Opinion

Israel's Real Minority Government

Netanyahu in the Knesset, with Moshe Kahlon and Yisrael Katz, November 10, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

As part of the campaign being waged to delegitimize any option that includes a government supported by some or all Arab parties, multiple spokesmen have in recent weeks been plugging the term “minority government”.

This is a technical term used in political science, denoting a government supported by less than half the members of parliament. However, an important point must be clarified: according to Israel’s Basic Law regulating the formation of governments, any government needs a plurality in a vote of confidence. It need not be a majority vote (consisting of 61 Knesset members) but there have to be more supporters than opponents.

The repeated use of “minority government” is an illegitimate deception which implies the formation of a government that represents a minority, which the majority objects to.

This attempt at delegitimization is particularly strident now, since it comes from people who have been serving in a transitional government for a long time. It was a government which did not gain the confidence of the Knesset after the April election, then, in the repeat election in September, it received a definite vote of no-confidence from the public.

The current transitional government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is supported by 55 Knesset members, with 65 opposing it. If any government deserves the moniker “minority government,” this is the one.

However, its members continue to behave as if things were normal, ignoring the democratic paradox in which they are taking part: This government makes major decisions in security, diplomatic, economic and social matters, making wholesale cabinet appointments while openly campaigning against the rule of law and law enforcement agencies.

The government’s actions are constrained by precedent-setting High Court of Justice rulings which apply to transitional governments. Despite this, it still embarks on policies that determine the fate and character of this country. These are policies set by a minority of Knesset members who do not have democratic legitimacy, which is based on the wishes of the majority. Criticism voiced by someone serving in this government against a possible “minority government” can only be ridiculed.

In recent years, a debate has been raging in Israel over the meaning of democracy. Does this mean a rule of the majority, or is this important principle only one of a group of other vital principles such as the protection of minority rights, human rights, the rule of law, checks and balances, etc.

Oddly, the people touting the rule of the majority as the only or main principle characterizing a democracy, overriding any other element, do not hesitate to rule without democratic legitimacy, as a government that represents a minority of voters, conducting itself in ways that lead to another election (such as by forming an inviolable bloc). In addition to the harm that would be caused by another election, the significance of this conduct is the extension of the rule of a transitional government which has no democratic legitimacy.

The rhetoric accompanying the attempts to delegitimize a “minority government” raises more than a suspicion that for such voices, democracy is not their chief concern, but rather the prospect a minority government led by Benny Gantz would allow, heaven forbid, some representation for, or at least a legitimization of, this country’s minorities.

In some cases, it’s explicitly stated that this could be a government without a “Jewish majority.” As we’ve learned from the nation-state law, anyone who isn’t Jewish is not included in the definition of the state, and therefore is not a citizen with equal rights. Such a person definitely has no right being a legitimate part of a majority that supports a government. One cannot cooperate with such rhetoric, which contradicts the essence of democracy. A majority is a majority, even if it’s not an absolute one, and even if it’s not a “Jewish majority.”

Dr. Fuchs is a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.