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ANALYSIS

Why the Israeli election results should not be surprising

Sixty-two percent of Israelis identify as right wing, according to the Israel Democracy Institute

An Israeli woman casts her vote at a voting station in Efrat, during the Knesset election, Nov. 1, 2022. (Photo: Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The change government of the last 504 days apparently did not change the people of Israel who, for more than two decades, have been taking a sharp turn to the right.

With the ballots almost all counted, it looks like former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc will score at least 62 mandates – and as much as 65 – putting an end to the country’s political stalemate and ushering in a right-wing, religious government. 

At the same time, the change government, which was formed by a very unnatural bond and which was not indicative of Israeli society, will be led out to pasture. None of the members of the previous coalition will serve in the next coalition, except one – Idit Silman, who defected from Yamina to Likud.

The people of Israel sent the current government a strong message yesterday: You failed to represent us. They flocked to the polls in exceptionally high numbers – voter turnout was more than 70% – to cast their ballots for the parties they felt that they could trust and not for the candidates who said they were right-wing in 2021 but then joined a coalition with Labor, Meretz and Ra’am. 

Avigdor Liberman’s party crashed to as few as five seats with around 85% of votes counted. Ayelet Shaked’s Jewish Home, the party that once belonged to former prime minister Naftali Bennett, did not even cross the threshold. And the awkward alliance of Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar’s parties, known as National Unity, received no more than its expected 12 seats.

The Bennett-Lapid government's difficulty to survive is revealed in the data regarding affiliation to the different camps – right, left and center, explained the Israel Democracy Institute’s Dr. Or Anabi over the summer. 

“As opposed to the majority of political parties that made up the coalition whose voters were affiliated with the Center or Left, the vast majority (90%) of Yamina voters were affiliated with the Right,” he wrote in an article published on IDI’s website. “In general, the percentage of voters from the ultra-Orthodox, religious, and traditional-religious sectors who voted for parties that were members of the current coalition was very low.”

Around 80% of Israel’s population is either traditional, Religious Zionist or ultra-Orthodox, according to official reports. 

Tuesday's voters, it seems, were voting as much against the current government as they were for the former prime minister. 

MAJORITY OF ISRAELIS IDENTIFY AS RIGHT

Israelis have been moving to the right for quite a while and they took a big leap since 2019. 

IDI data shows that somewhere around 40% to 50% of Israelis self-identified as right-wing between 1986 and 2019, with minor exceptions, such as in 1995 when former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. That year, fewer Israelis identified with the right.

However, in the last three years, there has been an uptick in the self-identified right. IDI reported at the end of August 2022 that 62% of Israelis said they were right-wing.

Only 24% said they were Center and 11% were left.

“In 2012, the share of those who belong to the Left contracted dramatically (from 28% to 11%), to the benefit of the Center, which grew to 30%, thanks to the establishment of Yesh Atid,” IDI wrote in an explainer. “This is the metric that reflects the social protest, which increased the Center’s strength, and you cannot detach this from the influence of Yesh Atid, since that is when Yair Lapid first entered politics.”

In 2019, with the establishment of Gantz’s Blue and White party, identification with the center reached an all-time high of 33%. 

“But from that time on the Center has been sliding Right and the rhetoric is now focused on who is the ‘authentic right,’” IDI wrote. “The rise of the Center did not produce a significant decline in the Right but derived chiefly from the decline of the Left.”

Of course, Lapid did not do a good job of campaigning in this election either. He failed to lead a bloc and rather only secured mandates for his own party. With close to 90% of votes counted, Yesh Atid looks like it will have around 24 seats. 

But his efforts cannibalized other parties in the bloc, in Meretz's case, possibly to the point of death. 

While Netanyahu ensured partnerships remained strong among the National Religious, Jewish Power and Noam parties and between the ultra-Orthodox lists that make up United Torah Judaism, Lapid failed to create the necessary cooperation between Meretz and Labor or the Arab parties. 

The race results indicated that the change Israelis sought was to go back in the direction they had been going in all along. 

Maayan Hoffman is a veteran American-Israeli journalist and strategic communications consultant. She is the former news editor, head of strategy and senior health analyst for the Jerusalem Post, where she launched the outlet's Health & Wellness, Business & Innovation and Christian World portals.

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