It would be hard to conjure up a more grave and immediate set of peacetime challenges than those that Israel faces today-from the advances in Iran’s nuclear program, to the political instabilities that continue to play out along the length of its borders. Yet, the outcome of the January 2013 election of the 19th Knesset appears to have been shaped less by the Israeli public’s perceptions of foreign threats, and more by its domestic concerns. After the votes had been tallied, Yesh Atid, led by former broadcast journalist Yair Lapid, had secured 19 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, a surprising showing for a party organized only a few months prior to the election and running a list of political outsiders. As Prime Minister Netanyahu assembled his coalition partners, Yesh Atid struck up a “both of us, or neither of us” pact with HaBayit Yehudi (The Jewish Home), a nationalist party to the right of Likud led by Naftali Bennett that sent 12 members to the current Knesset (MKs). As a result, Lapid and Bennett were able to exclude the two major ultra-Orthodox-led electoral lists-Shas with 11 MKs, and United Torah Judaism (UTJ, a list including two Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties) with 7 MKs-from the ruling coalition.
This brief note raises two questions: How did Yesh Atid rise from a virtual standing start to claim a critical position in Israel’s 33rd government? And what does this party’s electoral achievement mean for the future of Israel’s democracy? To respond, I will assume a position that most Middle East analysts are likely to consider highly speculative-that minority population growth has pushed the nation’s secular political establishment into a corner; neither can they afford to invite ultra-Orthodox parties into a ruling coalition, nor can they continue to neglect the public’s demands for policy reforms that would change the fundamental relationships between the ultra-Orthodox, Israel’s Arab citizens, and the state. While this position appears like unfettered speculation to those holding the “conventional view”, to others with a demographic perspective on Israel’s social turbulence, this shift seems virtually inevitable.
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