Today, Israel will hold its fourth election in two years. This is a sign not of democracy on steroids, but instead of acute dysfunction, a semipermanent paralysis brought about, strangely, by the extreme stability of Israeli voting patterns: Neither the incumbent, Benjamin Netanyahu, nor his various opponents have been able to change enough minds to build a durable parliamentary majority.
Netanyahu, who has been prime minister since 2009 (and served an earlier term from 1996 to 1999), is currently standing trial on bribery and fraud charges, and he is not paranoid to believe that an electoral loss will light a pathway to prison. (Such a loss would not result in mourning among his American critics, including many liberal American Jews and most Democratic Party leaders, who loathe Netanyahu for disrespecting Barack Obama and venerating Donald Trump.)
Netanyahu is known for his canniness. He has outsmarted a generation of competitors from within his own Likud Party and from across the political spectrum. He has a plausible plan to remain prime minister: an alignment of convenience with a combination of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.
The consequences of continued Netanyahu rule are potentially profound. The commentator Yossi Klein Halevi, writing in The Jerusalem Post, argued that Israel’s COVID-19 experience—the country struggled to contain the coronavirus’s spread, but is currently running the world’s most successful vaccination program—has provided Israelis with “a terrifying glimpse into failed-state Israel.” He went on, “The government’s impressive success in vaccinating the public cannot obscure its otherwise abysmal record. A chaotic and almost laughably incompetent administration lost the trust of the public and failed to impose its authority, strengthening a defiant ultra-Orthodox state-within-a-state.”