By Joseph Avesar
On March 2nd 2020 Israelis will head to the polls for a third time within a year. The ostensible reasons for the political paralysis are the tight races in April and September 2019 that left both Benjamin Netanyahu and his opponent Benny Gantz unable to form a coalition with smaller parties to obtain the 61 seats in the Knesset needed to form a government.
Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. However, since its establishment in 1948 and until recently that term was not seriously challenged, and previous governments were formed without much concern for the definition. Israel had a minority of religious orthodox Jews Haredim and a majority comprised of secular Jews. The tension between them never prevented establishing a government.
Since 1990 about one million Russian-speaking immigrants arrived in Israel. A substantial number of them secular. The Haredim viewed many (about 400,000 of them) as non-Jews and sought to convert them.
The Russian immigrants have already established roots in Israel, have children in the army and speak perfect Hebrew. They see themselves as productive loyal Israelis ; many are nationalist and anti-Palestinians. They are serving in the Israeli army and paying taxes. They are incensed by the Haredim and view them as non-productive citizens, not serving in the military, not paying taxes while receiving millions of dollars from the governments for Yeshivas and religious studies. They formed their own Israel Beiteinu party (Israel is our home) and have since attracted other Israelis with similar views. The party is headed by Avigdor Lieberman who calls the religious parties “delusional and messianic.” He also opposes Arab Israelis and questioning their loyalty to the state of Israel. He advocates for separation of religion and state.
The future of Israel as a Jewish State is now at issue. On the one hand, substantial number of Israelis want it to remain secular but leaning in the Orthodoxy direction and on the other hand a considerable number want it to be Jewish but oppose Jewish laws.
The divide between secular and Haredim is deep and irreconcilable. Israel is moving towards a third election. Netanyahu’s corruption issues are relevant and perhaps contributing but the country was destined to face the issue of its nature as a Jewish State regardless of him.
Looming in the background are 4-6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who are not recognized by Israel as citizens and not allowed to vote in the Israeli elections. Israel cannot include them in its democracy and remain a Jewish state at the same time. At one-point Israel will be forced to either withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza or give the Palestinians full rights including the right to vote. The Palestinians are unlikely to vote for a Jewish State.
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