu “Change Bloc,” assembling a government will be difficult due to the vast ideological diversity of the bloc’s parties. The bloc, which contains everyone from far-left Israeli-Arab MKs to ardently nationalistic right-wing MKs, would have to somehow reconcile massive differences over things like settlements and the controversial “nation-state law,” which dubbed Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. Still, the bloc has one thing in common: they loathe Netanyahu, and that might be enough to form a governing coalition.

What are some of the possibilities moving forward?

This list is not comprehensive and it is not ranked in any particular order.

  1. Netanyahu convinces RZP and Ra’am to work together and form a conservative government (Ra’am is socially conservative, especially on LGBTQ rights)

  2. Netanyahu can convince individual MKs from other parties to support him as Prime Minister. He has already reportedly approached members of Hew Hope, a party populated primarily by disaffected former Likud MKs.

  3. The anti-Netanyahu bloc figures out a compromise. One idea that has been circulating is to have Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett rotate as Prime Minister for one year total in a “national healing government” supported by the anti-Netanyahu bloc, Yamina, and Ra’am.

  4. ~5th elections~

Anything else? There were a lot of surprises in this election, so here are some of my thoughts:

  1. New Hope had a pretty miserable performance, given the hype around the new party. Formed by Gideon Sa’ar and other former Likud MKs, there was a lot of buzz that New Hope could be the most viable non-Netanyahu option for right-wing voters. New Hope even polled at 22 seats (!) a few months ago, but the party ended up only earning six seats. That’s quite a precipitous drop. 

  2. Labor, Meretz, and Blue and White all did far better than the polls indicated. Pretty much all of the polling before the election suggested that Labor would get ~5 seats, and Meretz and Blue and White might not make it into the Knesset. Not only did they all get in, but they were elected comfortably. Labor is noteworthy because it has a new leader in Merav Michaeli and it thoroughly exceeded expectations. Blue and White’s performance is also intriguing because although Benny Gantz’s move to join Netanyahu after the last election violated his premier campaign promise, he still outperformed most forecasts. Gantz’s Blue and White is now the second-largest party in the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

  3. It will be interesting to see if the Change bloc, which numbers over 60 if you include Ra’am or Yamina (or both), attempts to pass legislation to prevent indicted individuals (Netanyahu) from forming coalitions. It’s a controversial move since it would target one individual, but if they pass that legislation, you would probably see Israel’s political deadlock clear up.

  4. It’s fascinating (and encouraging) to see Israeli-Arabs play such a prominent role in Israeli politics. For much of Israel’s history, the Israeli-Arab parties either willfully did not participate in governing coalitions or were excluded by mainstream Zionist parties. Now, an Israeli-Arab party can literally determine Israel’s political future. One question for the future is whether the mainstream Zionist parties like Yesh Atid and Likud will continue to embrace the Israeli-Arab sector once Netanyahu is gone (whenever that is) and there might not be a political need for their support. It will also be interesting to see what the Joint List and Ra’am do with their substantial political power.

  5. Gantz has a lot of leverage going into coalition negotiations. According to his coalition deal with Netanyahu, if Israel heads to a fifth election, it very likely may occur after Gantz automatically becomes Prime Minister in November. He’s clearly always wanted to be the Prime Minister, so he could ask for a significant position in exchange for supporting the coalition.

Further reading: https://www.timesofisrael.com/reform-rabbi-kahanist-agitator-firebrand-novelist-welcome-to-the-24th-knesset/ (Check out this piece for a breakdown of all the new entrants to the Knesset)

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Jews around the world celebrate Passover:

Whether you are Jewish or not, I hope you have had a meaningful Passover so far! With any luck, we’ll be celebrating in person next year. Stay safe, everyone!

What have leaders been saying? Here’s a breakdown of global leaders’ statements.

President Joe Biden: Jill and I send our best wishes to everyone celebrating Passover in the United States, the State of Israel, and around the world. At its heart, the Passover story is one of overcoming adversity and finding hope, of summoning the resilience and resolve to emerge from a long dark night to a brighter morning. It’s a story of recognition that our own rights are bound up with the rights of our neighbors, and that none of us is free until all of us are free. It’s a story of faith, a reminder that even in the face of oppression, there is reason for hope. Though this celebration is Jewish, its message is universal. This year, it resonates anew for a generation that has seen a terrible virus leave empty chairs at too many of our nation’s tables, one that knows the oppression and injustice of our world all too well. This year, we need the Passover story and the hope it provides more than ever. As we close our Seders with the familiar refrain, “Next year in Jerusalem,” we will now offer an additional prayer: Next year in person. Next year, together.” Biden also released a similar video statement:

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “Chag Sameach to everyone celebrating Passover this week. Sadly for the second year in a row, this most sociable of festivals is taking place at a time when families and friends and neighbors are unable to come together as they usually would. But our fantastic Jewish community is known for its strength and for its resilience. And I know you’re not going to let coronavirus stop you from marking Pesach as your ancestors have done often in the most difficult of circumstances for many thousands of years.” Noting that it's the second year that Jews will have to do online Seders, Johnson said, “It’s not quite what everyone is used to, but the haroset will be just as sweet and the matzah just as meaningful. And you get something generations of Jews have dreamed of for millennia: the ability to mute the table’s inevitable kvetch.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (who is Jewish): “Ukraine is a multinational country. Each nation adds its own tradition to our common culture, which makes it interesting and diverse. On Shabbat, Passover symbolizes freedom. I would like to congratulate the entire Jewish people and wish you all prosperity and peace. Happy Passover!”

Passover Honorable Mentions:

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff's first Passover at the White House brings host of changes to traditional celebration” by Jason Hoffman and Jasmine Wright (CNN)

The Maccabeats’ New Passover Medley Will Help You Finish Your Seder” by Lior Zaltzman (Kveller)

A Brexit Passover food shortage is forcing the Jews of Ireland and Northern Ireland to work together” by Jacob Judah (JTA)

Israelis gather for Passover, celebrating freedom from virus” by Lior Ben Zion (Reuters)

From matzah tortillas to spicy gefilte fish, Passover food in Mexico is a mashup of cultures” by Sybil Sanchez (JTA)

Jews in the former Soviet Union eat pounds of matzah per person — the most in the world — every year. Here’s why.” by Cnaan Lipshiz (JTA)

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Honorable Mentions:

Biden admin announces $15M in humanitarian assistance for Palestinians” by Laura Kelly (The Hill)

Germany provides $13.5 million to help Holocaust survivors get vaccinated” (JNS) (Germany is also drafting a bill that would expand citizenship eligibility to descendants of Nazi victims)

Massachusetts high school fires football coach for anti-Semitic language” (JNS)

Meet the Israeli Reform rabbi who just made history getting elected to Knesset” by Judi Rudoren (Forward)

43 senators sign bipartisan letter to Biden on Iran” by Marc Rod (Jewish Insider)

Iran, China sign huge 25-year strategic deal; could reduce US regional influence” (Times of Israel)

10 of the best Jewish tweets about the pre-Passover Suez Canal blockage” by Shira Hanau (JTA)

Israeli gymnast Linoy Ashram wins two gold medals at World Championship” by Tobias Siegal (JPost)

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