Israeli Election Results
Israel Update - Week of October 30, 2022
Israeli Election Results: On Tuesday, November 1, Israelis returned to the polls to elect a government for the fifth time in three years. This time it looks like it’s going to stick.
As in the past, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s Likud Party was the largest party, receiving 32 out of the 120 seats. The runner up was current Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, receiving 24 seats. In Israel, it’s all about coalitions. Combined with the Religious Zionist Party (14 seats) and the Ultraorthodox (Haredi) Parties, Bibi has a bloc of 64 seats. On Election Day, polls were giving him no more than 61 seats, a precariously small majority. An additional three seats provides considerable stability. Yair Lapid has conceded the elections, and the next step is for President Isaac Herzog to make it official by giving Bibi 28 days to put together a coalition. Bibi thinks he can do it in ten.
While the size of Bibi’s majority is impressive, things could easily have turned out different. A party must pass an electoral threshold by receiving more than 3.25% of the vote. If it receives less than 3.25%, the votes it receives are discounted and the members of the Knesset are allocated proportionally according to the remaining votes. The far left Meretz Party missed the threshold by less than 4,000 votes. Had Meretz passed the threshold, Bibi’s coalition would have been reduced to 62 seats. Balad, an Arab party that opposes the concept of Israel as a Jewish State, missed the threshold by about 5,000 votes. Had both Balad and Meretz passed the electoral threshold, Bibi would not have the 61 seats required to put together a coalition, and a sixth election would have been unavoidable.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the election results was the connection between geographic location and voting preference. The U.S. election map can be broadly divided into the east and west coasts, which largely vote Democrat, and the deep south and the heartland (other than larger metropolitan areas) tending to vote Republican. Israeli voting has always been on tribal lines: The religious tend to vote for the religious parties, the tech-savvy elite for Yesh Atid (which has replaced the Labor Party as their party of choice), and the working class for the Likud. This time, a geographic component of the electorate was unmistakable. The Tel Aviv metropolitan area along with the center of the country voted overwhelmingly for Yesh Atid while the periphery (the north and the south) and Jerusalem voted overwhelmingly for the Likud and its coalition partners. This indicates that tribal Israel is subdividing geographically, as well. “Families” are moving together. The high-tech crowd is leaving Jerusalem, and the religious are moving to religious towns such as in Judea and Samaria. This serves to reinforce tribal differences and does not bode well for Israel.
The Israeli elite are not taking the election results well. Many of my coworkers who serve in upper management in the defense industry are gravely concerned. They are concerned that a country run by “extremist right-wingers'' will quickly isolate Israel: The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, a long-time Israel aficionado, wrote after the election that “The Israel we knew is gone” and that the new government will “send friends of Israel in congress fleeing.” The Israeli elite are afraid that Israel will soon become a theocracy.
A joke I have received on WhatsApp about 5 times in the past 3 days warns drivers to stay off a certain road in Tel Aviv as police are testing drivers there to see if they have eaten milk and meat together (prohibited by Jewish law). My daughter, who works in a school in an affluent and well-educated county, overheard a conversation in the teachers’ lounge in which a female teacher emphatically announced that she will never cover her hair (a religious practice). These people are petrified that religious coercion is just around the corner.
Their fear could have been what propelled Bibi over the finish line.
Israel was created to be a homeland for the Jewish People – not necessarily a religious state but a Jewish State. More and more, Israelis are returning to their roots. They are not necessarily becoming practicing Jews, but Judaism is increasingly becoming part of their core identity. They listen to music with lyrics from scripture. The restaurants they eat at now serve kosher food. They attend mass prayer services on the beach on Friday afternoons to welcome the Sabbath. For them, Israel is not some kind of Canada or Australia in which the national language just happens to be Hebrew. They prefer to cast their vote for a party that unabashedly sees Israel as Jewish and Zionist, even if some of the party leaders are a little rough around the edges.
Finally, this election, like every other election before it, shows how little the pundits know. Last week, the author of this blog wrote, “According to the most recent polls, Bibi will garner around 60 seats. If he is lucky, maybe he’ll get 61, enough seats to keep him in power for maybe a year. What is ironic is that about two thirds of all Israelis are politically conservative. A strong right-wing majority is eminently achievable. It would be a shame were we to fritter this opportunity away.” He was completely wrong.
The Israeli voters have clearly spoken.
They want to live in a country that is politically and religiously conservative. They also want to live in a liberal democracy in which every person is free to choose his or her own way of expression. It is my hope and my prayer that Bibi can put together a government that merges these two visions, a government that can give Israel the stability and the leadership that she so badly needs.
Wishing you a quiet week,