Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Let Me Tell You About Benjamin Netanyahu

by Dr. Mike Evans

Benjamin Netanyahu has just been elected to his third term as Prime Minister of Israel. Many Jerusalem Prayer Team members have asked me questions about the PM and the Israeli electoral system. I will attempt to answer those questions in this Facebook post.

1. Would you tell us about Benjamin Netanyahu?

I’ve known Benjamin Netanyahu since he was thirty years of age (see photo above). He is now sixty-four. When I first met him on July 4, 1980, he was selling furniture. It was the third anniversary of the death of his brother, Yoni. (Yoni was serving as a commander in the Israeli Defense Forces when he was killed during Operation Entebbe in Uganda, during a counter-terrorism hostage rescue mission. His unit had flown there to rescue more than one hundred Israeli hostages who had been hijacked by terrorists).

I had gone to the home of Benzion Netanyahu, Yoni’s father, to express my deep condolences on the anniversary of his son’s death. He was very gracious and invited me in for a cup of tea. A few moments later, Benjamin walked into the room. I could see the pain and depression in his eyes.

Before leaving, I asked him if I could pray with him. He said yes. I took his hands in mine and as we prayed, tears ran down my face. The words that came forth from my mouth were prophetic: “Jonthan loved David. You loved Jonathan. Out of the ashes of your despair will come strength from God, and you will be the prime minister of Israel."

I had a small bottle of oil that I had purchased at the Garden Tomb. As I ended my prayer, I removed the cap and touched his head with the oil. He was completely surprised and said, “No. I’m not going into politics.”

The following day, I requested a second meeting that week with Prime Minister Menachem Begin. During our meeting, I told him what had happened when I met with the Netanyahu family. I asked him to give Benjamin a position in his government. He did not know who Benjamin was, but his senior advisor, Reuven Hecht informed him by reminding the prime minister of Benjamin Netanyahu’s father and brother.

Menachem Begin was such a God-fearing man that he took my words very seriously. He told Reuven to have dinner with Benjamin. Reuven complied and Benjamin was offered his first position as Deputy Chief of Missions at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, under Ambassador Moshe Aron. He held that position from 1982-1984.

From 1984-1988, he served as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. He went on to become a Knesset member in Israel and was a member of the Israeli delegation under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir at the Madrid Peace Conference. I remember it well as I was in attendance for the conference defending Israel—one of only sixty in the world outside the delegations permitted to attend.

In 1996, Benjamin became prime minister of Israel, and in 2009 was elected for a second time to serve in that capacity. On January 22, 2013, he became prime minister for a third time.

2. Is the Israeli political system different from that in the United States?

Yes. Israel has an electoral system based on nation-wide proportional representation, and the number of seats which every list receives in the Knesset is proportional to the number of those who voted for it. The only limitation is the 2% qualifying threshold. In other words, a party must receive at least 2% of the votes in order to be elected. According to this system, votes are cast for the various parties on the list, and not for a particular person.

Since the institution of the primaries system in some of the parties, these parties directly elect their candidates for the Knesset. Some of the parties elect their candidates via the party's institutions. In the ultra-religious parties their spiritual leaders appoint the candidates.

The Knesset elections take place once every four years, but the Knesset or the Prime Minister can decide to hold early elections, and under certain circumstances can serve for more than four years.

There are 120 Knesset members. In order to become prime minister, one must have 62 of the 120 member votes. The Likud Party of which Benjamin Netanyahu is a member has joined forces with the Hisrael Beiteinu Party led by Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman. The two parties would have enough seats to form a new government. Some of the other parties are: Kidema (21 seats), Labour (8 seats), Shas, the Orthodox party, (11 seats), Bayit Yehudi Party, which is in the far right also has about 12 seats; and lesser groups—Hatnuah (7 seats), New Movement (3 seats), and others.

If you think US elections are frustrating, there is nothing more so than Israeli elections. There are not simply two parties vying for the top spot; there are more than a dozen.

In essence, the general election is not about voting for an individual, but rather voting for the party. If the prime minister leads that party, then Israel’s president (more an honorary and diplomatic position) can authorize that individual to attempt to form a government. The president is not involved in the legislative procedures of the nation of Israel.

Dr. Mike Evans

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