Five reasons why everything you have heard about the Israeli election results is wrong

This is getting to me.

1. There is an even left-right split

This seems to be a the conventional wisdom, even amongst Israeli publications that should, and do, know better.

Haaretz: “right-wing to take 61 seats, center-left 59.”

Jerusalem Post: “Final election count: Right bloc 61, Center-Left 59 seats.”

Or in graphic form (which is slightly outdated – before the last seat had been properly allocated):

charty3_2

This is a lie, don’t believe it. The real picture looks like this (although I don’t fully agree even with this one):

chartyparty

Courtesy of Shmuel Rosner.

You see, Israel does not simply have ‘left’ and ‘right’ parties like we are used to in two-party system countries like Australia, the US, the UK etc. Israel has a lot of different factions, none of which the media seem to be aware of. I can only pin this down to lazy journalism and/or media groupthink. Below are a few of the incorrect assumptions that are being made in this calculation.

2. The Arab bloc

For starters, it is useless including the Arab parties in the ‘left’. This is because ‘Arab parties’ is not really what they are, a more accurate description would be the ‘anti-Zionist parties’. A lot of the Zionist parties have Arabs on their tickets, and Chadash – the communist party that is normally counted in the ‘Arab bloc’ – has Jewish candidates. Meanwhile, a lot of the Arab voters in Israel actually vote for Zionist parties because, believe it or not, many of them care about domestic economic and social issues, and aren’t just driven to destroy Israel like Arabs are ‘supposed’ to be.

The point here is that at least Balad and Ta’al, and probably Chadash too – which hold 3, 4, and 4 seats respectively – would never join a governing coalition with anyone from the Zionist left. That means that the ‘left bloc’ could win 71 seats and still not be able to form government, as 11 of those seats would refuse to join the coalition.

3. The right-religious bloc

Supposedly, 61 seats went to the right. The breakdown of these were: Likud-Yisrael Beitenu, 31; Habayit Hayehudi, 12; Shas, 11; Yehudat Hatorah, 7.

Once again, this is by no means a cohesive bloc. It is true that, while there is a very significant ideological difference between the secular-nationalist LYB and the national-religious HH, they are both on the right of politics. The other two, however, are not really. Shas and Yehudat Hatorah represent the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) community, the difference between them being that Shas is Sephardi (from Middle Eastern countries) and YH are Ashkenazi (from Eastern Europe).

Both are more accurately described as ‘interest groups’ than ‘right-wing parties’. They are happy to join any coalition so long as their demands are met – which are primarily that they continue be able to study torah instead of having paid work, be exempt from national service, have generous government benefits for having a lot of children, and generally have their lifestyles subsidised by the Israeli taxpayers. In essence, the left could deal with them if they were willing to accept these conditions, which has often been the case in past governments. It is a little dishonest, therefore, to include them in the ‘right’.

4. The centrist bloc

At the moment, there are four parties that are referred to as ‘centrist’: Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid’s party), 19; Avodah (Labour), 15; Hatnuah (Tzippi Livni’s party), 7; and Kadima, 3. The one party I have yet to mention is Meretz, which is unambiguously on the Zionist far-left and won 6 seats.

Here’s the rub: I do not remember any other point in history where Avodah was referred to as a ‘centrist’ party. In fact, looking at their platform coming into these elections, they would be giving Trotsky a run for his money. Shelley Yachimovich’s plan to save Israel seems to be along the lines of ‘put everything under government control, tax successful businesses, and increase the size of every public service department’. I am fairly sure that would make her ‘left wing’.

Meanwhile, Hatnuah is essentially comprised of former Avodah leaders who left Avodah because they weren’t being chosen as leaders anymore. I think that qualifies as ‘left’ too.

5. Israel’s new ‘centre-left’ sensation

Now that is in contrast to Yesh Atid. As explained by Michal Koplow, Yair Lapid was not running on a leftist platform at all. In fact, his platform was more in line with the traditional Likudniks than anything else – that would be the Likudniks like Dan Meridor and Ruben Rivlin, who were purged in the primaries due to heavy branch-stacking by the settlement movement. Lapid is actually much closer ideologically to Netanyahu than most of the current MKs from Netanyahu’s own party. He has also been running this entire time very openly intending to join a Likud-led coalition once elected. Yesh Atid are a centre-right party.

So what really happened?

I think Yossi Klein-Halevi said this one best:

Yair’s ideological challenge will be to clarify the political center and give coherence to the instincts of a majority of Israelis. That centrist majority seeks a politics that isn’t afraid to acknowledge the complexity of Israel’s dilemmas. These voters agree with the left about the dangers of occupation and with the right about the dangers of a delusional peace. Centrists want a two-state solution and are prepared to make almost any territorial compromise for peace. But they also believe that no concessions, at least for now, will win Israel legitimacy and real peace. Centrists want to be doves but are forced by reality to be hawks.

I voted for Yair because, as a centrist Israeli, I have no other political home.

Netanyahu, who accepted a two-state solution in principle and then imposed a 10-month settlement freeze, tried to turn the Likud into a center-right party, more pragmatic than ideological and able to attract voters like me. But the ideological right within the Likud revolted. Today’s Likud appears more hospitable to the far rightist Moshe Feiglin than to centrists like Dan Meridor, denied a safe seat in the Likud primaries.

The Israeli media is speaking relentlessly of an even divide between the left-wing and right-wing blocs. That’s nonsense. Yesh Atid isn’t a left-wing party; half of its voters define themselves as right of center. Instead, the rise of Yesh Atid affirms the vigor of the center. Despite the historic failure of every centrist party—Kadima, the last attempt, virtually disintegrated in this election—centrist Israelis continue to seek a political framework.

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