Tag Archives: Knesset


BLOG 424 March 10, 2019

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

How the Israeli government system works

While I was in Israel a few weeks ago, I ask a friend about the upcoming elections. He made an interesting comment saying, “I am more worried about the cabinet than who gets elected Prime Minister. What did he mean?

In Israel whoever is elected Prime Minister must form a cabinet, a government in order to preside. The nature of that cabinet will determine what the government does. This means that the winner of an election must make deals with a wide-range of political parties in order to garner enough support to govern. This means that small margin groups can actually end up in the cabinet and exert an influence far beyond their numbers.

For extra, the ultra-orthodox religious groups that are a minority in the country have been in previous cabinets and wielded a major influence on decisions. Prime Ministers who needed their involvement agreed to deals that majority of Israelis would never have affirmed.

Israel has many, many political parties. Some go out of existence after losing an election and others are created for a special cause during election season. These groups usually have only two or three seats in the Knesset. In some instances, they support causes that are almost laughable.

Last week I reported the alarm sounded both inside Israel and among the Diaspora when Prime Minister Netanyahu began courting the anti-Arab party Otzma Yehudit. These extremist followers of Meir Kahane favor radical military actions such as seizing the Temple Mount and destroying the Mosques there. In order to garner votes, Netanyahu has begun to make a deal with them. Should Netanyahu be re-elected, these extremists could be in the government, swinging a frightening position of power. The Prime Minister’s pursuit of such an extremist group conveys his fear of not having enough votes to make a government even if he wins the election.

A footnote: Tzipi Livni ended her political career this past week. While she may be unknown to many, Livni is a brilliant woman who once worked for Mossad. She was unable to develop a mega-block coalition of the Center Left and had experienced betrayal by people she thought were her friends. In 2008, Livni came close to becoming prime minister. In the 2009 election, she nearly took the day, but Netanyahu prevailed because he was seen as having the better chance of forming a majority coalition. So goes Israeli politics!

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BLOG 401 September 10, 2018 


WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the  surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

Can you believe summer is over? Maybe a little hard to realize, but footballs back and the morning breeze is decidedly a bit colder. Out here in the mountains, it was 36 degrees this morning. B-r-r-r. A sign of things to come.

You probably didn’t see much in the media this summer about a situation in Israel that has raised new ire in the region. It’s been the hot issue in Israel throughout the summer. On July 19, the Knesset  (Israel’s Parliament) passed the Nation-State Law. Applauded by Netanyahu and deplored by the Arab community, the law stated three things:

  1. Israel has the right to national self-determination and is unique to the Jewish people.
  2. Hebrew is the official language of the country. Arabic is downgraded to a “special status.”
  3. Jewish settlements are established as a national value and the state will labor to encourage and promote settlements.

Netanyahu’s far-right government applauded the legislation. Israeli Arabs considered the bill a slap in the face. One-fifth of Israel’s citizens are Arabs. On the floor of the Knesset, Arab parliamentary members tore up the bill and called it apartheid. This was only the beginning of the fireworks.

In early August tens of thousands of Israeli Druze protested in Tel Aviv. Other Israeli citizens joined them. Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafaq told the crowd that Israel does not see them as equal even though they have been utterly loyal. Druze leaders had earlier met with Netanyahu and warned the new law would lead to apartheid. Netanyahu abruptly walked out of the meeting. Other Druze leaders proclaimed the law makes them second-class citizens.

Former Shin Bet director (Israel‘s internal security service) Yuval Diskin accused lawmakers of “petty and miserable political considerations.” He saw the new law as aimed at upcoming elections rather than a desire to strengthen the nation.

On the other hand, two polls taken shortly after the passage of the law found 58% of Israelis supporting the measure with only 34% opposing and 8% with no opinion. Another 61% of the Israeli population did not think the law will affect the Druze population. On the other hand, 88% of the Arab population felt it further degraded the use of the Arabic language.

There appears to be little disagreement that the passage of the legislation will give Netanyahu and his government a legislative accomplishment that will help them in the forth coming election. The wild card is whether the Supreme Court orders Netanyahu to resign because of an indictment on bribery charges.

Stay tuned. More to come.

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            This is another one of those “bet you didn’t hear about it” blogs, but the situation is worth knowing about. The political setting in Israel is significantly differently than in the United States. Israel has a larger number of political parties. None of this two party system stuff that runs the USA (I don’t count the Tea Party as more than distraction). It works something like this.

Israel‘s political system is based on proportional representation which allows for a multi-party system with numerous parties. There are currently four parties with more than ten seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and a single party usually has no chance of gaining power by itself (only once has a party held an absolute majority in the Knesset), forcing the parties to cooperate and form coalition governments. Actually, 12 parties have seats in the Knesset. Twenty-Four other parties have no seats. You can imagine the fracas that must develop at election time! Screaming and shouting supreme!

Recently the leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas party died and was mourned by all of Israel. If you do not follow Israeli events closely, you may know little about Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Nevertheless, he was an important part of the Israeli system and daily life in Israel. He is very much worth remembering. Rabbi Josef led Sephardic Jews in Israel as well as influencing the rest of the country for over 70 years. Thousands of mourners continued coming by his grave even the day after the funeral. A security guard noted that the outpouring was unprecedented.

Within minutes of his death, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the family and declared Rabbi Josef to have been  “a great halachi (Jewish law) authority.” Even though of a different political persuasion, the prime minister recognized that he was a giant in Torah studies. Rabbi Josef was the chief rabbi of Israel and generally worn a distinctive robe and hat. The black robe with gold embroidery and circular large black hat gave him the look of an Old Testament figure.

As the leader of the Shas party, Rabbi Josef skillfully maneuvered political decisions giving the religious party far more influence than their numbers demanded. He had a history of criticizing Israeli politicians, often calling them colorful names such as “blind goats.” No lingering ill-will. Such is the way of Israeli politics.

His presence on Israel’s national stage as a person of supreme halachic authority will have a profound influence on Israeli society for decades.


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