On November 1, 2022, Israel held its fifth election in less than four years. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party gathered thirty-one seats allowing the Likud to form a coalition government of sixty-four seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu is a controversial figure. He enjoys the ardent support of many, who sometimes refer to him by the affectionate nickname, “Bibi.” At the same time, he has equally ardent opponents.
Context for the Election
Initial Reactions to the Election
The most recent election results will shape the country, including its ever-growing Messianic community. Netanyahu will form the country’s most right-wing government, as many of the other parties making up his sixty-four-seat coalition are ultra-Orthodox (eighteen seats). Some fear the apparent rise of far-right extremism through the Religious Zionism party led by Bezalel Smotrich (who won fourteen seats, the third-highest amount of all parties). Some world leaders and Jewish groups are concerned how much power Netanyahu will give to Itamar Ben Gvir, also a controversial figure whom many Israelis consider an extremist.
More secular Israelis are watching and waiting to see what changes might come as a result of the elections. Israel’s Arab population is also concerned there will be cuts in their educational programs, infrastructure, and public safety. Religious Zionism, as a political party, has been accused of being “racist” and inciting aggression against Arab Israelis. One of their first agenda items could be a concerted effort to lessen the authority of Israel’s Supreme Court decisions by giving veto power to the Knesset.
What Led to the New Elections
To better understand this election, however, we must consider the broader view of Netanyahu’s role in Israeli politics. His role is immense. Netanyahu has served Israel’s government longer than anyone else in history. His upcoming term as prime minister marks his third time in the office. He previously held the role 1996–1999 and 2009–2021. Israel does not have term limits for the prime minister. Some Israelis have called for one, especially considering Netanyahu’s previous, unprecedented twelve-year term.
He held several prominent positions in Israel’s public life, including Ambassador to the United Nations and Minister of Finance. Netanyahu’s government began to dissolve in 2019 when he could no longer hold on to a coalition providing a majority of Knesset seats.
A series of four elections culminated in a new coalition under Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, who was prime minister until June 2022. At that time, this coalition could no longer last and dissolved, triggering yet another election cycle.
Why Some Like Netanyahu
Popular among the Ultra-Orthodox
In the November 2022 election, Netanyahu garnered support from the ultra-right-wing parties made up primarily of the very Orthodox. This most religious segment of Israel’s Jewish community seeks to maintain their unique status within the country. For instance, the ultra-Orthodox are exempt from military service, which Israel generally requires of all citizens. This exemption allows ultra-Orthodox young men to continue their religious studies. Similarly, the ultra-Orthodox tend to oppose government oversight of their schools. Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, especially for boys, strongly emphasize the study of the Talmud.
Many, both in Israel and around the world, have criticized these schools for failing to provide children with basic language and math skills. Critics call on the government to do more to ensure ultra-Orthodox schools offer basic education. Many ultra-Orthodox see Netanyahu as an ally to help the community maintain their unique status and independence. He has, for instance, agreed to allow their schools not to teach secular subjects.
Popular for Security Insight
Another reason for his popularity among some Israelis is his security expertise. He has devoted much of his career to combatting terrorism, including organizing conferences and writing books on the subject. His widely acknowledged insight on security matters is one of the main reasons for his political success. The sheer length of time he has spent in government gives him an aura of expertise. Additionally, his good reputation abroad, especially among Evangelical Christians, causes Israelis to view him as a good leader to represent the country in global affairs.
Why Some Criticize Netanyahu
Netanyahu’s Legal Trouble
Netanyahu has been accused of several scandals. Accusations include the misuse of government funds, bribery, and pressuring newspapers to cover him more favorably in return for better access to government officials. Though he denies all allegations, he is still facing charges in a few of these cases, as is his wife Sara. He can legally hold office until he is found guilty.
However, Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to face criminal charges while in office. Yet, some believe he should not hold a position while under investigation. Only time will tell as these trials take a long time.
The incoming coalition will be the most right-leaning in Israel’s history. This term, right-wing, is used quite differently than in the United States. There are similarities. However, the term usually describes the political aspirations and policies of the ultra-religious within Israel when it comes to the army, the role of woman, attitudes towards Palestinians, and the control of Jewish immigration from other parts of the world who wish to become Israelis citizens. This process is often called by the Hebrew term aliyah, which means to go up.
The Coalition’s Controversial Proposals
Israeli and global observers are especially concerned about the Religious Zionism party and leaders like Itamar Ben Gvir. These groups have reputations for bigotry toward Israel’s Arab citizens and at times more secular Jewish people. They have even contested the nation’s definition of Jewish for Aliyah purposes. Now, a person must have at least one Jewish grandparent; they want to require at least one Jewish parent. Some worry including Religious Zionism will forever alter Israel’s democracy. Another controversial point Netanyahu’s coalition has called for is allowing the Knesset to veto supreme court decisions. Critics fear this move will strip the court of its powers and cause the court to come under more control by the ultra-religious, who do not like secular courts.
This coalition supports a ban on women in combat units and narrowing the definition of Jewishness for citizenship. Netanyahu claims he will keep the more extreme elements of the coalition in check. He says, “Israel is not going to be governed by Talmudic law.” After all, Netanyahu himself is secular and his Likud party is centrist. Still, many Israelis are concerned, especially the non-Orthodox, which is most of the country.
Perspective of Israel’s Messianic Community
Concerns for the Messianic Community in Israel
The Israeli Messianic community is divided in their perception of Netanyahu. Israel’s government is a multi-party system, so politics is not as polarized between two major groups the way American politics is between Democrats and Republicans. Rather, Israelis often vote for several different parties depending on what issues they most care about in each election season.
One issue especially important for Messianic Israelis is immigration. The Law of Return allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to move to Israel as a citizen (Aliyah). In everyday practice, the ultra-religious consider Jewish followers of Jesus as no longer Jewish and thus ineligible for Aliyah. Recent court cases have made it more difficult for Messianic Jewish people to immigrate to Israel. Like many other Israelis, Jewish believers in the land worry this change will prevent friends and family members from making Aliyah.
Israel’s Messianic community also shares the country’s common concern about the ultra-Orthodox. This deeply religious segment of the population does not join the military and few hold jobs outside of the ultra-Orthodox community. Secular Israelis, the majority of Israel’s population, have long resented the benefits the government extends to the ultra-Orthodox. The swing to the hard right could impact the Messianic community, as the ultra-Orthodox view Messianic Israelis as no longer Jewish and therefore traitors.
Conclusion: the Hope of Israel’s Messianic Community
The story does not end with the recent elections, as believers in the land have many chances to speak of the hope they have within them through the Messiah Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). Believers trust God is still at work. He is faithful and will empower the body of Messiah to face the challenges ahead. Jesus is asking His followers within Israel to be both salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16) and have a prophetic role within society. Advocating for biblical values at times brings Messianic Jewish Israelis into alignment with the ultra-Orthodox on a number of critical social issues.
We pray God will use Netanyahu for good and bring the prime minister to Himself. We also pray Jesus followers in Israel will proclaim the good news with the very religious—and not-so-religious—in the days ahead. Whatever this government does, we know He will keep His promises concerning His people and His land.
*Top photo from Flickr, usable under Creative Commons license.
 Times of Israel Staff, “US Jewish Groups Sound Alarm over Rise of Ben Gvir, though Many Steer Clear,” Times of Israel, November 3, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-jewish-groups-sound-alarm-over-rise-of-ben-gvir-though-many-steer-clear/.
 Bezalel Smotrich, the head of this party, is an especially controversial figure whom many consider extremist and racist (Stuart Winer, “Smotrich Threatens to Expel Arab MK, Other Muslims Who Don’t Accept Jewish Rule,” Times of Israel, April 7, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/smotrich-threatens-to-expel-arab-mk-other-muslims-who-dont-accept-jewish-rule/).
 “Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu,” Jewish Virtual Library, accessed November 29, 2022, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/benjamin-quot-bibi-quot-netanyahu.
 A collection of Jewish law and commentary.
 Eliza Shapiro and Brian M. Rosenthal, “In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush with Public Money,” New York Times, September 11, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/11/nyregion/hasidic-yeshivas-schools-new-york.html.
 “Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu.”
 Yonette Joseph and Patrick Kingsley, “Netanyahu Will Return with Corruption Charges Unresolved. Here’s Where the Case Stands.” New York Times, November 3, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/03/world/middleeast/netanyahu-corruption-charges-israel.html.
 Ben Gvir was convicted for carrying signs with the slogan “expel the Arab enemy.” He was also accused, albeit acquitted, of chanting “death to the Arabs.” Etgar Lefkovits, “Ben-Gvir Convicted of Inciting to Racism,” Jerusalem Post, June 25, 2007, https://www.jpost.com/israel/ben-gvir-convicted-of-inciting-to-racism.
 Yonah Jeremy Bob, “Will Israel’s Next Gov’t Harm High Court, Risking BDS, ICC Issues? – Analysis” Jerusalem Post, November 7, 2022, https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/politics-and-diplomacy/article-721703.
 Joel C. Rosenberg, “Netanyahu Pushes Back on Demands of Ultra-Religious and Far-Right Parties, Vows Israel Won’t Be Ruled by ‘Talmudic Law,’” All Israel News, December 1, 2022, https://allisrael.com/netanyahu-pushes-back-on-demands-of-ultra-religious-and-far-right-parties-vows-israel-won-t-be-ruled-by-talmudic-law.