Israel votes, part 2: winners and losers [updated]

With now 99% of votes counted, here are the results, courtesy of Times of Israel:

  • 31 Likud – Israel Our Home cartel (center-right + Russian immigrant party)
  • 19 Yesh Atid (new centrist party)
  • 15 Labour (moderate left)
  • 11 Shas (ultra-Orthodox, Jews from Arab countries)
  • 11 Jewish Home (fusion of National Religious Party and other right-wing group)
  • 7 United Torah Judaism (ultra-Orthodox, Askhenazi)
  • 6 HaTnua/The Movement (effectively the Tzipi Livni Party)
  • 6 Meretz (looney-left)
  • 5 United Arab List
  • 4 Chadash (“former” communists, mostly Arab)
  • 3 Balad (Arab nationalists)
  • 2 Kadima (remnant of the old centrist party)

In Israel, who actually gets to sit in the Knesset/Assembly is totally determined by ranking on the party lists. At the website of the Central Elections Committee, here are partial lists in English, and full lists in Hebrew.

The clear winner: Yesh Atid, which was catapulted from nowhere to the second largest party. Ideologically, it is pro-market economically and centrist on the Arab-Israeli conflict, while advocating a new approach to synagogue-state relations. Sectorially speaking, it markets itself (with apparent success) as the voice of Israel’s middle class. In fact, in many regards it seems more like the moderate wing of the Likud than the “center-left” party some in the media claim it is. The Likud leader, outgoing PM (and PM-presumptive) Binyamin Netanyahu already reached out to their leader about coalition negotiations.

Said leader, veteran journalist and TV anchor Yair Lapid, is the son of the founder of another meteoric (albeit short-lived) centrist party, the late anticlerical firebrand Yosef “Tommy” Lapid. (In fact, Tommy’s “Shinui”/Change was the second party of that name, an earlier [Democratic Movement for] Change having merged into Meretz many years ago and consequently having faded into irrelevance.) In part in response to concerns about the “antireligious”  character of the slate, Lapid placed a fairly well-known modern-Orthodox rabbi (Shai Piron) as his number 2 and another (TImes of Israel blogger Dov Lipman) in a borderline electable position (which turned out to be electable after all). Others on the slate include mayors of various towns such as Herzliya’s Yael German, media commentators like Ofer Shelach, a former police chief (Michael “Mickey” Levy) and a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security/intelligence service), Yaacov Peri. Notably absent are national political figures: there may have been a “throw them all out” factor at work, even if only on a secondary level.

Clear loser #1: The main opposition party in the outgoing Knesset, Kadima/”Forward”, was originally founded by none other than Ariel Sharon (who is technically still alive but has been in a vegetative state following his 2005 massive cerebral hemorrhage) . It fell victim to, essentially, the inflated egos of party leader, onetime foreign minister Tzipporah “Tzipi” Livni and her rival, former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz. They went to the polls with rival slates, his retaining the Kadima name, hers marketed as both HaTnu`a/”The Movement” and “The Tzipi Livni Party”. Together they pulled a paltry fraction of Kadima’s old Knesset representation: 7 seats for HaTnua (including such decidedly noncentrist figures as longtime Haifa mayor, Amram Mitzna, Labour’s 2003 candidate for the prime ministership,  and former trade union leader and defense minister Amir “A-clown” Peretz), 2 for the remnant Kadima (Mofaz himself and former Likud MK Israel Hasson). The only reason why the joke named Amir Peretz was able to return from the political wilderness may have been the one good thing he did: while defense minister, he decided to fund the Iron Dome system against ‘expert’ advice. (Even this writer, who defers to none in his contempt for the Histadrut trade union, is willing to grant him that.)

Livni has been running a hysterical campaign claiming that only she (a onetime Mossad agent) can save Israel from international isolation and  worse. If she had any sense of reality, she would retire from politics at this point; of course, the next one in line  (Mitzna) might well take part of his faction back to Labor.

The failed gamble: When Netanyahu decided to merge his list with the (mostly) Russian-immigrant list of outgoing foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman,  my first thought was “what are they thinking”? It was obvious to me that a merger would actually drive people away rather than draw people, but perhaps these two men knew something I didn’t. Lieberman is a complex figure: a mix of right-wing posturing with some genuinely out-of-the-box ideas that defy conventional left-right classification (such as a land swap between settlements and the Arab Triangle in the Galilee — an idea originally proposed by geographer Arnon Sofer), but who has never shed the “shtarker” image from his days as Netanyahu’s bureau chief, and has several past and pending (possibly politically motivated) corruption investigations against him. To Russian immigrants he (an immigrant from Moldova) was an electoral magnet, to many veteran Likudniks a turnoff. My guess is Netanyahu handed Yesh Atid votes on a silver plate with this merger. Then again, cunning politician as he is, he may have planned exactly that in the hope of pulling Yesh Atid into his coalition as a counterweight against the increasingly vocal radical faction within his party. And who knows, Lieberman (his onetime protégé) may have been a willing partner in this.

High hopes: The Jewish Home list, heir to the National Religious Party (modern-Orthodox and pro-settlements) of old, as well as newer nationalist elements, did well (increasing their representation from a combined 7 seats to 11), but not nearly as well as they has hoped — indeed, it was widely expected to emerge as either the 2nd or 3rd largest party, and ends up as fifth. Some FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) propaganda on the part of the Likud may have contributed to this result, although this tarnished the Likud probably as much as it hurt the Jewish Home. An even more radical breakaway faction Otzma leYisrael/”Strength to Israel” led by right-wing veteran Aryeh Eldad MD did not make the electoral threshold.

Otherwise: Of the ultra-Orthodox lists, Shas held steady (which they tried to spin into a “victory”) while UTJ somewhat surprisingly gained two seats. Why ‘surprisingly’? Shas, through playing the ‘ethnic card’ on behalf of Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin, has an electoral base outside the ultra-Orthodox community, while the Ashkenazi UTJ’s following outside the ultra-Orthodox community could probably comfortably meet in my living room 😉 Perhaps — but this is speculation — some chareidim that voted for other parties in the past or did not bother to vote may have been motivated by the ‘threat’ of having to serve their country like everybody else. Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, a Shas maverick who was ousted from his party for daring to say something blatantly obvious (namely, that chareidim need to go to the army or perform alternative civilian national service, then work for a living like everybody else rather than be supported by the taxpayer), ran on his own ticket but did not make the electoral threshold. Which is a pity — his presence in the Knesset might have been the beginning of an adult dialogue with the chareidi community.

The looney-left Meretz had hit rock-bottom in the last elections, barely making the electoral threshold. Now they pulled six seats, which the insufferable Zehava Gal-On has of course been crowing about. The last more or less sane person on their list, kibbutznik and Knesset veteran Avshalom Vilan, will not be around this Knesset, as he was seventh on the list.

The “former” Communists of Chadash (“New”, but also Hebrew letterword for Democratic Front for Equality — heirs to the Israel Communist List) is functionally an Arab party, even though they have one technically Jewish MK (Dov Khenin). It pulls its usual 3-4 seats, with another four going to the United Arab List and two to the utterly despicable Balad — whose founder fled abroad following credible accusations of treason and espionage.

How the mighty have fallen: Labour’s ancestor parties, the Eretz Israel Laborers Party of Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion and the Unity of Labour faction with which Yitzhak Rabin z”l was later associated, basically ran the country continuously from 1948 until the Great Upheaval of 1977. In the last elections, an increasingly rudderless and out-of-touch Labour hit a historical nadir of 8 seats, to which arguably the 5 seats of former Labour PM and outgoing defense minister Ehud Barak’s “Independence” list should be added. Barak is leaving politics after a militarily very distinguished but politically mixed career: his one political achievement, which nobody can gainsay him, was tearing the mask off Yasser Arafilth during the Camp David negotiations.

Labour went into the elections led by former state-run media “journalist” Shelly Yechimovich, ran a campaign nearly as hysterical as Tzipi Livni’s, and is now trying to spin an increase from 13 to 15 seats into some sort of mandate to replace Bibi. Somewhere in the Negev desert town of Sde Boker (Morning Field), David Ben-Gurion is spinning in his grave.


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