Six Unexpected Lessons the Election Taught Us About Israelis

Despite doomsday predictions of a sharp turn to the right and mounting disinterestedness, Israeli voters proved that they have a clear vision for their country, and that it's an inclusive and moderate one.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Just have a look back at the headlines that appeared during this election campaign, especially those that appeared in the international media. They all dealt with Israel's lurch to the right, the rise of the ultra-nationalists, the increasing strength of the religious and deepening weakness of Israel's left. This morning, even before the final results are in, it is already clear that a seriously weakened Benjamin Netanyahu cannot possibly form a right-wing-religious coalition, as the centrist bloc of parties - Yesh Atid, Labor, Hatnuah and Kadima - is of equal strength to Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi's bloc. The ultra-Orthodox parties have not grown while the only openly left-wing Zionist party, Meretz, has doubled in size.

This can't be labeled as a victory for the center-left by any stretch of the imagination. Netanyahu is still the only party leader positioned to form a coalition and the fact that there are five different parties with different agendas in the center-left – as well as five inflated egos at their helm - does not bode well for bona-fide cooperation and coordination within the camp. However, the 2013 election taught us a few important lessons about Israelis that seem to fly in the face of what has become almost received wisdom.

1. Middle ground majority - Of the four electoral blocs – right-wing, ultra-Orthodox, center-left and Israeli Arab, the center-left is by far the largest. The two main parties of the right, Likud-Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi, also tried to portray themselves as catering to the middle class and succeeded in attracting at least part of those votes. This confirms the belief that despite all the demographic changes, Israelis are still essentially middle-ground and middle-class creatures.

2. Religious politics is out – Shas more or less held on. UTJ may have gained another seat but the soldiers' votes – due on Thursday - will probably cut them back to size. Habayit Hayehudi grew from seven seats (after its merger with the National Union) to 11, which is impressive but altogether means that less than a quarter of Israelis voted for (Jewish) religious parties. This is far less impressive, given that Habayit Hayehudi made a conscious appeal to secular voters. Israelis still overwhelmingly prefer parties that transcend religious divides (at least between Jews. The divide between Jews and Arabs is alive and well).

3. Willingness to give opportunities to newcomers – Yair Lapid is not alone. Together with him an unprecedented 50 first-time MKs are set to be sworn in. Over a quarter of Israelis gave their votes to Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, parties led by political rookies and consisting largely of fresh candidates (all of Yesh Atid's and eight of Habayit's 11 MKs are newcomers). Most of Labor's MKs are also new, and the party leader has no ministerial experience. On the other hand, Hatnuah, a party of political veterans, Likud-Beiteinu which presented the same faces and Shas, which brought back Aryeh Deri from political exile, failed to take off.

4. Pluralism sells, tribalism denounced – The parties that did well in these elections are those that tried to present a diverse list of candidates, religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, new immigrants and residents of the peripheral areas. Sometimes these efforts were transparent and the results not always particularly representative but they were noted. Meretz, Yesh Atid, Labor, Habayit Hayehudi, Hatnuah, all made gains with lists including different strands of Israeli society (though only Meretz is sending a non-Jewish MK to the next Knesset).

5. Policy still matters – Likud-Beiteinu ran without providing the voters with any platform or policy details. Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, for their part, both published detailed manifestos. Likud won't be making that mistake again. Apparently, Israelis want to be taken seriously.

6. One-trick ponies bound to fail – Shelly Yacimovich failed to sell herself to Israelis with a campaign based solely on economic issues. Tzipi Livni did even worse by focusing only on the peace process. Netanyahu tried to convince Israelis that they needed a strong leader against Israel's enemies and a mere quarter of them bought it. Israelis have a long list of pressing issues and expect all of them to be addressed.

Israel's party leaders cast their ballots in the election for the 19th Knesset.Credit: Moti Milrod, GPO, Tomer Appelbaum, Emil Salman, Nir Keidar, Shiran Granot



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