Israel needs to find common ground between its liberal social norms and an increasingly inward and polarised polity, says the author.
Khinvraj Jangid, Associate Professor and Director at the Centre for Israel Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana.
Israel is known for its hard power — conjuring up images of its military strength, intelligence apparatus, arms diplomacy, and a developed economy. Israel achieved all of these in the last seven decades, in spite of its existential issues since 1948 amid multiple regional wars. Since soft power is also an important consideration, Israel has presented itself, legitimately, as the only democracy in West Asia.
But the last four elections in Israel — in April and September 2019, March 2020 and on March 23, 2021 — have exposed the inner workings of its democracy. Among leading democracies, Israel now has had the most frequent number of national elections in recent years, and its democratically elected governments have survived for an average of 2.3 years rather than a four-year term since 1996.
In the last two years, Israel has gone to the polls four times, and it may well go for a fifth round if there is no one leader capable of forming a coalition government with 61 seats (out of 120 total seats in parliament). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, Likud, has 30 seats, but he is opposed by a variety of different political leaders who are otherwise of the same ideological bent such as Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid or Gideon Saar.
Netanyahu once worked well with all these leaders at different times but now faces stiff resistance. He is also going through a legal trial for three criminal cases — bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Looking at the major issues and slogans of the last four elections, it is clear that Israeli society is polarised on one big issue — are you with Netanyahu or against him? All other issues — from Covid-19 and its severe impact on the Israeli economy to the lack of an annual budget since 2018, from rising prices to the fact that Israel has high unemployment — have all got relegated to the background as the electorate stands deeply divided over Netanyahu, who has served more than a decade as prime minister.
Published in: Hindustan Times
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