Aside from Likud, the big winner in Tuesday's Israeli elections was Shinui ("Change"), which went from six Knesset seats to 15, becoming the third largest party in the Knesset. Shinui's main issue is the separation of synagogue and state: It wants to end special subsidies to religious organizations, military service exemptions for yeshiva students, and laws that coerce religious observance. If Likud, with 37 seats, forms a government with Labor, which has 19, Shinui would make it possible to put together a majority bloc that excludes the religious parties, which have long used their leverage as crucial coalition members to extract favors.
Shinui, which also supports lower taxes and privatization, describes itself as "a Liberal Party…in the European understanding of the term." According to the party's Web site, "Our political and social philosophy can be summed up in our belief that the rights of the individual are supreme, and that all legislation must be measured against that principle." It adds, "We differ very substantially from the left in that we do not accept their Socialist policies." An article in The Jerusalem Post calls Shinui's rise the "revolt of the bourgeoisie."
Shinui takes a centrist approach to security issues. It opposes negotiating with a Palestinian Authority led by Yasir Arafat but foresees a long-term settlement that includes joint control over Jerusalem and evacuation of most Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.
In short, it would be a hopeful sign if Shinui were included in the government. At this point, however, a narrow right-wing coalition–dependent, as usual, on the votes of ultra-Orthodox extortionists–seems more likely.