The World of Israeli Politics
The votes are in! A familiar face is returning to the premiership in Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu—the longest-serving prime minister who last held the title just last year. The election marked Israel’s fifth in just four years. So why have there been so many elections? What does Netanyahu’s return to power mean? And what does the future hold for Israelis?
Chris takes you into the world of Israeli politics on this week’s show. He explains how the many political parties with various agendas will all work together to form the next government. Though it’s expected to be one of the most conservative governments in Israel’s history, the diversity of beliefs in ideology and policy could make this government uneasy once again. Ultimately, these differences point to one of Israel’s greatest strengths: It gives all its citizens a voice in its democracy, the only one in the Middle East.
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. With me as our host and teacher, Chris Katulka, and we're so glad you chose to be with us today. Everything related to today's program, every previous episode, can all be found at foiradio.org. It's there you'll find trustworthy and accurate news on Israel and the Middle East. And while you're there, you can support our ministry by clicking on the donate button and helping us continue to teach biblical truth about Israel and the Jewish people. Once again, that's foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Steve, speaking of news coming out of Israel, it looks like Bibi Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu will become Prime Minister of Israel once again. So today on the broadcast we're going to talk about what it means that Benjamin Netanyahu will become the Prime Minister, and also what will his government look like and what does that mean for the Israeli people?
Steve Conover: But first in the news, last Sunday, Israel's President Isaac Herzog handed Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu the mandate to form a government. This is the next step in the process for Netanyahu to become Israel's Prime Minister once again. The two leaders stood together at the President's residence in Jerusalem when Netanyahu announced, "I intend to be the Prime Minister of everybody."
Chris Katulka: Well, here's my take. I am sure Netanyahu will be Prime Minister for all Israelis, but his coalition government may think differently. For the first time in Israeli history, Israel's coalition government will consist of all conservative religious parties. Now, many Israelis are not religious, which means Netanyahu will have to be the middleman, tempering the direction and motives of his government so that he can be the Prime Minister for everyone.
Chris Katulka: Benjamin Netanyahu is back. Since he lost to Naftali Bennett in the summer of 2021, I've been saying you should not count Netanyahu out. The seasoned Israeli politician still has a ton of political cachet among the Israeli people. Now listen, there are plenty who are upset to see Netanyahu back in power, but the Israeli people have spoken. This is Israel's fifth election in four years. That's right, five elections in four years. In the United States, we just held our midterm elections and our heads are still spinning. So could you imagine doing five elections in four years?
That number of elections was a sign that something was wrong in Israeli politics. The Israeli government was unsettled and fractured. I would argue the fracture was actually in the conservative movement of the Israeli government. Netanyahu could not seem to unify his coalition over the past few years. He couldn't unify them over their differences.
One side of the conservative coalition in the Israeli government is extremely religious. Political parties like United Torah Judaism, Shas and Religious Zionism represent the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel. They hold a lot of power in government and they can influence laws that help them and their ultra-Orthodox constituents. However, the secular conservative parties like Yisrael Beiteinu are not fans of the religious parties.
The fracture in the conservative party started a few years ago over the issue of conscription in the Israeli Army. Now listen, all Israelis are required to serve in the Israeli Army after they graduate from high school, both men and women. There are only two groups of Israelis excused from military service. That's Arab Israelis and the orthodox Jewish community. That's right. If you're an orthodox Jewish person, by law you can choose. It's an option as to whether or not you want to enter the Army or not.
That's not the case for every other Israeli. So you can imagine the secular conservative parties want to see all Israelis serve in the military. This alone creates a tension in the coalition that Netanyahu must lead and this tension still exists today in the Israeli government and we're going to talk about that more in a moment. The election results were decisive though. It was a decisive victory for the opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu and his conservative bloc of parties.
It's predicted that Netanyahu is going to definitely take 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, giving him a comfortable majority and really ending that political crisis that has plagued Israel for the past four years. Now remember, unlike American politics, you don't necessarily vote for an individual. You're voting for a party. So if you want to vote for Netanyahu as your Prime Minister, then you must vote for the Likud party. He is the head of the Likud party, so he would become the Prime Minister.
Let me share with you the election results from earlier this month. It's quite fascinating. There are 10 parties that are entering into the next government. That's right, 10, you heard me correctly. Netanyahu's Likud party won the most seats of the 120 seat Knesset. Likud, Which won 32 seats. That's more than 25% of the seats needed to form a government, and this is a huge win for Netanyahu. The next largest group of Knesset seats are the religious parties combined. It's a bloc. Religious Zionist party received 14 seats, Shas, 11 seats, and United Torah Judaism, 7 seats, which when you put that block together, it totals 32 seats. This is unprecedented that the religious parties received this much representation among the Israeli people. Those parties will most certainly form a coalition.
The 32 seats from Likud and the 32 seats from the bloc of religious parties will make the 64 seats, putting it well above the 61 seats needed to form a government and it's looking like in opposition to Netanyahu's 64 seat coalition will be the liberal party Yesh Atid. They won 24 seats. Now, Yesh Atid is the party of the current Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid.
Yair Lapid did a great job. Honestly, he did a great job over the past few months as the interim Prime Minister leading up to the elections, but it wasn't good enough. Lapid could not compete with Netanyahu. The National Unity Party, which is headed by Benny Gantz, who has also run for Israeli Prime Minister before, his party won 12 seats. The National Unity Party is certainly more moderate than the other parties that are represented.
The opposition government will likely have Yisrael Beiteinu, who won 6 seats. Now, here's what's interesting. Yisrael Beiteinu is a secular conservative party that wants nothing to do with those religious parties who currently find themselves in a position of power. The once powerful Labor party, who used to dominate the political spectrum of Israeli politics and is the party of Israel's earliest founders, barely made it into government with only four seats. The Arab parties, Ra'am and Hadash Ta'al both acquired five seats themselves.
Let me tell you something, Israel is currently looking at its most conservative government in 75 years as a country. The government will consist of Netanyahu and religious parties, which of course has many people in Israel concerned. Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday said the country is not over but called the fight for the preservation of democracy, "The war of our time."
What this election revealed is that Benjamin Netanyahu still has a lot of fight left in him and still has plenty of political persuasion in Israel. US President Joe Biden called Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory, yet the Biden administration has given some pushback to the religious conservative government. Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan told Axios they are mainly concerned about the Religious Zionist party leader Ben Gvir and his party's rhetoric and positions against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Arab minority in Israel. So it will be interesting to see what the relationship between the Biden and Netanyahu administrations look like in the near future.
Shortly after the call with Biden, Netanyahu spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy, who also congratulated the longest sitting Israeli Prime Minister. It was reported that Zelenskyy invited Netanyahu to visit Kyiv. Netanyahu said that he would, "Seriously examine the Ukraine issue," repeating the message that he shared during his election campaign, which would reverse Israel's current position on Ukraine.
Last summer, Netanyahu criticized then Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz for departing from the, "Measured, balanced and responsible relationship Israel enjoyed with Russia before the war," and cautioned, "We can and need to get out of this crisis. I'm worried that what we built over the years is being undermined before our eyes in recent weeks."
Over the past few months, Zelenskyy has often expressed his disappointment over Israel's refusal to supply Ukraine with the Iron Dome batteries against missiles and other weapons. Last April, Israel shifted its original position on the issue, agreeing to supply Ukraine with defensive equipment on top of its large humanitarian aid. Still, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz repeatedly refused to extend that help to include arms.
I'm sure Netanyahu knows, however, that the optics are really bad if they don't tangibly support Ukraine. Let's hope that Netanyahu will break away from his predecessor's decision and supply arms to Ukraine, especially Iron Dome that will help any future attacks on heavily populated cities like Kyiv.
Now, when we come back, we're going to continue our discussion on Netanyahu's recent win to become Prime Minister once again, or as many call him, King Bibi. We'll be right back.
Steve Conover: Chris, it's hard to believe, but it's that time of year again. The holiday season is quickly approaching for Christians as well as our Jewish friends.
Chris Katulka: Steve, Hanukkah and Christmas are wonderful holidays where gift giving adds to the joy, and since last year they were so well received, The Friends of Israel is offering holiday gift boxes that are packed with Israeli products that are certain to deliver joy to the doorstep of either your Jewish or Christian friends and we won't say anything but maybe even yourself.
Steve Conover: You can deliver joy this holiday season. Go to foi.org/giftbox to learn more about the sweet, savory and special products inside every box. Be sure to purchase a gift box for your friends and family by December 12th to ensure on-time delivery. Learn how you can deliver joy, once again, that's at foi.org/giftbox.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everyone. It's a big mazel tov to Benjamin Netanyahu for winning the Israeli election, but the fight isn't over yet. According to Israeli law, Netanyahu must now form a government, which means he has to take those parties we mentioned earlier and make a government of more than 61 seats. There's a lot of confidence that Netanyahu will easily form a coalition government because of the high number of religious parties, but still, this is a vital process to become Prime Minister.
It's expected that he'll get 64 seats, but if parties start making demands, it can easily derail the process. This happened to Netanyahu, the last few elections. He would win the most seats in the Knesset, but he could never seem to form a government. If the winner of the elections can't form a government, then the party in second place with the most seats gets a chance to try.
Well, this is how Netanyahu was ousted in the summer of 2021. On November 13th, Israeli President Isaac Herzog fulfilled one of his limited roles in politics as Israel's president, which is to extend to the winner of the elections the mandate to form a government. During the ceremony, President Herzog said, "The state of Israel requires a government that even if its composition does not reflect all the world views and sections of the legislature, nevertheless knows to lead a process of connection and unification between all parts of our people and to conduct a responsible, cautious, open, frank, and attentive dialogue with other branches of government."
Well, Netanyahu responded, "Voters have given an unequivocal trust in me and Likud, as well as in other parties partnering with us, but I want to say I intend to be the Prime Minister of everyone, those who voted for me and those who did not vote for me. Even if there are differences of opinion between parts of the people on fundamental issues, there are more than enough issues around which the vast majority can unite and agree. We are brothers, we are meant to live side by side."
This is the eighth time that Netanyahu, Israel's longest serving Prime Minister has received the legally required mandate from an Israeli president in order to attempt to form a government and he has succeeded five times and failed three times. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out. Netanyahu's coalition government will have its own agenda as well. For instance, controversial leader of the Religious Zionist party, Ben Gvir wants to make Israel a lot more Jewish in the public sphere as well as in the personal lives of its citizens, but really only an orthodox version of that Judaism.
He also wants to change Jewish immigration, the law of return. He wants to change it dramatically. He wants to put more limits on what defines a Jewish person. Ben Gvir also wants to cancel any pressures toward Israel's orthodox community with regards to army service and learning basic secular studies. He wants to insert the study of Judaism and Jewish identity into Israeli schools and the Israeli defense forces, and he also wants to permit Jewish prayer on top of the Temple Mount, which is controlled by the Waqf, a Muslim agency.
So while Netanyahu wants to unite and agree, he's going to have a religious government of individuals who disagree with a majority of Israelis, and that's what this is all about, everybody. Israel remains the only functioning democracy in the Middle East with free and fair elections. The Israeli people have spoken and Netanyahu remains a force to be reckoned with, but here's the reality. The Israeli people will speak again and again because they have the freedom to vote politicians in and out of office.
Steve Conover: Israel, on the verge of becoming a state, a teenaged Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the Holy Land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory.
While Zvi is now in the presence of his savior, his collective writings from well over 50 years of ministry continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi.
Mike Kellogg: During the recent election campaign here in Israel, various candidates battled for the office of Prime Minister. One candidate in particular, a rabbi running on an ultra-Orthodox party ticket, placed an ad in the newspaper stating, "God would judge those who do not give the votes to our political party." A few days later, he ran another, stating "If you vote for our party, you will earn a place in the Garden of Eden. It'll be your passport to paradise."
These claims upset me and the Lord gave me the courage to go to the party's headquarters to discuss them. As soon as people there saw I was not wearing a hat or beard, they became suspicious and asked, "Who are you? What do you want here?" I replied, "Your newspaper ad states you have the power to send people to paradise if they vote for your party. As far as I know, God is the only one who has this authority. Has he given you power to act on his behalf?"
They thought I was crazy and called over one of their so-called fighters to set me straight. He asked why I was attacking them? I responded, "I have not come here to attack you. I would like to know why you are using God's name in your advertising? The 10 commandments state you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain," Exodus 20, verse seven.
They ask what political party I represented. "I do not represent any party but as a believer in God, according to the scriptures, I consider your statements blasphemous. I know what the Lord expects of us as his chosen people, and I could not rest until I came here and told you. If I had not come, I would've been guilty before God. He has instructed us to go to all nations and preach the gospel of the Lord."
The man then asked, "Do you know the Talmud?" I answered, "I try my best to keep the law of the Lord, but I do not follow your false beliefs." He then asked, "Do you know about the 613 oral laws?" I replied, "It is impossible to keep the 10 commandments. So how do you expect a person to keep 613 laws?" Well, now he was frustrated and said, "Let us go down to the bottom line. What is your faith?"
"I believe in the Lord, not according to your false traditions, but according to the scriptures. You are trying to draw others into your trap and it is my duty before God to try and stop you. I did not come here to threaten you as your rabbi has done by telling people if they do not vote for your party, God will judge them."
He then changed the subject and asked what I thought about the coming of the Messiah? I opened my Bible. I read Isaiah 53 and asked, "Do you think we should be looking for the Messiah to come or to return?" "What do you think?" He asked in return. I replied, "I do not have to think. I know because it is written here in the Bible, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Messiah has already once come and one day soon he will come again."
Before I left, I gave my testimony about how I came to believe in the Lord Jesus as my savior and Israel's Messiah. I pray I will have further opportunities to speak with him and that they will see the danger of taking the Lord's name in vain.
Steve Conover: Thank you so much for joining us today. Here in America this Thursday, we're celebrating Thanksgiving and next weekend we've dedicated our program to this topic.
Chris Katulka: Yes, Steve. We're going to look at a Yiddish Thanksgiving. We're going to look at the Jewish culture and customs behind Thanksgiving, the scriptures behind the idea of giving thanks and why it's important for us as believers. So you'll want to be sure to come back, for all of our listeners out there.
Steve Conover: We hope you join us. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, engineered by Bob Beebe, and our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold, and I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio. PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. And I'll give you one last quick reminder to visit us online at foiradio.org.
The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
Deliver Joy with a Holiday Gift Box
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Apples of Gold: Only God Can Send a Person to Paradise
During an election campaign in Israel, various candidates battled for the office of prime minister. One candidate in particular — a rabbi running on an ultra-Orthodox party ticket — placed an ad in the newspaper stating that God would judge those who did not give their votes to his political party. This bothered Zvi, and the Lord gave him the courage to go to the party’s headquarters to have a discussion about it. Listen to this week’s edition of Apples of Gold to find out what happened next!
The Friends of Israel Today theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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