Opinion: Inside the Israeli Elections

January 25, 2013 1:02 am 0 comments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: LIFE.

Leave it to the Israeli electorate to produce such a complicated election result that confounded most analysts’ projections. In general, the election was more about specific political personalities than it was about clear political and policy agendas. For as much as Washington views Israel through the prism of its foreign policy interests—namely, the ongoing impasse in the peace process and the nuclear dispute with Iran—socio-economic issues were foremost on Israelis’ minds as they cast their ballots. Indeed, most campaigns side-stepped important questions such as the future of relations with Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood; what should happen if Western diplomacy fails with Iran; and what will happen if Israel does not negotiate with the Palestinians.

Since the race began in October, Benjamin Netanyahu’s lead was never in doubt. His Likud party combined with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu and was projected to win between 32 – 38 seats. But the coalition underperformed, gaining 31 seats, far less than the combined 42 seats they won in the 2009 elections. While Netanyahu will likely continue as Israel’s prime minister, his Likud party will emerge damaged from this election.

The 120-seat Knesset requires a majority coalition of 61 seats to govern. The breakdown of party ideologies and the seats they gained will provide some interesting possible coalition combinations as those negotiations unfold over the coming weeks. A third of the votes went to vaguely reformist, somewhat centrist, or mildly liberal parties, but they have no common ideology that binds them together beyond the promise of a more efficient government. On the other hand, the right-wing and Orthodox bloc garnered enough votes that Netanyahu could put together a coalition that reaches close to the magic number of 61. To do so, he could bring in his traditional party ally, Shas (11 seats), the new right-wing Habayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) led by Naftali Bennett (12 seats), and Yahadut Torah (7 seats). The specter of Netanyahu forming an exclusively right-wing coalition will provide him with negotiating leverage as he probes the possibilities of including center and center-left parties in his coalition instead.

Most surprising was the rise of two new parties to the political left and right of Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu coalition. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) garnered 19 seats in its first showing, second only to Likud-Beitenu. Lapid, who has referred to his party as “center-center,” has now emerged as the kingmaker in Israeli politics if Netanyahu would like a broad coalition. Lapid was able to gain votes from the center from those who wished to moderate Netanyahu and he siphoned votes away from the right by avoiding any partnership with left-wing parties. Part of Yesh Atid’s appeal across the political spectrum is that it is a party of fresh talent who now turned to politics, bringing with them real world experience. The party remained independent and above the fray, concentrating on achieving universal conscription—a principal likely to be a thorn in the side of the religious right.

The other surprise was the rise of Naftali Bennett’s right-wing party, Habayit Yehudi. Bennett has unique experience as a businessman, running the settlers’ council, working with Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office, and as a former member of Israel’s most elite commando unit. His party gained 3 seats in 2009 but garnered 12 in this election. While the number is somewhat lower than the 15 seats analysts recently projected, its rise is nothing short of meteoric. Bennett advocates annexing 60 percent of the West Bank and was one of the few candidates to openly criticize Netanyahu for not sending ground troops into Gaza last November to root out Hamas. The latter position resonated with much of the Israeli electorate who see the current ceasefire as at most a temporary fix, and his poll numbers skyrocketed as a result.

Far from the pre-determined narrative that many in the mainstream media spun, the assumption that Israel is taking a political turn to the right is false. For his part, Netanyahu—who is constantly labeled as a right-winger—is in reality one of the most left-leaning and liberal peaceniks within Likud, responsible for bringing his party towards Israel’s political center.

What comes next in the political horse-trading necessary to create a governing coalition will be interesting and Netanyahu has many possibilities. The shelf life for new centrist parties surviving in the Israeli opposition is exceedingly low. One needs to look no further than the Kadima party that governed Israel just four years ago and its slide into near oblivion today. This will motivate Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party to join his 19 seats with Netanyahu. It would also give Netanyahu the option of bringing in the security minded Habayit Yehudi party led by Naftali Bennett and its 12 seats. Together with Likud-Beitenu’s 31 seats, they would reach 62 seats—the magic number needed to govern. Conversely, should Habayit Yehudi prove to be unpalatable to Netanyahu, he could turn to Likud’s perennial partner with Shas and its 11 seats. Whatever happens, Netanyahu is in the driver’s seat, despite his party’s underperformance. But given Israel’s foreign policy challenges ahead, look for Netanyahu to cobble together as broad of a coalition as possible.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Sports Gold on the Galilee: Israeli Kayaker Comes of Age, Eyes Olympics (VIDEO)

    Gold on the Galilee: Israeli Kayaker Comes of Age, Eyes Olympics (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Three years ago, kayaking coach Roei Lev found aspiring Olympian Ilya Podpolnyy crying on the steps of the Jordan Valley Sprint Kayak Club overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Podpolnyy, then 17 years old, had just been disqualified from the Israeli kayaking championship. He couldn’t survive the heats. He didn’t make the start line. He was devastated—and he had no one with whom to share his hopes, his dreams, and his disappointment. His divorced parents still live in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.