Muddled, Contradictory, And Doomed?

Late Wednesday night, with less than an hour left until his mandate as Prime Minister of Israel expired, Benjamin Netanyahu managed to build a coalition government of sixty-one members of the Knesset, the absolute minimum needed for him to remain in office. Thirty come from the increasingly strident Likud Party, eight from Naftali Bennett’s ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, thirteen from the ultra-Orthodox parties, and, crucially, ten from Moshe Kahlon’s centrist-populist Kulanu. One negative vote or abstention from a rogue member of this majority—a settler upset about delays to settlement construction, an Orthodox leader upset by a cut to support for Yeshiva students—and the government might well fall.

Netanyahu had called the March 17th election, only two years after the last one, because he wanted a more solidly right-wing majority, made up exclusively of parties representing neo-Zionists, military hawks, and rabbinic courts. He did not want to have to bargain with centrist ministers like Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, whom he had coöpted to his previous coalition, and who finally resisted, among other things, his “Jewish nationhood” bill, which would have undermined the Supreme Court’s ability to protect minority rights.

Netanyahu did not get his wish, which never was a realistic one, given manifest changes in the Israeli political landscape, especially the rise of centrist parties, the latest of which was Kahlon’s. The real story of this election was the growing influence of young voters, especially young Mizrahi and Russian voters, who are reflexively hawkish but less burdened by old ideologies and resentments than their parents—more interested in “eichut haim,” or quality of life—and who swelled the center. Although Netanyahu was widely (and rashly) assumed to have had a decisive victory in March, the parties that would have given him the government he wanted won only fifty-seven seats, down four from 2013. As predicted by many, the centrist Kahlon, who had recently left the Likud, held the balance of power.

 Read on at The New Yorker