“More broadly, the story of the election is the implosion of the center-left and the vivid and growing strength of the radical right.” David Remnick (New Yorker, Jan. 21, 2013)
Actual results? If Shas and United Torah Judaism are considered “radical right,” then I guess Remnick is still wrong. Shas and United Torah Judaism, however, are not radical right, they’re opportunistic right and will cut a deal with whomever is willing to be their best benefactor.
On the other hand, the center-left managed to gain 48 seats, which in effect means that Kadima, which won 8 seats if you count their and Livni’s HaTnua as one, has been replaced by a more left-center Yesh Atid. Likud, Israel Beitenu and Habait Hayehudi managed 42 seats between them despite entering this last Knesset with 40 and HaBayit Hayehudi growing from 3 to 11 seats, mostly by stealing them from Likud.
In other words, Israel still has a vibrant center-left and even center-right, although we’ll know more about this as a coalition forms.
North American and other Western prognosticators are fed their information about Israel primarily by people who tell them what they want to hear, usually in excellent English. As a result, they don’t truly have Israel’s pulse. If all you do is read Ha’aretz, 972mag, Open Zion and their ilk, you end up reading all about the horrors of Israel and actually believing this is what Israel is about. Take a look again at Remnick’s quote. These people who speak so loudly for the far-left are a minority by Israeli standards, and although they’re effective in getting the word out, speak English well and criticize Israel as much, if not more than the BBC, they still get many things very wrong because their views are skewed by their strong political bias.
Israel has a vibrant democracy. Anyone reading Ha’aretz, 972mag, Open Zion and the like, has been reading story after story about the demise of Israeli democracy. It’s ironic because these same sources like to play up the “moderate” nature of the PA, led by a man who was supposed to be up for re-election almost 5 years ago, at the end of his first four year term. The PA (and Hamas) get a pass from these commentators because of their soft racism of low expectations from Arab politics. But Israel, which supposedly was turning to the extreme right and having its politics trampled by extremists, has proven to be an extremely resilient and true democracy. Fully 2 new parties garnered 25 votes among them, while the party which won the most seats in the last Knesset has been reduced to two seats. Even the Arab parties picked up two new seats and Israel Beiteinu is essentially history and will most likely merge permanently with Likud in time. Habayit Hayehudi electrified and influenced voters, probably doubling their realistic numbers from the early part of 2001 when they were a couple of different, smaller, parties. Turnout in this election was over 60% in the general population and 80% in the IDF, which remains an army of young Israelis.
Politicians may typically be cynical and somewhat narcissistic, but take a look at who is leading the parties and who some of their fellow travelers are and you see that a large portion of Israel’s political spectrum is populated by ideologues who care deeply about Israel and the type of society they are trying to build there. Sure, there are many problems and many sides tugging hard on their end of the rope, but ultimately, it is hard to argue with the seriousness of the beliefs and positions of Lapid, Bennet, Yacimovish, Livni (yes, Livni who refused to become PM if the price of putting together a coalition meant capitulating to Shas’s demands), Gal On and Netanyahu, not to mention the folks on the Arab parties’ list. This is very encouraging because at the end of the day, you need people who seek to improve the circumstances of the state and its citizens as opposed to their own status.
Domestic issues are taking on a role no less important than security issues. Make no mistake, Yesh Atid and Labor won 34 seats between them because their voters assumed a soft center-left “two state a la barak” position, but were primarily concerned with these parties’ positions on domestic issues. Likud, on the other hand, which positioned itself as the party that will “protect” Israel, lost net seats. In some ways, the lesson here is that life is becoming more and more normalized in Israel over time. The Arab-Israeli conflict remains a concern, but in many respects, Israel’s strength and secure position is now a given among Israelis, or at least is felt to be sufficiently static that they can focus on bread and butter. This is a healthy change and an important one as Israel has to address societal conflicts and find means to correct difficult circumstances for many of its citizens.
Along the same lines, Iran did not seem to be a key issue and the settlements were also somewhat of a bust in terms of what interested voters. That may mean resignation to the fact that the average Israeli can’t affect either issue greatly, but it may also mean that Israelis don’t deem either issue to be a priority.
Ayelet Shaked is beautiful (and very impressive).