I’m writing this as the Israel Elections Authority is still counting ballots, so I have no knowledge of actual results. In a telephone call earlier today an Israeli friend informed me that turnout, as expected, appears to be very light. Albeit we spoke in Israel’s early afternoon; perhaps there will be a surge to the polls at the end of the workday. That said, however, what might this light turnout presage?
More likely than not it would mean greater influence for the smaller parties whose partisans are more motivated to turn out. This means that smaller parties would get a much larger and much more disproportionate voice in public life. This should be of great interest and concern to American Jewry because many of the smaller parties are particularly sectarian in their interests and outlook. What are their views on various issues?
We all know, more or less, the views of Kadima, Labor and Likud on such big issues as unilateral withdrawal or settlement establishment. We also know the views of Labor and Likud on a raft of domestic social policy issues–education, taxes, business incentives and the like; we know a good bit less about Kadima in these areas.
News reports suggest that Acting Prime Minister Olmert had already begun his negotiations with various other parties towards the goal of forming a government. Poll numbers a week ago suggested that he could have formed a bare majority with Labor and Meretz. However, if the turnout is low enough he may have to deal, for example, with the National Religious Party, the orthodox Sephardi Shas party and the Russian Yisrael Beiteinu.
Heretofore the NRP and Shas might have sold their votes on foreign affairs in exchange for unbridled access to the treasury for their parties educational and social institutions. But the NRP in recent years has become closely tied to the settler movement. It also wants to impose stringent requirements for religious observance on the country, make more onerous the process of conversion and more tightly limit the definition of “who is a Jew.”
The spiritual head of Shas, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, recently issued a fatwa that any Israeli voting for Kadima would go to hell because of that party’s unilateral separation policy. Nonetheless, if Olmert needs votes those of the Shas Knesset faction will be available–for the price of unlimited access to the treasury to pay for its own social welfare network. Moreover, Shas is completely disinterested in Diaspora Jewish life.
Labor, when in power, had been as egregious as Likud in selling out the interests of world Jewry in exchange for immediate votes for a coalition. A real surprise variable in the election, I suspect, will be the question of how small Likud becomes. If its partisans are highly motivated and the turnout low enough, they might succeed in making what the pundits saw shrinking into a third tier entity into a continuing major force.
Nonetheless, the real action for the next several weeks will be the jockeying, favor-seeking and horse trading around the formation of the next government. Assuming that Ehud Olmert will become the next Prime Minister, what prices will he consent to pay as bakshish for a coalition? How much responsibility will be evinced for the concerns of Diaspora Jews, who are impacted by Israeli policy on Jewish identity. And how much compassion–and at the same time, discipline–will he show?
Tomorrow more than ever, Israel will need the talents of Monty Hall, the Jew who was the original host of the TV show “Let’s Make a Deal.”