Opinion | Israeli Elections: The Fallacy of the Biggest Party by Itamar Hauser, Israel

For the first time in its history, Israel will go for a second election to parliament on September 17th, 2019, after the last elections’ results, from April 2019, and the following negotiations between the parties did not yield a 61-strong majority coalition in a 120 seat parliament.

Personally, I used to be more active during elections’ time in Israel in the past, but the fact that we’re heading towards second elections in less than 6 months (including the fact that we had municipal elections last fall – which happens once every 5 years), has really exhausted me mentally. I really can’t listen to the parties and the politicians who just repeat incessantly their bullet points. 

It’s not only this, of course. I don’t think I’ll be the only Israeli who feels like there’s no one attractive to vote for and that basically, all the political parties have failed the Israeli public in hope in of achieving a better future for the country.

Don’t get me wrong – Israel is a good place to live in. We have relative security, people are working, the restaurants are full, everybody is flying abroad on holiday etc. But, being the cynic and non-mainstream person that I am, there’s a lot that can be improved. It’s like the commercial the Israeli investment house, Excellence, used to have: “It’s good but it can be great”.

Israel still doesn’t have peace with most of its neighbours (and first and foremost – with the Palestinians), the cost of living is tough, too many communities and groups (LGBT, blacks, women, Arab-Israelis) are discriminated against, our schools’ curriculum is becoming more and more religious and less science-focused, poker tournaments and weed are still illegal and too many people smoke in public places, even though there’s a law that forbids it (besides the fact that smoking just sucks).

So I don’t think someone will argue with me that there’s a lot do, politically speaking. But I did want to address a different point, which extremely bugged me with the April elections and still bugs me today, towards the September “second-round” elections – both the right-wing Likud party (prime minister Netanyahu’s party) and the centre-not-really-left Kahol-Lavan (“Blue-White” in Hebrew) party repeat a certain point which is factually not true.

Both “big” parties call the Israeli public to vote for them, the big parties, and not to smaller parties, because – according to them – it is important that the Likud will have more seats (“mandates”) that Kahol-Lavan (who say the exact same thing with only the changing of names). 

Now – I don’t know who said it (Google didn’t yield any definite results) – but there’s a saying that the fact that you repeat a lie many times doesn’t make it true. For example, I am not the Queen of England even if I say so to people every single day. I know, it’s shocking, especially in this day and age of fake news. But nonetheless, some things are still true and some are still lies or wrongs. 

And, in fact, legally speaking, it doesn’t make any difference who the bigger party is. Why? Because according to Israeli law, the Israeli President doesn’t give the right to try and form a 61-strong coalition to the head of the biggest party. The law states that the President should give the right to the head of the party with the best chance of forming a coalition. I know – it sounds the same, but it’s not. It’s like saying a girl is hot and the other girl is cute. It’s really not the same thing. 

In Israel, you need a majority of 61 members of parliament (the Israeli Knesset) in order to form a coalition and subsequently- a government. Theoretically, if an Israeli party (Likud or Kahal-Lavan) were really really popular, and achieved 61 mandates by themselves (a thing which never happened so far – the most mandates achieved by a single party was in 1969, when Ha-Ma’arach (=Labor party) got 56 mandates)– it would have the necessary majority alone and therefore would not have to hold negotiations with other parties in order to form a coalition. Another side effect of this magnificent scenario is that the 61-plus mandates ruling party would have the public support to implement 100% of its plans and values because no annoying compromises would have to be made with other parties. Would the politicians keep their electoral promises then? I wonder.

Therefore, it’s not about the bigger or biggest party in Israel. It’s about the political block – the right-wing block and the centre-left block. The parties who form the bigger block (hopefully more than 61) would form the coalition and most likely the head of the biggest party of that block would be the prime minister. 

Even though these are facts, the public discourse and therefore my friends still babble about voting for “the biggest party”. Honestly – I can’t take it anymore. A party’s number of mandates is determined by the number of people who voted for it. There is no “big party” or “small party”. If a lot of people would vote for a certain party, it would be a “big party”. If not – it would be a “small party” or no-party, if it fails to pass the minimum threshold of 3.25%. To my Israeli fellows I say- go and vote – it’s our democratic right and duty. Most of the world’s population doesn’t enjoy this privilege. But – please – be informed. Do your homework and don’t follow the fallacy of the biggest party. Vote for a party that promotes your values (or at least most of them) and that delivers results. Happy voting.

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