Israel’s president on Thursday urged Israelis not to lose faith in their democratic system after persistent political deadlock threw the country into a third election in less than a year.
President Reuven Rivlin, whose proposal of a “rotating” premiership between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz faltered over who would serve first and for how long, issued a statement appealing to Israelis not to “sink into despair” in the face of the political logjam.
“We must not lose faith in the democratic system or in its ability to create the reality we live in with our own hands,” said Rivlin. “I pray that the depth of the current political crisis and the divisions it exposes amongst us will lead us as a society and as a country to fight not only for the right to disagree with each other – but also to the duty to find what we can agree about.”
The disarray carries a heavy economic price: it will be well into 2020 before a new budget is passed.
“The new elections will paralyze the government for another six months in which it will have to operate under an interim budget and hinder economic growth,” said Modi Shafrir, chief strategist in Mizrahi Tefahot Bank’s finance division.
Diana Perkins, a Tel Aviv florist, voiced frustration at another do-over ballot, with recent opinion polls predicting no significant change in voting results from three months ago.
“I don’t know who has the answer,” she said. “I wish I had a magic ball to say, like, ‘This is going to solve all the issues’.”
Not everyone agreed that the situation is so dire.
David Horowitz, editor of The Times of Israel, penned an op-ed in which, after acknowledging that the situation is ‘unhealthy and potentially dangerous,” challenged the thinking that it’s “an absolute catastrophe.”
Horowitz argued that the third election gives Israelis a much more clear-cut choice than before.
“For we now head into our third round of elections better equipped than in rounds one and two to make an informed decision.
“Our unprecedentedly long-serving prime minister has now been charged, and his alleged offenses described in detail by the head of the state prosecution. We know now that Netanyahu intends to battle out his legal storm; he won’t willingly quit; he hasn’t ruled out a bid to both obtain parliamentary immunity from prosecution and then legislate to prevent the Supreme Court overturning such immunity; he has declared himself the victim of an attempted coup and encouraged the electorate to believe his narrative of innocence and to mistrust Israel’s law enforcement. The choice Netanyahu now presents to the electorate is far starker than it was in April or even September.”
Focusing on Netanyahu, Horowitz made no mention of Avigdor Liberman’s incessant attacks on the chareidi community, nor of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s continued promises of a “broad, liberal government” that would sanction public chilul Shabbos, lower the standards of conversion and kashrus, and allow civil marriages.
They also contribute to a starker choice for Israeli voters.