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...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.