Israelis share their views as Netanyahu enters his fifth term as prime minister.
By Stacy Gittleman
Israelis placed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party in the driver’s seat Tuesday to form Israel’s next government. With more than 95 percent of votes tabulated, Likud and right-wing parties that align with it, appear to exceed the 60-seat threshold that would be necessary to form a new government. Based on the results, President Reuven Rivlin is expected to give Netanyahu the opportunity to form a ruling coalition. If successful, it would be Netanyahu’s fifth stint as prime minister.
Based on the voting, Likud and the Blue and White Party headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz each tallied 35 spots in the 120-seat Knesset. However, a majority of the remaining seats were won by parties that have already declared their intention to align with Likud. A total of 11 parties met the minimum voting threshold and are expected to have representatives in the Knesset.
A sampling of Israelis with Detroit ties and those living in Detroit who moved here from Israel shows general satisfaction with the election outcome. Several hope that Israel’s now longest-serving prime minister will include the Blue and White party in his coalition.
Real estate agent Tzvi Koslowe moved here from Israel last August with his family.
Originally from Petach Tikvah, Koslowe lives with his family in Southfield. He missed participating in an Israeli election for the first time in his life. Now 38, Koslowe voted Likud since age 18 and was happy with the election’s outcome. The alternative, he said, would have been forming a government with Israeli-Arab blocs, which he believes would have been devastating for Israel because of the anti-Israel sentiments in those parties.
“If the Blue and White party were elected, I fear there could have been a war between religious and secular Jews,” Koslowe said. “The situation is not perfect now, but Netanyahu is experienced and knows how to manage the politics and how to make a place for Israel with countries like the United States and Russia.”
As Detroit’s emissary from Israel, Nina Yahalomi Klevitsky of West Bloomfield and her husband, Omer, participated in Israel’s elections by driving to Chicago at the start of April to cast their votes at the Israeli consulate.
It is their first election living outside of Israel. The couple was allowed to vote because she is living in the United States on specific assignment from Israel, working for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
She could not say who she favored to win, but she diplomatically stated that the Israeli people will vote in who will best serve their country. Klevitsky added the fact that Gantz created a new party only four months ago that more than 1 million supported is a sign that many Israelis were looking for a new hope and a new start.
“Whatever the results are, I’m proud to [come from] a country where people can raise their voices and opinions, and that has a democratic system where the people is the sovereign,” she said. “It is not only our right to vote rather our duty.”
Tekoa resident Laura Ben-David works for Shavei Israel, an organization that helps remote Jewish communities around the globe make aliyah, and has family ties to Detroit. She voted for Gantz over Netanyahu and hopes they can still form a coalition together.
She thinks Netanyahu has done great things, but he has become somewhat complacent with his focus lately more about staying in power than doing what is best for Israel.
“I think we badly needed change even if it’s just to shake things up for a bit, even if it’s just temporary.”
West Bloomfield resident Rachel Kapen was born in pre-State Israel and has lived in the United States for decades. The daughter of chalutzim (pioneers) who came to Israel in the third wave of aliyah (1919-1923), she is not a fan of Netanyahu but believes he was elected because, ultimately, Israelis care most about security.
“Ever since Israel’s inception, security was not only a high priority but the only priority; therefore, most (leaders) were from the military,” Kapen said. “But [Gantz] lacks political experience, and does not have the oratory of Netanyahu as well as his international recognition and respect. So many would prefer to look away from his moral failings and still vote for him for the fifth time.”
Writing from his home in Kibbutz Ramat-David in Israel, Yoav Raban, who works for Federation’s Israel and Overseas Department, said he was frustrated by the pettiness of a campaign highlighted by personal throwdowns by leaders of the leading parties instead of focusing on what goals and plans they had to improve the lives of ordinary Israelis.
“For the first time in decades, we missed a golden opportunity and this frustrates me the most,” he said pointing to the Likud and Blue and White parties, whose close ideologies and diverse makeup of talented people could easily have formed a moderate coalition that represents the majority of Israelis.
“Now that won’t happen only because of egos and personal agendas,” he wrote. “Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz have much more in common with one another and share many more similar values in comparison to the leaders of the small, ultra-religious, right-wing parties that Bibi is now compelled to reach out to in order to build his coalition.”
Now, Raban fears there will be more of the same: a shift even further to the religious right, where hurdles faced in the past few years such as the conversion bill and Women of the Wall, for example, will continue to be a challenge to overcome — challenges that continue to affect the dynamic of the relationship between Israel and diaspora Jewry.
“My hope is that with Bibi’s understanding of the importance of the relationship between Israel and the diaspora Jewry and the fact that he will now feel less threatened by an upcoming election and making political decisions to appease a small but influential part of his coalition, will allow him to make amends to some of the fractures that our significant bond had had to endure.”