73rd birthday and 73% of Israel’s population is Jewish

April 22, 2021 by Ron Weiser
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Israel at 73 years, an amazing feat.

Dr Ron Weiser

And one whose existence has fundamentally changed the position of the Jew in the world.

Ironically the same number is also a sign of a developing trend.

Firstly, the good news.

Israel’s population is now officially 9.327 million people, of whom 6.984 million are Jewish. Depending on exactly how one defines a Jew in the diaspora, approximately 46% of world Jewry now live in Israel.

Now here’s the trend that has huge implications – and note the 73.

In the early days of the Jewish State, Jews were about 82% of the total population. Three years ago, 74.5%.

Today 73.9% of Israel’s population is Jewish.

These last four elections have been about one person and not about policies, certainly not about external policies. However once Israel sorts out its leadership issues and policies come back to the fore, the percentage of Jews in the Jewish State will figure prominently in the varying territorial and democratic visions for Israel’s future.

In terms of resolving the leadership issue, predictions are foolhardy, but observations can continue to be made.

1 – The “will of the people”.

In normal circumstances with Netanyahu’s current block of 52 Knesset seats (needing to get 61 for government) we would automatically add the three likeminded parties led by Bennett (7 seats), Lieberman (7) and Sa’ar (6) for a total of 72. A clear and large majority.

In policy terms this is what the current elections reflected.

The Likud are of course trumpeting this as the proper democratic outcome.

And it is hard to disagree with this.

Except for the fact that Bennett, Lieberman and Sa’ar have, so far, not agreed to join a coalition led by Netanyahu.

Those who insist that the will of the people is to remove Netanyahu, to date, also do not hold a majority.

A current example that demonstrates that one’s idea of what is and what is not democratic is flexible, is yet another precedent in Israeli politics.

That is to put forward someone for Prime Minister who holds only 7 seats (just 6% of the Knesset).

Previously any party with such few seats was always able to wrangle a ministry or two as the price of getting them into a coalition.

But the Prime Ministership????

Now, with the sole aim of unseating Netanyahu, it is apparently quite democratic for Lapid to offer Naphtali Bennett, the position of Prime Minister.

Moreover, a Bennett who is poles apart ideologically, from a large proportion of Lapid’s block, which of course includes Labour and Meretz.

2 – Naphtali Bennett’s dilemma.

Bennett sees himself as the natural successor to Netanyahu and the self-declared heir apparent within the right-wing camp.

His dilemma is how to accept the offer of Prime Minister from the centre/left alliance of Lapid’s, without being seen as the man responsible for ending Netanyahu’s – and the right-wing camp’s – run.

Or in other words – how to accept the tantalising offer of PM now, but also ensure that he has not burnt his constituency for future elections.

3 – The Israeli Arab parties.

It has always been a truism of Israeli politics, and elsewhere as well, that it is the so-called right-wing that has the greatest success in implementing left-wing policies, such as on territorial withdrawals for example.

And now here is the current, internal, watershed moment.

To date, we have not seen any Israeli Arab party serve inside a government.

Yet today they are virtually the kingmakers, or one of them.

Indeed, if Lapid et al thought to consider bring them into coalition during the past two years, they dropped the idea like a hot potato after coming under criticism from Netanyahu and his supporters for considering the ‘unthinkable’.

However, now Netanyahu has broken this taboo and has made it kosher for governments to include an Israeli Arab party, or openly consider to.

This is a change that has huge long term implications and gives the left side of politics more options for success with now a potential and ongoing path to future government.

In this regard, Smotrich – who virtually owes his election to Netanyahu – has grasped the significance of Netanyahu’s fundamental shift that could well affect and possibly damage the right-wing camp into the post-Netanyahu era and beyond.

If Netanyahu and the Likud can do it, or even openly consider it, then certainly it will be very hard to criticise a centre or centre-left leadership bringing an Arab party into any coalition down the track.

To show how ‘normal’ some form of inclusion has already become, on Monday the Knesset voted on the most powerful committee to oversee it’s functioning until a government is formed. This committee will also determine who will hold the key position of interim Speaker.

Netanyahu and the Likud were defeated by the Lapid led anti-Netanyahu forces which also included the critical support of Israeli Arab party Ra’am’s 4 votes.

Without Ra’am’s support in this vote, the outcome may well have been very different.

In exchange, Lapid promised Ra’am a position on the Knesset Finance committee as well as a Deputy Speaker position.

This vote spells big danger for Netanyahu. His chances of forming government have dived dramatically and seems to be leading to a tactical change on his part.

Believing in his own popularity as leader over all other contenders, he is now searching for a formula to pass a direct election bill.

This would mean that there would be no repeat of elections for the Knesset – just a head to head popularity contest between himself and other contenders.

There remain two major issues with this:

– getting it passed in the first place with the current Knesset numbers lined up against Netanyahu. Bennett’s decision will be key here,

– even should this be successful, it will still leave whoever wins attempting to cobble a government together with the current Knesset numbers.

Mansour Abbas, a dentist, leads Ra’am.

Smotrich did everything he could to prevent Likud from bringing Abbas in, either formally or otherwise. And Abbas specifically mentioned Smotrich as a reason for not supporting Netanyahu in the Knesset vote.

Smotrich worries about Netanyahu causing long term damage to the right-wing camp, for personal, short term, gain.

Ra’am is pro ‘Arab right of return’ and supports a binational state.

Despite this Abbas made a remarkable speech earlier this month which ignored his party’s actual platform and has left both Arab and Jew wondering whether there has been a real shift in the Israeli Arab camp or not.

Abbas said: “Now is the time for change…..I carry a prayer of hope and the search for coexistence based on mutual respect and genuine equality. What we have in common is greater than what divides us.

I, Mansour Abbas, a man of the Islamic Movement, am a proud Arab and Muslim, a citizen of the state of Israel, who heads the leading, biggest political movement in Arab society.”

His conditions for joining government are also free of any of his party’s ideological platform and are pragmatically about improving the living conditions of Israeli Arabs, demands that both Netanyahu and Lapid can easily and justifiably agree to if they want to cross the rubicon now, or even after the results of any direct election if that eventuates.

Netanyahu’s difficulties, whether with his erstwhile right-wing partners or the dabbling with Ra’am, are ultimately his own chickens coming home to roost.

The storm clouds over his political future are gathering more rapidly.

Ron Weiser is the Honorary Life Member ZFA Executive and Honorary Life President, ZC of NSW


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