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Jewish Israeli voters move right, Israel Democracy Institute reveals

The incremental shift in the characteristic of voters falls against a backdrop of fundamental division in Israel that has led to years of political deadlock

Israelis cast their ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections on March 2, 2020. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Jewish Israeli voters are divided into three political camps – left, center and right – but, according to Dr. Or Anabi of the Israel Democracy Institute, the left has shrunk and the center has grown. 

Since 2012, Anabi reported, the left has shrunk from 28% of Israeli voters to 11%, while the center grew to 30% of voters. According to the researcher, the growth of the center can be attributed to the establishment of the Yesh Atid political party, which represents the secular middle class, or “the center of Israeli society.” 

“This is the metric that reflects the social protest, which increased the center’s strength,” Anabi said, “and you cannot detach this from the influence of Yesh Atid, since that is when [Israeli Prime Minister] Yair Lapid first entered politics.”

In 2019, in the first of Israel’s four elections in two years, when the centrist-liberal Blue and White political alliance first ran in the elections, “identification with the center reached an all-time high of 33%,” Anabi said. However, “from that time on, the center has been sliding right and the rhetoric is now focused on who is the ‘authentic right.’” 

“The rise of the center did not produce a significant decline in the right, but derived chiefly from the decline of the left,” he said.

Anabi reported that Jewish Israeli voters who define themselves as “leftists” are predominantly secular (83%) and Ashkenazi (61%), with a large proportion (40%) earning an above-average income. Secular, well-off, Ashkenazi voters have voted largely for the left-wing’s Meretz, the social-democratic Labor or the center’s Yesh Atid.  

At the other end of the political spectrum, Jewish Israeli voters who identify as “right-wing” are more diverse religiously: According to Anabi, “about a quarter are secular, a quarter are ‘traditionists,’ a third are traditional and religious, and 15% are ultra-Orthodox.”

Furthermore, the dividing lines among the political parties have an ethnic component, with 58% of the center-right’s Likud party and 75% of the Haredi, religious Shas party defining themselves as Sephardic [descendants of Iberian Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal]. 

Only a minority within these parties – 21% in Likud and 3% in Shas – define themselves as Ashkenazi [descendants of diaspora Jews who lived in Germany and France during the Middle Ages]. 

“The picture in Religious Zionist party is similar to that in Yamina, with an even distribution between Sephardi (42%) and Ashkenazi (38%) voters. Not surprisingly, among Torah Judaism voters, the absolute majority (84%) define themselves as Ashkenazi,” Anabi elaborated. 

When it comes to income, 39% of right-wing voters have a below-average income. For right-wing voters, about one-third preferred the Likud in the last election, while the remaining two-thirds split their votes among the other parties on the right.  

Jewish Israeli voters are so divided on fundamental levels, based on identity and socioeconomic status, the division itself has contributed to the political deadlock seen in recent years.

“The data reveals that Israel’s political system is split by many divisions which often overlap,” Anabi wrote. “For example, many of Yesh Atid’s voters are Ashkenazi, secular, above-average earners, whereas many traditional, Sephardi, below-average earners tend to vote Likud, and to a lesser, but not insignificant degree, Shas.” 

“This situation has led to the political stalemate seen in Israel in recent years,” he added. “When the splits are along identity and status lines, it is far more difficult to change individuals’ positions.” 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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