Right-wing Yamina party leader, Naftali Bennett

As usual, a plethora of parties are running in Israel’s election slated for March 23. However, only about seven of eight have a chance of garnering a sufficient number of votes required to gain membership in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. 

This is how it works, all citizens, Jews, Arabs, Christians, Bahais, etc., over the age of 18 (including jailbirds) get to vote. When all the ballots are tallied, they are then divided by the magic number of 120 – the number of allotted members in Israel’s Knesset. But there is a crucial condition; a party must receive a total number of votes to appoint a minimum of four Knesset members (it’s the entrance fee if you like). Otherwise, all these votes will be thrown into the waste paper basket and deducted from the overall total. Then, the remaining votes will be divided again by 120, with the remaining parties receiving a number of Knesset members in proportion to the revised total. 

For example, if 4 million Israelis go to vote, that will be divided by 120. 4,000,000 ÷ 120 = 33,333 – the number of votes required to elect one Knesset member. However, bear in mind that each political party would have to receive 33,330 x 4, a total of 133,333 votes, to gain four members in the Knesset; otherwise, all those votes will be discarded.

Bibi’s big gamble is paying off …

PM Netanyahu on in an election campaign promoting his opening of the Israeli economy.

After reopening businesses and schools, the rate of COVID-19 infections continues to fall. The festive Passover Seder (holiday meal) when families gather in large numbers will apparently get the green light this year (last year, it was banned). Whether you are a fan or not, Netanyahu has, perhaps cynically, some might say, timed the reopening of Israel just before election day, March 23. No doubt, this sudden breath of fresh air now sweeping the country will gain him votes. But so far, the polls still show Netanyahu will have a tough time forming a new coalition government and the required 61-seat majority in the Knesset, even if he can count on the support of the two ultra-Orthodox religious parties. 

However, Bibi could do the trick if he can persuade Naftali Bennett’s Right-wing party to come aboard. In any case, Netanyahu is now cashing in his ‘COVID chips,’ cracking jokes, and oozing self-confidence in his campaign (however, his wife Sara Netanyahu was rushed to a hospital and operated on for appendicitis). 

Although Netanyahu is exuding boundless energy and confidence, the polls indicate he could only get 30 or so seats, far short of the required 61 to form a coalition. Likely, Bibi can count on 16 or so seats from the ultra-Orthodox, and maybe four or more from the West Bank Settler party, still not enough to surpass the required 61 seats. But, if Naftali Bennett turns out to be king-maker in this election, he can be expected to drive a hard bargain from Netanyahu.

Iran is rearing its threatening head …

COVID-19 is not the only concern for voters when they go to cast their ballots. The stark shadow of the Iranian nuclear threat is always in the background. Over the years, Israelis have gotten used to the low-intensity warfare being waged through Iran’s proxies, launching attacks again Israel from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. In addition, Iran and Israel are also engaged in another low-intensity battle on the high seas. 

Right-wing party leader Gideon Saar

Whether you are a fan of Bibi or not, there is no question that Netanyahu is far more experienced in coping with the Iranian nuclear threat as well as the guerilla warfare it is conducting against the Jewish state. This not only applies to Netanyahu’s long-term relationship with Washington, and indeed his success in getting the Pfizer vaccine (in return for utilizing Israel’s socialized medical services to provide the pharmaceutical company with a major country-wide laboratory for testing and improving its vaccine). 

In addition to working with Washington, Netanyahu has obviously developed a working relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin that has enabled military operations against Iranian forces in Syria, which is now controlled by Moscow. These are the types of strategic issues facing Israel today, and it is hard to visualize inexperienced leaders like Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, or Gideon Saar sitting down with a dictator like Putin and working out, for example, Russia’s agreement to the reported Israeli airstrikes against Iranian forces in Russia-controlled Syria. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (CC GPO – photo by Kobi Gideon)

Last but not least, there is also Netanyahu’s experience in building bridges with the Gulf states and Sudan – granted the former President Donald Trump was the primary mover. And this is why many Israeli voters (despite what the polls may say) are still bewildered over whom to vote for. True, Netanyahu is now on trial for three corruption charges, and apparently rightly so, but on the other hand, many Israeli voters are now wrestling with the crucial issue of who is most experienced and capable of coping with safeguarding Israel’s security while Tehran continues its determined drive to acquire nuclear missiles to wipe out Israel. 

Back to Top