What’s at Stake in Israeli Elections?

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The results of the Israeli election next week could change the future course of the young nation.

Much is at stake as Israelis head to the polls next week to elect a new Knesset. At this fragile time, we as American Jews can only watch and wait as our Israeli brothers and sisters cast their vote for the future direction of the Jewish state.
 
Israeli politics are complex and confounding. The parliamentary system of electing a party rather than a person means that even if we know who gets the most votes by the end of the day on March 17, it will likely be weeks before a prime minister is decided and a governing coalition is formed.
 
As David Horovitz of the Times of Israel wondered this week: Would Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have fired his finance and justice ministers and called elections two years early if he’d known that the polls would be showing his Likud Party neck and neck with the center-left Zionist Union a week before election day?
 
With Israeli polls notoriously wrong, only a fool would try to predict the outcome at this point. What we do know is that Israel faces plenty of challenges. These include domestic concerns about economic mobility and social inequality, as well as the obvious external threats from Iran, Hamas and other resurgent Islamist extremists who pose palpable danger to Israel on several fronts. 
 
As our cover story makes clear, the election largely amounts to a referendum on Netanyahu. Or, as Horovitz put it: “Do we or do we not want more of the man who, after a first stint in 1996-9, has now governed us for six more years since 2009, and is thus already our longest-serving prime minister after David Ben-Gurion?”
 
That appears to be the essential question Israelis will have to answer when they go to the polls next week. Do they want the status quo or are they looking for change? 
 
Netanyahu may not be the most popular leader but his supporters — and even some critics — contend he is the only one who will help Israel stay strong on national security issues. His detractors say he has done nothing to move the needle on Israeli-Palestinian relations, has increased Israel’s isolation internationally and has alienated the country’s strongest ally, the United States.
 
As messy as Israeli politics can get — and the weeks ahead are certain to be messy as the horsetrading begins — we can take pride in the fact that these elections show what each Israeli election underscores: Amid a sea of political volatility and violence, Israel continues to shine forth as a bastion of democracy.
 
Israel is the only nation in the Middle East where all its citizens — Jewish, Muslim, Christian and others — can go to the polls without fear of violence and can cast their vote according to their conscience. May their collective wisdom prevail.
 

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