Israel elections: how a small Islamist party suddenly finds itself a kingmaker

Who says life in Israel is boring? We went to our fourth election in two years. Nearly all “regular” votes have been counted: left to count are about 400,000 “double envelope” votes where people voted in person, but not at their designated polling place. (This includes IDF soldiers who voted on base, hospital patients, COVID19 patients in isolation, and people who flew in from abroad to vote – yes, some of us are crazy enough to fly home just to vote! — and hence voted at the airport before going into Corona isolation. We do not have any vote-by-fraud, er, mail, thank G-d.)

We elect our 120-seat unicameral parliament, the Knesset [=assembly in Hebrew; beit knesset=synagogue], through proportional representation with an electoral threshold of 3.25% (read: minimum 4 seats in the 120-seat Knesset). Seat allocation is done using the Belgian D’Hondt method (a.k.a. the Jefferson method, as D’Hondt’s system, first implemented in the 1900 Belgian elections, was based on US President Thomas Jefferson’s 1792 proposal).

The big shock overnight was that one of the two Arab lists, the moderate Islamist Ra`am, was projected not to make the electoral threshold. This would have reduced the Israeli Arab parties from the 15 seats of the Joint List to just 6. As it turned out, results from some Arab and Bedouin communities came in late, and at present Ra`am has a little over 4%.

PartyLeaderOutgoingPresentdifferenceblock differenceblock
LikudBenjamin Netanyahu3730-7-3Moderate right
New HopeGideon Sa’ar264
Yesh AtidYair Lapid16171-6Center
Blue and WhiteBenny Gantz128-4
TelemMoshe Ya’alon3withdrawn-3
Joint [Arab] ListAyman Odeh116-5-4 -5Arab
Ra’amMansour Abbas45 40
ShasAryeh Deri9900Chareidi
UTJMoshe Gafni770
Yisrael BeiteinuAvigdor Lieberman7700Russian
YaminaNaftali Bennett3744Right
LaborMerav Michaeli2755Left
MeretzNitzan Horowitz45 61 21 2Far left
Religious ZionistBezalel Smotrich2633Far right
Jewish HomeHagit Moshe1merged
KahanistsItamar Ben-Gvir0merged 

The results show a degree of polarization in that both left-wing and right-wing gained at the expense of the center bloc. Chareidi (“ultra-Orthodox”) and Russian immigrant blocs maintain their strength, and the Arab block loses 4 [update: 5] seats.

But the big story is of course that the pro-Netanyahu bloc, even if it joins with hitech exec Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (“Rightward”), has a minority. For its part, the anti-Netanyahu bloc can only get to 61 seats if both Arab parties join.

Now interestingly, Ra`am leader Mansour Abbas has not ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition.

Thus we find ourselves in the bizarre situation that a small Islamist party now finds itself the kingmaker in the Jewish state, thanks in no small part to Binyamin Netanyahu — already our longest-serving PM in history — “clinging to government like to the horns of the Altar”, as Avigdor Liberman picturesquely put it.

“I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours

But I think that G-d has a sick sense of humor

And when I die, I expect to find Him laughing…”

UPDATE: Times of Israel reports that overnight count changes nothing in above apportionment. The “Double Envelope” count over over 400,000 votes at other-than-assigned poll stations proceeds a bit more slowly, as each set of personal details on the outer envelope is cross-referenced to ensure the person has not also voted at another precinct. A final result is expected tomorrow morning.

UPDATE2: Final count is in: only change is one seat shifted from the Islamists to Meretz.

UPDATE3: https://www.timesofisrael.com/is-a-fifth-election-now-a-self-fulfilling-prophecy/

UPDATE3: Haviv Rettig Gur from the Times of Israel sees the election as “Brownian motion” hiding a steady-state:

Consider: Likud and Yamina together won 42 seats last year. Likud, Yamina and its offshoot Religious Zionism won 43 this time.

Blue and White won 33 seats last time. Yesh Atid and Gantz’s shrunken Blue and White, together with Sa’ar’s New Hope party whose voters mostly identified as centrists, now drew 31.

Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism won 16 seats between them in 2020; they won the same 16 on Tuesday.

The Arab parties and the left won 22 seats between them last time, 24 this time. Avigdor Liberman’s Russian-speaking hawkish-but-secularist party won seven then and seven now.

It’s as if someone had thrown half the parliament into the air in exasperation, only to watch them land in the exact same pattern. The parties may have changed, but the fundamental contours of the standoff did not.

4 thoughts on “Israel elections: how a small Islamist party suddenly finds itself a kingmaker

  1. That is truly an interesting result… And it will be even more interesting to see how it finally works out!

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