Israel

   
 

Key Challenges

Democratic principles being undermined
Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary on 14 May 2018. As it turns 70, it faces some serious challenges. Principal among these challenges is the challenge to democracy, with the current Israeli government having introduced several decisions that seemed to undermine democratic principles. Close to half of Israelis believe the democratic system in Israel is in serious danger. In October 2017, President Reuven Rivlin said that government attempts to undermine the judicial system and the media could be considered a “coup” against the pillars of Israeli democracy. With harsh and personalized attacks directed at reporters, defamation suits by senior politicians and attempts to restrain the pluralistic media environment, press freedom is threatened. Additionally, the judicial system is regularly attacked, sometimes even blatantly, by politicians. As Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said recently: “criticism of judges by elected officials sometimes borders on incitement.”
Declining trust in
political institutions
Even though the declining level of trust in political institutions is not unique to Israel, recent attempts by the current government to weaken the gatekeepers of Israeli democracy – especially the media, the Supreme Court and the police – present a real democratic danger. Understanding the need for a strong democracy, with strong gatekeepers, the government has an essential responsibility to defend Israeli democracy.
Rising cost of living
a key challenge
Another primary challenge is the continued rise in the cost of living. The rising cost of living ranks continually high on the public and political agendas. Still, despite multiple attempts to reduce the cost of living, Israel’s government lacks an official index that can measure its performance in this regard. Though the current finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, has claimed recently that the cost of living declined from 7% to 5% between May 2017 and May 2018, those figures were based on the Consumer Price Index and found to be misleading. While Moshe Kahlon has introduced many efforts to reduce the cost of living, efforts should also be made to develop valid measures to measure the government’s performance in this regard.
Poverty remains widespread
Furthermore, poverty in Israel is still very widespread, as almost 20% of Israel’s population lives in relative poverty. Regardless of high employment rates, Israel has the worst levels of poverty in OECD. Disadvantaged groups and minorities suffer from a higher-than-average poverty rate. Israel has attempted to increase education funding for Haredi and Israeli-Arab schools, and increase work incentives in recent years. While the success of these programs is yet to become clear, they are critical for the future of the Israel economy. More efforts should also be paid to tackling child poverty, which remains high especially among Haredi and Israel-Arab populations.
Citations:
Israel Democracy Institute. Israeli Democracy Index 2018. Press Release, 03.12.2018: https://en.idi.org.il/articles/25024

Tamar Hermann: Democracy in Crisis? Israeli Survey Respondents Agree to Disagree, 13.12.2018,
Podcast: https://en.idi.org.il/podcasts/25310,


Beeri, Tamar, and Greer Fay Cashman. “Hayut: Criticism of Judges by Politicians ‘borders on Incitement.’” The Jerusalem Post. 2018:
https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Hayut-Criticism-of-judges-by-politicians-borders-on-incitement-570096

“Danziger: Politicians Attack Judgest Blatantly and Harsh.” Channel 10. 2018 (Hebrew):
https://www.10.tv/news/168755

“Freedom of Press 2017,” Freedom House, 2017:
https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2017/israel

“Israel’s economy is sound but it urgently needs to address productivity, inequality and poverty,” OECD Website, http://www.oecd.org/israel/israels-economy-is-sound-but-it-urgently-needs-to-address-productivity-inequality-and-
poverty.htm

“Israel’s Justice Minister: High Court ‘No Longer’ a Left-wing Party Branch,” Haaretz, 2018:
https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/israel-s-justice-minister-high-court-no-longer-a-branch-of-the-left-1.6463000

“Israeli President Warns of ‘Coup’ Against Democracy,” The Week, 2017:
https://www.theweek.co.uk/89198/israeli-president-warns-of-coup-against-democracy

Harkov, Lahav, “Netanyahu opens Knesset session mocking bitter opposition,” The Jerusalem Post, 23.10.2017: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Netanyahu-opens-Knesset-session-mocking-bitter-opposition-508202

Lev, Tzvi, “Cost of living higher in Israel than rest of the OECD,” Artuz Sheva, 7.8.2017: https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/233552

“OECD Economic Surveys: Israel,” OECD, 2018:
https://www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/Israel-2018-OECD-economic-survey-overview.pdf

Newman, Marissa, “1.8 million Israelis, 842,000 of them children, under poverty line – report,” The Times of Israel, 6.12.2017: https://www.timesofisrael.com/1-8-million-israelis-842000-of-them-children-under-poverty-line-report/

i24 news. Israel, “Israeli minister says Israel to stay Jewish even at expense of human rights,” 12.2.2018: https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/167536-180212-israeli-minister-says-israel-to-stay-jewish-even-at-expenses-of-human-rights
 

Party Polarization

More parties, but less polarization
In recent years, the effective number of parties in the Israeli Knesset has increased. At the time of writing, the current 20th Knesset was no exception, as the 2015 elections resulted in an effective number of 6.9 parties, a number concerningly high and even more so when considering that only 10 parties entered the parliament. The two largest parties are Likud, which received a vote-share of 23.4%, and the Zionist Camp, which received 18.67% of the vote-share. Interestingly, despite the declining power of the largest parties, the ideological polarization in the party system has declined in recent years.
Parties merging, some ideological convergence
Theoretically and institutionally, this could be possibly explained by two factors. First, the raising of the electoral threshold to 3.25% of the vote in 2014, artificially increasing the size of parties entering the Knesset. Second, the merger of several parties into big incorporated party lists (Labour and the Movement into the Zionist Camp, and the three Arab parties into the Joint Arab List), decreasing the number of parties contending overall. The reduction in the number of parties may also indicate ideological convergence.
Minimal coalition government
After the 2015 elections, Likud established a minimal coalition government, which held 61 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. Later, it consisted of 66 MKs after the Israel Beiteinu joined the coalition on 26 May 2016. On 14 November 2018, after reaching yet another cease-fire with Hamas and as a result of alleged disagreements with the prime minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Israel Beiteinu and minister of security announced he was resigning from office and the coalition, reducing the coalition back to consist of 61 MKs.
Heterogeneous
right-wing collation
Being a fragile coalition, Netanyahu’s 34th government had some troubles “winning” and indeed suffered losses to the opposition. The coalition as a whole could be classified as wholly right wing. It consists of the religious right, relatively secular and national right, and right-of-center parties. Nevertheless, the parties’ stances are very heterogeneous and at times collide with one another. For example, the Jewish Home party holds very strong positions opposing the judicial activism that characterizes the Supreme Court. In particular, Jewish Home disagreed with the court’s strikes against laws limiting immigration and attempted to actively and institutionally diminish the Supreme Court’s powers. That being the case, while the Kulanu party appears to have a more neutral position in this regard, it acted to prevent these attempts from coming to fruition. Also, Jewish Home expresses more hawkish positions regarding the use of military force, in contrast to Likud and even Israel Beiteinu who proved to be more cautious and/or pragmatic.
Coalition crises solved
by compromise
Consequently, this coalition endured many crises. While there are many coalitional crises that hamper policymaking, all are eventually solved in a compromise, and none actually lead to outright paralysis or a shut-down of government, let alone lead to elections (though historically, this was why elections were called). Coalition members assume that the advantages of remaining within the government coalition outweigh the disadvantages of being in an unbearable coalition (ideologically, politically or personally) or instigating an election that won’t ensure their position thereafter. Legal limitations may also be mentioned, as nowadays it is harder to bring down the government using a vote of no confidence. (Score: 6)
Citations:
Avitan Cohen, Shirit. “Benet Doesn’t Resign: ‘Removing in This Instant All Political Demands.’” In Makor Rishon website. November 19th, 2018. (Hebrew): https://www.makorrishon.co.il/news/92987/.

Azulai, Moran, and Itay Shikman. “Netanyahu: ‘In This Period You Don’t Bring Down a Government, It Is Irresponsible.” In Ynet. November 18th, 2018. (Hebrew): https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5408468,00.html.

Azulai, Moran. “Because of the ‘French Law’: The Working of the Coalition Will Be Paralyzed a Second Week in a Row.” In Ynet. October 29th, 2017. (Hebrew): https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5035094,00.html.

Azulai, Moran. “Kahlon: ‘The French Bill Is Behind Us, We Won’t Here About It Soon.’” In Ynet. October 30th, 2017. (Hebrew): https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5035994,00.html.

Azulai, Moran. “Kahlon and Der’i to Netanyahu: ‘Make Elections ASAP.’” In Ynet. November 15th, 2018. (Hebrew): https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5403568,00.html.

Azulai, Moran. “Lieberman Resigned and Called for Elections: ‘We Surrendered to Terror.’” In Ynet. November 14th, 2018. (Hebrew): https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5401728,00.html.

Base Law: The Government (Hebrew)

Ben Zakari, Almog. “Lieberman: The Building Quiet [or Relaxation] Agreement in Gaza is a Surrender to Terror.” In Ha’aretz website. November 16th, 2018. (Hebrew): https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.6657867.

Chay, Shachar. “Netanyahu: We Have a Whole Year to the Elections.” In Ynet. November 19th, 2018. (Hebrew): https://www.ynet.co.il/Ext/Comp/CdaNewsFlash/0,2297,L-5409311_184,00.html.

Galnoor, Itzhak, and Dana Blander. The Political System of Israel: Formative Years; Institutional Structure; Political Behaviour; Unsolved Problems; Democracy in Israel. Israel: The Israel Democracy Institute and Am Oved Publishers Ltd., 2013.

Lis, Johnathan. “The Likud Will Have to Promote the Bill Preventing Interrogating a PM as a Base Law, Allowing the Jewish Home to Veto.” In Ha’aretz website. October 31st, 2017. (Hebrew): https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politi/.premium-1.4553878.

Nachmias, Omri. “An Embarrassment to the Coalition: For the First Time Lost in the Knesst in a Vote of No Confidence.” In Walla!News. January 4th, 2016. (Hebrew): https://news.walla.co.il/item/2922042.
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