Fourty-four parties; many more debates


The Israeli elections have just happened – citizens of all ethnicities and religions have voted for who they’d like to represent them in the government. This year, there were 44 parties to choose from (14 major and 30 minor parties).

With a political system of MMP, like New Zealand, but with a threshold of 3.25%, there are currently 14 parties represented in the Israeli parliament (Knesset), compared to 5 in New Zealand.

And the extremes of the political opinions are vast on almost all issues – from the role of religion in the state, to geopolitical strategies, to debates us Kiwis are more familiar with (like social welfare and housing). And debates on many issues are heated both within the Knesset in Jerusalem and in the media and town halls. Israelis have a Mediterranean temperament.

It is this debate that is part of what makes the country so vibrant and successful. It is not only the ability to frame arguments and challenge opponents and be challenged, and refine positions; it is also an acknowledgement that discussing the issues is far better than stifling debate – that putting a case forward and accepting the majority vote is much better than allowing a dictator or totalitarian regime to rule.

This concept is best captured by Dr Einat Wilf, who wrote an article last year on the meaning of the Jewish state. She wrote “The Jewish state is the one state in the world where we get to argue about what it means to be the Jewish state. Herein lies the essence of the Jewish state: the ongoing debate about its very nature.”

In the age-old tradition of Jewish Rabbis and scholars, arguing and recording their arguments in cultural and religious texts, so the Jewish state continues to debate issues. Even the name, Israel, - meaning one who struggles [with G-d] – is a clue that we should always be inviting discussion and struggling with ideas.

At this time of votes having just been cast in Israel, it is worth noting that none of the neighbouring countries allow citizens free and fair elections. And that whoever emerges as leader and whichever coalitions are formed, the debate in Israel will continue and it will continue to be a source of strength.