Israel's President Should Think Twice Before Asking Netanyahu to Form a Government

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - MARCH 18: Israeli Prime Minister and the leader of the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - MARCH 18: Israeli Prime Minister and the leader of the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at the party's election headquarters after the first results of the Israeli general election on March 18, 2015 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo by Salih Zeki Fazlioglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Multi-party parliamentary democracies are not well understood by Americans. (Indeed, our own system of government is poorly understood by our own citizens.) In such systems, e.g., Israel's, where no party receives a majority, it is customary, but not required, that the country's president, ask the leader of the party with the most seats to form a government. The Queen of England performs a similar function.

But, it is within his discretion to ask others instead. Whether they can do so, and cobble together a majority of seats, of course, is a steeper climb. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, fully expected to be asked to form a government, even if he came in second because of his allies in other right wing and religious parties would make a majority.

Israel's President, Reuven ("Ruvi") Rivlin, should study the election results carefully. It appears that the win in the last 24-48 hours was due to Netanyahu's desperate admissions that has been lying for years about his support for a two-state solution and his hysterical appeals to fear that "Arabs were voting in large numbers," shifted votes from further right-wing parties into Likud's column to prevent his leading opponent from claiming the victory mantle.

In winning this way, however, Netanyahu destroyed Israel's credibility in the world, and with it, Israel's security as a state.

Israel's existence and viability is increasingly important as growing anti-semitism in the EU, Eastern Europe and Russia are creating a legitimate fear that was expressed so poignantly in Ari Shavit's My Promised Land that "Jews' days in Europe are numbered," referring to the beginning of the 20th century and culminating in the Holocaust, but may be recurring today.

If "never again" is to be a reality, a strong, respected, secure State of Israel that can both demand preventative actions by others, and serve as a refuge if necessary.

Just when Israel's existence and influence on the world stage is most important for Jews around the world, it cannot afford to risk that for the self-aggrandizement of Benjamin Netanyahu. The way he won his election has weakened Israel, destroyed its credibility and made it far less secure.

With respect to the allegation that the Israeli public is to blame for re-electing this man, one would respond that demagogues know how to pull emotional triggers, and while the Israeli public cannot be exempted from responsibility, neither should they shoulder all of the consequences of being so manipulated.

In a parliamentary system, there is a safety valve: The largely ceremonial position of president, and, hopefully, the wisdom and prudence of potential coalition partners.

If there are alternatives to a Netanyahu led government, President Rivlin owes it to his country to find it. Even a Likud-led government with someone other than Netanyahu running it would be better.