Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Pekudei, Counting, and Israeli Election Polls

This week’s Torah Reading, Pekudei, describes a very Jewish character trait, meticulous accounting, whether in business, government, or the social sector. After Moses’ earlier call for donations (Exodus 35), the parsha opens with an accounting of the Jewish people’s precious metal gifts, to build the desert Tabernacle.
These amounts of materials were used for the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were recorded at Moses’ command. The total amount of gold used for all the work on the Tabernacle, was 29 talents and 730 shekels, according to the sacred shekel. A talent was 3,000 shekels, and a shekel was about 9.5-11 grams, according to various archaeological finds.
The silver obtained from the community, who were counted in the census was 100 talents, and 1,775 shekels, according to the sacred shekel. One beka per person, that is, half a shekel, according to the sacred shekel, from everyone who passed the census takers, twenty years old or more, a total of 603,550 men.
One hundred talents of silver were used to cast the sockets for the Tabernacle, and for the partition, 100 bases from the 100 talents, one talent for each base. They used the 1,775 shekels to make the hooks for the pillars, to overlay the tops of the pillars, and to make their bands. The copper from the wave offering was 70 talents and 2,400 shekels (Exodus 36:21-29).
So, I thought that since the Torah reading deals with counting, it might be interesting to look at some numbers, relating to election polls for the upcoming Israeli elections.
A new poll published by Walla! conducted by “Panels Politics,” has the Sephardic-Haredi Shas party just passing the electoral threshold with 4 seats. Both Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party and former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, failed to pass the electoral threshold of 3.25%, a minimum of 4 seats.
And, another recent poll carried out by “Panels Politics” for Channel 13’s “Hadashot Haboker” also gives Shas 4 seats. Yisrael Beitenu and Zehut don’t cross the threshold again. In Fact, Zehut has only crossed the threshold once, achieving 5 seats in a poll on February 14, since holding their primary on January 29. Yisrael Beitenu has only crossed the threshold twice in the last eight polls, for the last two weeks.
At the end of December, when Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Shuli Muelum announced that they were leaving Jewish Home to form their new party, the New Right, they immediately reached a high of 14 seats in one poll, and have precipitously dropped since then, to average 6.688 seats, in 16 polls.
Jewish Home, before Bennett, Shaked and Muelum left, had 8 seats in the outgoing Knesset, and then dropped to 5, after their departure.
Since the Jewish Home-National Union-Otzma Yehudit joint list was announced on February 20 (now called the Union of Right-Wing Parties – URWP), it’s reached a high of 9 seats, and has averaged 6.375 seats, in the same 16 polls.
More recently, the United Right Wing Party has beaten the New Right in 6 out of the last 10 polls. And, combined, URWP and NR have been hovering around 13-14 seats.
Since December 26, 2018, when the government was dissolved, Shas has peaked at 7 seats twice in 62 polls and hasn’t crossed the threshold twice, it’s been averaging 4.871 seats.
When looking at potential coalition configurations, polls sometimes put the center-left-Arab parties ahead of the center-right-religious parties, but, you need to remember what Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Yael German have recently said about not sitting with the Arab parties.
Benny Gantz said, “he will call for a unity government with all parties, including with Likud, which will join us, and anyone else who is Zionist and sane.” That would apparently exclude Odeh, Tibi, and the Arab Parties.
So too, Yair Lapid, who has said that his party would not form a government coalition with the Arab parties, insisting on a coalition of Zionist parties; as has Yael German promised, another Yesh Atid leader.
After an election, the President of Israel, following consultations with the elected party leaders, chooses the Knesset member most likely to have the ability to form a viable (coalition) government. While this typically is the leader of the party receiving the most seats, it is not required to be so. In the event a party wins 61 or more seats in an election, it can form a viable government without having to form a coalition. However, no party has ever won more than 56 seats in an election; thus, a coalition has always been required. That party leader, then has up to 45 days to negotiate with the different parties, and then present his or her government to the Knesset for a vote of confidence. If the Knesset approves the proposed government (by a vote of at least 61 members), he or she becomes Prime Minister.
It will be impossible for the center-left to form a government, even if the Lapid-Gantz, Blue and White party gets the most seats, assuming they keep their word about not sitting with the Arab parties. Netanyahu and Likud only need to hang tough, and refuse to join them.
In 10 opinion polls since February 1, questioning voters which party leader they would prefer as Prime Minister, PM Netanyahu or Benny Gantz, Netanyahu has peaked at 48% twice, versus Gantz’s high of 41%. Netanyahu has averaged 45.2% against Gantz’s 36.7%. The polls show Netanyahu hasn’t yet been substantially hurt by the Attorney General’s announcement of intent to indict him on corruption charges.
Although Israel doesn’t have direct election of the prime minister, I believe that one most take into consideration voter’s preferences as to who should be the next prime minister, besides looking at party list polls, because many might change their vote in the last moments, and so far it looks to be in Netanyahu’s favor.
Even Gideon Levy, an extreme leftist journalist for Haaretz, appearing on the Erel Segal and Chaim Levinson talk show, on 103FM radio, at the end of December has said, “I’m not joking when I say if I have to choose between Gantz, Lapid, or Netanyahu today, I choose Netanyahu without hesitation,” Levy said. He continued, “I never thought to cross the lines and never thought to leave, but the reality changed. I believed in the reality of two states for two peoples. You [the right] have removed this possibility from the chapter and this train has already left the station.”
Meaning, because of Palestinian intransigence and the numbers of Jews in Judea and Samaria, Levy’s given up hope for the two-state solution. Is he becoming a born-again rightist, voting for Netanyahu?
I firmly believe that Feiglin and Liberman should encourage their parties to drop out of the race, and call on their voting public to back either Likud, NR, or URWP, so that no seats are lost to the center-left.
While dreaming, if Shas would only merge after this election with United Torah Judaism (the Ashkenazi Haredi party), to form a united Haredi party; with the demise of Liberman’s primarily Russian-backed party; we could put an end to pernicious ethnic politics, which is so destructive to Israeli society, forever.
There really shouldn’t be Jewish ethnic-based political parties in Israel. Politics should be a competition of ideas and policies, not a competition based on national origins from the Galut (exile).
That, would strengthen social cohesion, and Achdut Yisrael (national unity in Israel), which is a sacred Torah value.
A lesson we can learn from this week's Torah reading itself, where everyone donated to the Tabernacle, and had a hand in building the national sanctuary.
Ariel Natan Pasko, an independent analyst and consultant, has a Master's Degree specializing in International Relations, Political Economy & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites and in newspapers. His latest articles can also be read on his archive: The Think Tank by Ariel Natan Pasko.
(c) 2019/5779 Pasko