A realistic look at the Israeli election

Another Israeli election is coming.

Let me be absolutely clear – most of what you will read is written from within one of two political world visions

  • Bibi is the demon
  • Bibi is the king

The recent piece in the NYT by Thomas Friedman is a good example. Friedman literally drools over the recent coalition whilst spitting venom at Netanyahu.

None of this is political analysis. It is pure personal bias in a very thin disguise.

Like his politics or not – Bibi Netanyahu is a target of a major demonisation campaign. This means that much of what is written in the media, and much of what you will hear from western commentators, comes from a camp that desperately wants to reduce the chance of a Bibi victory. When they write, it is often their hope driving the analysis.

When they do this, they mislead – and with over a dozen political parties, several political blocs and a whole bundle of personal vendettas, the Israeli election is confusing enough without the political commentators skewing it all in with their own bias.

Israel election – the basics

Israel has a multi-party system built on proportional representation. Each party presents a list of candidates to the electorate. Voters cast votes for the party of their choice. It means (unfortunately) individual MKs never directly face the electorate. The 120 seats are then split up according to the votes that the dozen plus parties received. The end result is *always* a coalition.

The election blocs

Voters split into five key camps

  • The Arab bloc
  • The ‘progressive’ left.
  • The centre
  • The right
  • The religious

The vast majority of voters sit inside one of these blocs and remain very difficult to shift. Floating voters can be found only around the centre. A new face – a fresh idea – sometimes acts as a magnet for them.

It is not unusual for a ‘new party’ to come along to blur lines – either by trying to pull voters from the right or left. These ‘paradigm busters’ can be temporarily successful. Ariel Sharon’s Kadima delivered a knock out in 2005. Yair Lapid’s ‘Yesh Atid’ gave him the keys to the Prime Minister’s office.

But this is the only game in town and most of it is illusion. Lapid’s ‘Yesh Atid’ does not have its own political turf to operate on. There is nothing really to distinguish it from the traditional Israeli Labour Party – other than personalities. Sharon still wanted to be Likud, just without the Likud’s infighting.

Musical chairs

The first thing to understand about Israeli politics is that for the most part, political parties play musical chairs with the voters that sit around them in the political spectrum. For example, a new party may suddenly run in the centre left – and pollsters may suggest it will win ’10 seats’, but in reality those 10 seats have only been captured from competitors on the centre left. The political map itself remains unchanged.

Few Israeli political manoeuvres are actually ‘bloc-breaking’ (Sharon’s creation of Kadima in 2005 is probably the most recent one worthy of mention, and whilst successful the effect did not last long. Kadima crumbled, and the blocs reverted to type).

So if you hear that a Party you like is doing really well, don’t get too excited. It will almost certainly mean that they have stolen votes from their own political allies. In a system that needs a coalition to form a government it all adds up to zero.

To show you how much is just illusionary noise – here is a table of the blocs showing the results in the 2013 – 2019 elections:

 201320152019
Arab Parties111310
Left / Centre485049
Right434445
Religious181316

Within these stable numbers are hidden numerous ‘fresh faces’ that came and went (such as Hatnua, Kulanu and Zionist Union. Going back further we can also point to ‘Shinui‘, ‘Centre Party‘ and the ‘Third Way’ – all just playing musical chairs with the same voters.

The small differences between these results are often down to electoral thresholds. For example, the dip in 2015 for the religious block arose because one politician (Eli Yashai) formed a splinter party that just failed to pass the threshold (now 3.25% of the vote). A few wasted votes made a noticable impact and this issue of thresholds could be extremely important in the upcoming election.

The electoral grab for right of centre votes

Given those parties (and individuals) that will work alongside each other and those that will not, there is only one coherent ideological bloc in Israeli politics – the Likud, nationalist, and religious bloc. For this simple reason, they have dominated Israeli politics for a generation.

This basic mathematical fact is deplored (and mostly denied) – by those who sit further left in the spectrum.

The traditional left also has a branding issue. Oslo was their disaster. With no peace partner on the horizon and nothing to resurrect the camp, the parties seen as responsible (Labour and Meretz) have imploded.

This creates fertile ground for a ‘fresh vision’ to surface, which is where those like Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid came in.

But playing musical chairs with left or centrist voters won’t win elections. For this reason, we have seen the creation of parties such as ‘Blue and White’. Strong on security, led by a military man – it is an attempt to take softer Likud voters away from the right-wing bloc. Without being able to successfully do this – there is no viable alternative to a right of centre coalition. The numbers just will not add up.

The anti-Bibi bloc

What changed and has caused the gridlock in Israeli politics was the anti-Bibi coalition. A bloc that had only one goal – stopping Netanyahu from gaining power.

Starting with Lieberman – whose voters originated from the right-wing bloc – political players started to make it impossible for Bibi to create a coalition – even if his ‘ideological bloc’ contained the most seats. It was an insurrection from within the camp. This worsened with Gideon Sa’ar breaking away from the Likud to form an ‘anti-Bibi Likud’ (the New Hope Party).

Political earthquake

In a political environment where Likud’s hold on power is often just a few seats, this created an earthquake.  Netanyahu couldn’t form a coalition. But neither could the opposition.

From a left-winger’s perspective what happened next was a dream come true. For those on the right it was nothing less than betrayal. Naftali Bennett (leader of a party placed to the right of the Likud) joined forces with the Left to build a coalition and finally evict Netanyahu from his seat of power.

Because much of the media has an anti-Bibi spin, Bennett got off lightly. In some quarters he was even lauded for his action. But from a ‘democratic’ perspective, he most certainly betrayed his electorate. It would be like the SNP joining forces with the Conservatives to keep Labour from power.

The election clock was ticking

For all the hopeful talk the coalition was never going to last long. The only ideology holding this group together was ‘just not Bibi’ – and it was inevitably going to be a short and bumpy ride. What held it together for so long was the knowledge that another election would probably see Netanyahu return. In the end, even that wasn’t enough and the coalition collapsed.

The upcoming election

Which leads us to the upcoming election. In theory the right-wing bloc enters this election strongly. For once Netanyahu goes into a campaign on the attack (as the opposition) rather than on the defensive (as government).

The uncertainties all reside within the coalition. They built an impossible coalition once – what is the chance that the numbers will work so precisely in their favour again?

The ex-PM Bennett, who is at times a clever political animal, has simply walked away. He had no political platform (he could hardly run for the same voter base again) and was facing a difficult campaign that would lessen his political value. He probably saw that it was better for him not to compete and thus build grounds for a return at a more favourable time. His party is probably finished and the remaining players will either scramble to find a safe home in another party or face potential electoral oblivion.

Gideon Sa’ar is another that could well see his party wiped off the political map.

It is not just the parties towards the right that have suffered. Meretz too – on the left – could possibly face oblivion.

Which is why the ‘anti-Bibi’ camp will be foolish to attempt to navigate an election ‘as is’. There are three parties who are in real danger of not crossing the electoral threshold. If the voter turn-out is strong and all three fail to cross the threshold, Netanyahu may win with a knockout.

Ignore the pollsters

This means we may see alliances – political unions. Labour and Meretz running together is an obvious potential one. Gideon Sa’ar will be scared of standing alone and may seek to unite with another party. And don’t rule out another ‘new party’ providing a fresh face entering the mix.

All of this creates problems and it makes guessing what is going to happen an almost impossible task.

So my main message here is *ignore* everything that anyone writes about how the election will unfold. There is not a political expert in the world that currently has a clue how the election results will play out. Worse still many of those trying to tell you, desperately want Netanyahu to lose. There is every reason not to listen.

The Yair Lapid strategy

If the anti-Bibi camp (and you can include most media and western politicians in this) seek to derail a Netanyahu victory, they have just four months with Yair Lapid at the helm to do it. This is the only option left open to them. If this fails they will almost certainly lose.

Look out for an intense campaign pushing statesmanlike Yair Lapid PM images into every newsreel, every column inch, every photo opportunity that is possible. Lapid is a well-seasoned TV personality and he knows how to act on camera. The forthcoming visit of US President Biden will present a golden opportunity for endless hours of footage – and expect Biden to play his part. Biden will hand Lapid political presents to help him look like a seasoned and successful leader.

Being PM is an important electoral asset. Be in no doubt that Lapid will meet every international leader he can. The goal will be to turn Lapid’s 18-22 seats into something larger – and to make sure they are not just taking votes from their friends.

Will it work? I have no idea. But I do know we are about to see a massive propaganda campaign. Both the ‘Bibi is a demon‘ camp and the ‘Isn’t Yair wonderful‘ camp are about to go into overdrive.

The bottom line is this. If I told you what I think the final outcome would be – like everyone else – I’d just be guessing in the dark.

 

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13 thoughts on “A realistic look at the Israeli election

  1. You seem to be as one sided as those you criticise. You have much to say in defence of Netanyahu, but no criticisms. Whatever his political gifts, the man is probably a crook, and certainly an opportunist. For example, I have yet to see any evidence that he opposes Putin’s rape of Ukraine. Israel deserves something better.

    1. I am sure – coming out of a bubble – things look strange to you. But where did I criticise any of the politicians? And defend? There is none of that either. In fact the only ‘criticism’ in the page is about the Oslo process (which was neccessary to explain the demise of the peace bloc) and Bennett – who most certainly betrayed his own voter base (and is therefore relevant to this political analysis as his party is left without voters).

      What you seek is an anti-Netanyahu diatribe. Fear not – you will see plenty of that in the coming months. This website however deals with truth.

    2. I’m not sure how helpful the Putin references are Robin. The leaders of all the parties here know and understand the diplomatic tightrope that is being walked. We are intent on destroying all Iranian advanced weaponry being deployed in Syria and Lebanon and are very successful at so doing. This mission is dependent on flying into airspace occupied by Soviet aircraft and protected by Soviet air defences. We maintain total superiority here but any collateral damage would create huge restrictions on our actions and certainly cause an international incident. Therefore, and notwithstanding our obvious sympathies with Ukraine, we smile at the Kremlin and make them feel relevant and influential in the region. In turn they restrict their response to strongly worded condemnations of our actions. This way the delicate balance is maintained.

      BTW, I am not a supporter of the LIkud or Mr Netanyahu and where domestic matters are concerned have huge anxieties that his potential reappearance on the election landscape will see a return to angry, divisive and self serving politics. I am also somewhat dissapointed in the emotive language used by our host in this comment section about former PM Bennett. This does nothing to advance calm discussion about Israel but I am guessing that this is beyond the scope and aims of this article.

  2. I thought your blog was an online manifestation of your antisemitism victim fantasies.

    Come on DC, where’s the (Kosher) beef?

    Your readers demand some vintage DC, moaning about how you and your so-called “Jewish” mates are victims of imagined prejudice and discrimination, not some drivel about the Zio-Nazi state elections.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to pray 🙏✡️

        1. You are literally sharing footage of me talking to an antisemite who says – in that very conversation – that the Jews control the police.
          And you are using carefully edited footage that deliberately excludes the antisemitic attack I faced.

          None of that has anything to do with Israel or Zionism. So why are you on the side of the Jew haters?

        2. ImaM Oron,

          Your Terrorist Hamass lovin’, Terrorist Hezbola lovin’, Jihadi lovin’ Laboor Party suffered its Worst Loss at the Polls since 1935.

          https://www.bbc.com/news/av/election-2019-50768605

          Now David is an Influencer within a small circle, but Racist LaBOORs CRUSHING DEFEAT was due to the public’s disgust with Jihadism.

          Happy Eternal Nakba to All – even the dwarf ROC (Racist of Colour).

          🙂

  3. I know that nasty Cohen character is a vile anti-Semite. Makes us REAL Jews look bad.

    I’M JEWISH!! – AND A RABBI!! So your tactic to put me on the defensive by accusing me of siding with “Jew haters” has failed.

    1. ImaM Oron,

      You are Full Of Shite.

      Happy Eternal Nakba! 🙂

      BTW, just 6 days ago, July 7th, was the …

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7_July_2005_London_bombings

      The 7 July 2005 London bombings, often referred to as 7/7, were a series of four coordinated suicide attacks carried out by Islamist terrorists in London that targeted commuters travelling on the city’s public transport system during the morning rush hour.

      Three terrorists separately detonated three homemade bombs in quick succession aboard London Underground trains across the city and, later, a fourth terrorist detonated another bomb on a double-decker bus.

      Apart from the bombers, 52 UK residents of 18 different nationalities were killed and more than 700 were injured in the attacks, making it the UK’s deadliest terrorist incident since the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 near Lockerbie, as well as the country’s first Islamist suicide attack.

      The explosions were caused by improvised explosive devices made from triacetone triperoxide, packed into backpacks.

      The bombings were followed two weeks later by a series of attempted attacks that failed to cause injury or damage.

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