Israeli Elections 2019
21st Knesset Election update
Last week’s Knesset election day was one of the most dramatic days in the history of Israeli democracy.
Pollsters predicted a tight race between the right and left-wing blocs, but the vote tally handed the right-wing a decisive victory, enlarging its current parliamentary strength. The distribution of the Knesset’s 120 seats is as follows: Likud - 36, Blue and White - 35, Shas - 8, United Torah Judaism - 7, Labor - 6, Hadash-Ta’al - 6, Union of Right-Wing Parties - 5, Yisrael Beiteinu - 5, Kulanu - 4, Meretz - 4, Ra’am-Balad - 4. Three new parties, the New Right, Zehut, and Gesher did not pass the electoral threshold (3.25%) required to gain representation in the Knesset.
The election results do not seem to herald a new era of policy regarding religion and state in Israel. Rather, they again position the Orthodox parties as key members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition. As such, they are expected to retain full control of religious services and veto power when it comes to critical issues such as military conscription, conversion, and public construction work on Shabbat.
However, at the moment, one party can be the deciding factor in the creation of a right-wing government: Yisrael Beiteinu led by Avigdor Liberman. In this election the party branded itself as the “secular right”. If he keeps his campaign promise, Liberman is expected to condition his entry into the coalition on a commitment from coalition partners not to advance any religious legislation and to pass military conscription reform which will obligate yeshiva students to serve in the Army.
The 21st Knesset will have 44 new members, an all-time high. Our focus in the next Knesset is to expose the newcomers to issues of religion and state, hoping to prevent their support of legislation that will further restrict religious freedom in Israel. To make this happen, we must increase civil activism and be a resource for the new Knesset members in both the coalition and the opposition. In the coming months, we will meet many of them and offer our services in a number of ways- to provide them with information which will help them to advance legislation, to actively participate in committee hearings, to compose parliamentary inquiries and to prepare speeches. We will also encourage them to meet with young people from Israel and around the world for whom these issues are important.
We would like to conclude with an invitation. Please let us know when you are coming to Israel, on a business trip, a family vacation, or in any other format. We would be happy to host you on a tour of the Knesset and meeting Israel’s lawmakers. These meetings are of the utmost important for all sides, and they make important strides in advancing the discourse surrounding the sensitive issues of state and religion, both in Israel and among world Jewry.
As always, the Jewish Pluralism Watch is here to report in Hebrew and in English what is happening in the Knesset. This is our contribution to bridging connections between the Israeli and Jewish American public and the elected officials serving in the Knesset.