From Israel: “So Close and Yet…!!”

“Chik-Chok” is a commonly used Hebrew slang expression that roughly means speedily – one, two, three quick.  One might say, no frills.  And that, my friends, is what this posting will be, because Pesach approaches and there is much to be done.

But…we did have an election on Tuesday and I did not want to begin Pesach without noting what seems to be emerging.

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The final, official count will not be announced for some days.  And President Ruby Rivlin has already made it clear that he will not begin the process of determining whom he will task with forming a government until that final vote is official.  His role moving forward is considerable.

Credit: Wikicommons

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All I can offer here is an incomplete overview accompanied by brief comments.  During Hol Hamoed (the intermediate days of Pesach next week) I will write more extensively.  At that point there will be greater clarity.

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It was a tease of considerable proportions.  The exit polls announced on Tuesday night after voting was over indicated a clear win for the right-wing. It appeared that Likud, Yamina, Religious Zionists, UTJ, and Shas had collectively garnered the 61 mandates necessary for a governing coalition.

But by Wednesday, when the actual votes began to be tallied, a different story emerged: The right-wing bloc had dropped to 59 mandates.

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Credit: Times of Malta

The major factor changing the situation was that the Ra’am party (United Arab List) of Mansour Abbas had passed the threshold, whereas according to the exit polls he had not.

Ra’am, a break-off from the (predominantly Arab) Joint List, is an Islamist party.  Abbas is Deputy Chairman of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement and author of the Islamic Movement Charter which reinforces Wasatiya Islam, which promotes moderation or the “middle way” in Islam.

He has been flirting for some time with the possibility of somehow joining forces with a Zionist party in order to gain leverage for the Arab community – which party is of no concern to him; he says he is open to all.  The notion of working with Ra’am is something many in the Zionist parties are exceedingly uncomfortable with, but Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) has praised him as a “unifier.”  The likelihood of Ra’am joining a right-wing coalition is quite small. But some in Likud have begun to consider having Ra’am support the coalition from the opposition.  Not a particularly palatable way to advance what would be a minority coalition.  If this evolves as a real possibility, I will examine the parameters in further detail.

The other option that may be available to Netanyahu is the drafting of a couple of members of Sa’ar’s New Hope to join Likud and provide the needed mandates. Rest assured, even as I write, and although the final count has yet to be announced, Netanyahu is working diligently on various possibilities.

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Sa’ar could join his entire party with Netanyahu to make a coalition – he has been approached by Likud on this. He adamantly refuses to do so, however, claiming that he will be loyal to his voters, to whom he pledged he would not sit with Netanyahu.  But his voters did not provide him with much electoral strength (only six mandates as I write this) and it is my opinion that if he were concerned first for the nation he would join Netanyahu for that very important right-wing bloc.  He does, after all, claim to be right-wing, and presumably would prefer a governing coalition to the right. And he might make a case for serving the country more effectively as part of the coalition.  But, no.

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Neither did “Anybody but Bibi” Yair Lapid do well. His Yesh Atid, with perhaps 17 mandates, garnered a bit more than half of Netanyahu’s 30 mandates. He had been predicted to be a major challenge to Netanyahu.

The bottom line is that the anti-Bibi forces do not have the mandate strength to form a coalition, either, without the cooperation of Mansour Abbas, if even then. The right-wing has greater strength.

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Credit: AFP

Naftali Bennett, with some seven mandates (the hope had been for more), would be critical to the formation of a solid right-wing coalition and is thus referred to as a “king maker.”  Sadly, there is considerable animosity between Bennett and Netanyahu, which interferes with what should be natural cooperation.  Bennett would have a significant role in a right-wing coalition and it is assumed he would make a considerable demand to join with Netanyahu.  He is not happy about Ra’am participation but hasn’t directly ruled it out.

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Credit Hezki Baruch

If there was a big winner, it was the Religious Zionist Party, which should end up with six or seven mandates.  There are voices crying that this group is too radically right.  But I am delighted because I know these guys will stand strong for Israel with conviction.  I will have much more to say about this.

Smotrich will not work with Mansour Abbas and is encouraging both Bennett and Sa’ar to be part of the Likud coalition to secure the necessary mandates.

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Benny Gantz’s Blue & White did surprising well.  It was thought he would not pass the threshold, but he has garnered perhaps eight mandates.  Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, Meretz, and Labor are all coming in at six or seven mandates. For Merav Michaeli, new chair of Labor, this vote represents success, as her party was on the edge of extinction (and perhaps still is).

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By late tomorrow, a final, if as yet unofficial, count will be announced, and this entire picture may yet change. The soldiers’ votes are now being counted and they tend to lean to the right.

As I write now, it is with a heavy heart: I see a country divided and in trouble.  There is no clear mandate, but instead great division.  Most certainly, this is not what we need in these troubled times.  Enough at this point is more than enough.  Talk of yet another election is the stuff of nightmares.

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To all those celebrating I send my wishes for a Pesach Kasher v’Sameach!!   May the messages of the holiday – messages of purpose and faith – reverberate in all our hearts.

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And I close with something unusual, both beautiful and filled with promise.  For the very first time, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” is performed in Hebrew, Arabic and English.  So right for what I have just referred to above as troubled times!

The NGO Shalva, the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, is dedicated to “providing transformative care for individuals with disabilities, empowering their families and promoting social inclusion.”

Among the organization’s efforts is a very special band consisting of eight talented musicians with disabilities who play to the highest musical standards.

Shalva’s recent 31st anniversary celebration was themed ‘Building Bridges to the Future.” The Shalva Band, accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, performed a unique virtual “duet” of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with notable musicians from the United Arab Emirates.  The intent was to send “a powerful message of unity, peace and cooperation.” The Israeli and Emirati musicians performed the song in its original English with verses sung in Hebrew by the Shalva Band and in Arabic by Emirati singer, Tareq Al Menhali, with participation by Arqam.

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Arlene from Israel website. https://www.arlenefromisrael.info/

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