The Do-Over Election Performed a Vital Service for Israeli Democracy

September 27, 2019 | Evelyn Gordon
About the author: Evelyn Gordon is a commentator and former legal-affairs reporter who immigrated to Israel in 1987. In addition to Mosaic, she has published in the Jerusalem Post, Azure, Commentary, and elsewhere. She blogs at Evelyn Gordon.

When, on May 30, the new Knesset took the unprecedented step of dissolving itself and holding a second round of elections, most Israelis were frustrated, Evelyn Gordon among them. In retrospect, she has arrived at the conclusion that, whatever sort of government emerges, the recent vote will restore faith in democracy and better reflect the will of the people. The nub of the issue is that, when voting for right-wing parties other than Likud, most voters thought doing so would still help win the premiership for Benjamin Netanyahu:

In April, rightist parties that explicitly promised to support Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister won 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. In other words, a clear majority of voters seemingly cast their ballots for a right-leaning, Netanyahu-led government. But after the election, Avigdor Liberman, chairman of the [right-wing, secular party] Yisrael Beytenu, refused to join such a government.

Thus even if an alternative government could have been formed—whether one led by Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, or a unity government [led by both]—it would have undermined rightists’ faith in the democratic process. Any such government would have looked like a product not of the majority’s will but of the whims of a single individual, Liberman, who “stole” right-wing votes and gave them to the left.

The do-over election showed this wasn’t the case. Liberman’s party not only maintained its strength but increased it, thereby proving him right that his voters cared more about curbing ultra-Orthodox power than about keeping Netanyahu in office. . . . That doesn’t mean Gantz won. [But] nobody will be able to claim the election was stolen. [regardless of what] happens.

Democracy’s sine qua non is that voting actually matters. When people stop believing this, democracy dies.

This is of particular importance, Gordon explains, because of undemocratic moves by both Yitzḥak Rabin and Ariel Sharon that led repeatedly to territorial compromises, leaving the right more cynical about the democratic process. Perhaps, she concludes, the reversal of this trend will be Netanyahu’s “final service to Israel.”

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