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...

  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater 10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    Last month, my one-man show Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey with the generous assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran ran in the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won an Overall Excellence Award. The play has now been selected to run in the Fringe Encores Series at Baruch College’s Performing Arts Center, for four performances which started on Thursday, September 11. Getting the play to the stage was not easy, however. Here are [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Phenomenon: Tel Aviv-based musician and “sampler” extraordinaire, Kutiman (aka Ophir Kutiel) has hit another one out of the park with “Give It Up,” a fully-functioning song in its own right, assembled from hundreds of ameteur and instructional music videos. The Jerusalem-born musical prodigy is best know for his diverse online musical projects. In the latest video, uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 12th, Kutiel thanked most of the musicians and individuals he chose to include in the meticulously-edited clip, which opens with [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    A recently released behind-the-scenes reel of Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Exodus: Gods and Kings shows just how far the director has gone to portray one of the Bible’s most famous narratives. In the clip, which shows scenes involving up to 4,000 extras, the visionary director discusses what drew him to the biblical tale of Moses. “The Moses story was a massive challenge, which I really love. I wanted to explore the complexity of his character and I was stunned by [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    JNS.org – Since 2006, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable and satellite TV network has hosted “The Projected Image,” a month-long showcase examining how different cultural and ethnic groups have been portrayed on the big screen. At last, after previously covering African Americans, Asians, the LGBT community, Latinos, Native Americans, Arabs, and people with disabilities, the annual series is delving into Jewish film this month. “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film,” whose first segment aired Sept. 2, runs [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    The sight of young girls in pinafores and young boys wearing peyos – sidelocks – dangling over their ears is a sure sign that you have entered the enigmatic precincts of the Hasidim – the pious ones. Veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger’s new book, THE PIOUS ONES: The World of Hasidim and their Battles with America, takes the reader on a journey into the enclaves where various sects of Jews live a seemingly outmoded way of life in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.