As Israel heads to the polls on November 1 for the fifth time in 44 months, in a tell-tale sign of political instability and dysfunctionality, it is well worth keeping one thing in mind: We are not alone.
Look at what is going on in Britain and Italy.
That recognition is not meant to imply that what the Israeli political system is going through is not a disgrace, or that the continuous political stalemate here is not causing damage to the country. It is meant only to put matters into perspective.
We are not the only country in the world facing severe governance problems, and just as these problems are unlikely to lead to the collapse of the United Kingdom or the end of democracy in Italy, neither – despite their gravity – will this political instability bring down Israel.
Why bring this up? Because there is a tendency in this country whenever there are problems with governance, governmental bureaucracy or infrastructure, to complain that such things would never happen in a medina metukenet, roughly translated as a properly working country. Britain, for sure, and Italy, even with its chronic change of governments, are largely viewed in Israel as representatives of countries that work.
The US was for long seen here as the paradigmatic medina metukenet, and statements such as “this would never happen in America” were pronounced regularly whenever there were coalition crises or airport workers’ strikes or electrical blackouts.
No More. Donald Trump’s presidency, and the circus that followed his loss to US President Joe Biden in 2020, disabused many Israelis of the notion that while the political system is broken here, at least things work in the US.
Not so fast. Things are not exactly humming along smoothly now in the US or – as recent events have borne out – in Britain and Italy.
Is the current political crisis in London good for Great Britain? Obviously not. Will the swearing-in of a prime minister from a far-right party in Italy advance that country’s standing internationally? Again, no.
But just as those developments will not destroy those two countries, neither will what Israel is currently weathering destroy this one, even though it does and will create considerable difficulties and problems.
There are a couple telling similarities between what is happening in Israel and the political situation in Britain and Italy.
First to Britain, which has now gone through three prime ministers since 2019. Liz Truss’s departure after just 45 days in office is leading to the distinct possibility that Boris Johnson, whom she replaced, will return.
The prospect of Johnson coming back less than two months after being unceremoniously ushered out of office because of a variety of scandals, has many reeling. Johnson, in his last words uttered to Parliament before vacating 10 Downing Street, said “hasta la vista, baby” (see you later) leaving the door open for a comeback. But 45 days later? The pace of that comeback is head-spinning.
One of the reasons this is a serious possibility is because many in his Conservative Party – after only a six-week absence – seem to be longing for him. The Conservative Party will choose its new leader, who will serve as prime minister until the next elections, and Johnson’s absence has made many of their hearts fonder toward him. A short clip went viral on social media showing Johnson mouthing the words to “Hello,” a Lionel Richie hit song from 1983, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for? I can see it in your eyes. I can see it in your smile.”
That same type of longing does not exist here among the general electorate for former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also trying to mount a comeback.
There were certainly those in the Likud who felt and hoped that once Netanyahu was out of power for a stint, people would yearn and hanker for his return. That has not transpired. In the last election, the Likud won 30 seats, and while the polls are now giving it between 30 to 32 seats, that is not exactly a sign of a nation turning its lonely eyes to Netanyahu.
Johnson’s replacement Truss crashed and burned in no time, leading to nostalgia among some for the man she replaced. Sure, Johnson might have been embroiled in a scandal or two, and he might have played fast and free with the truth from time to time, but at least under his watch the British markets did not collapse.
The same turn of events did not happen here. While the government that replaced Netanyahu only lasted a year, it did not monumentally misstep like Truss. On the contrary, the government showed that life can go on without Netanyahu at the helm.
Those who like Netanyahu want him back, but those who don’t have not seen anything over the last year to convince them that only Netanyahu can run the country during these challenging times. Neither Naftali Bennett nor Prime Minister Yair Lapid has had a Liz Truss moment that might have convinced voters of Netanyahu’s indispensability.
As far as Italy is concerned, Giorgia Meloni – whose far-right party is positioned on the Italian political map similar to where Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party is positioned on the Israeli one – was sworn in as Italy’s prime minister on Saturday. She once praised Mussolini as a “good politician” who acted for Italy.
Though her election has definitely raised concerns about the rise of populist far-right leaders in Europe similar to Hungary’s Viktor Orban, the opprobrium heaped upon Italy for electing such a leader, and the warnings of how this may destroy the country and undermine Italy’s relations with the rest of the world, is nowhere what we should expect if Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc wins a week from Tuesday and Ben-Gvir stands in line for a ministerial post.
Even if the pro-Netanyahu bloc does not muster the necessary 61 votes to form a coalition, but the Religious Zionist Party more than doubles its representation – as expected – from six to 13 or 14 seats, Israel should brace itself for apocalyptic warnings about what this portends for its democracy.
Though such an outcome will definitely not strengthen the country’s democracy, it does not sound its death knell either, just as the swearing in of Meloni – not as a minister in the incoming Italian government, but rather as the prime minister of the new Italian government – does not mean the Italians are kissing democracy goodbye.
Rather, it means that for the next 13 months – the average life expectancy since World War II of Italian governments – it will be led by a far-right leader. Then a new government will emerge, with a new leader. And what is true in Italy, is likely to be true in Israel as well.