In light of Israel’s municipal elections, I’ve decided to produce a series on Israeli politics. It is available as a video below, but if you can’t/don’t want to watch, I’ve written down some bullet points for discussion.
Most of what I talk about in this video was already covered in my bullet points from the first round of voting. Many if not most candidates for mayor ran as part of what I call “mystery parties,” which basically only exist on a municipal level to distance local politicians from the implications of their preferred national party. Here’s what’s most interesting:
- In Jerusalem, the capital and largest city, Netanyahu’s preferred candidate for mayor Ze’ev Elkin was defeated in the first round. In the runoff, ultra-Orthodox candidate Moshe Leon defeated secular Hitorerut candidate Ofer Berkovitch by fewer than 4,000 votes/2 percentage points. For comparison, Jerusalem has a population around 900,000, similar to San Francisco.
Although Jerusalem’s population makeup has become ever-more religious since independence, its status as capital and a major tourist destination has kept the city from becoming another Haredi haven. Furthermore, the new city council will be almost evenly split between secular and religious parties, with Hitorerut carrying the most seats.
- Aliza Bloch was narrowly elected mayor of Beit Shemesh, a large-ish city with an almost entirely religious population and a reputation for violence against women– mostly fellow religious women– whom the various sects regard as immodest.
- Raanana elected the country’s first openly gay mayor, Eitan Ginsburg.
A ton of news has broken since the elections, however. At the end of last week, the Cabinet agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza, prompting Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to resign.
Lieberman is the head of the Russophone-interest party Yisrael Beitenu1, and his appointment to the DM position was deeply controversial. Previously the post was reserved for retired members of the IDF general staff or held jointly by the Prime Minister. Lieberman, who served only one year in the IDF rather than the standard three, replaced General Moshe Ya’alon without elections in what was viewed as an unprecedented politicization of the office by PM Netanyahu. It has additionally been speculated that Lieberman is an unnamed person of interest in the Mueller investigation.
The coalition now has the narrowest possible majority at 61/120 seats, with Netanyahu now serving simultaneously as Prime, Foreign, and Defense Minister. Naftali Bennett of the religious right-wing party the Jewish Home initially volunteered to replace Lieberman at Defense, complaining alongside Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked that Likud has become too liberal and constrained the IDF with too much respect for human rights. Vowing “victory” over Gaza, it appeared that Bennett would announce his party’s withdrawal from the coalition, triggering national elections. However, he and Shaked announced in a press conference this morning that they would stay in the government.
Nevertheless, other coalition partners have urged early elections, most notably the center-right Kulanu. Among Kulanu’s ranks is Construction Minister Yoav Galant, who is widely seen as a challenger to Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud Party.
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