Can You Guess Which Israeli Party's Voters Support Settlements the Most?

Among Israel's plethora of right-wing parties, you may think those most vocal in favor of the settlements are their biggest supporters. You'd be wrong.

Government leaders, including the heads of the Likud, Habayit Hayehudi, Israel Beiteinu, United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, at a special meeting ahead of Jerusalem Day in 2016.
Kobi Gideon, GPO

Which Israelis are the biggest supporters of settlement expansion and West Bank annexation?

Surely those who voted for the settler-aligned Habayit Hayehudi party.

Good try, but no.

Then, definitely those who voted for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party. After all, Netanyahu drew huge numbers of settlers over to his camp in the last election.

Wrong again.

According to some of the unpublished findings, obtained by Haaretz, of a brand new poll, those voters who hold the most extreme right-wing political views in the country have no official affiliation with the settler movement. By and large, they don’t even serve in the army. The biggest supporters of settlement expansion and West Bank annexation are actually ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews – those who voted for the United Torah Judaism party. 

In its latest monthly “Peace Index” poll, published last week, the Israel Democracy Institute asked respondents about their opinions on settlement expansion and on West Bank annexation. The poll found that a majority of 54.6 percent of all Israelis opposed exploiting a “friendlier” U.S. administration to expand settlement construction, as opposed to 40.4 percent who were in favor. 

Among those who favored settlement expansion, IDI did not publish a breakdown by party affiliation. That breakdown, published here for the first time, shows that among Israelis who voted for United Torah Judaism, an overwhelming 83 percent favored settlement expansion – more than in any other party. A member of the ruling coalition, UTJ currently holds six seats in the Knesset. 

Next in line was the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beiteinu, supported largely by Russian speakers, with 82 percent of its voters favoring settlement expansion. Among Habayit Hayehudi voters, 79 percent were in favor, and among those who voted for Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi party (most of whose voters, unlike those who vote for UTJ, do serve in the army) 73 percent supported settlement expansion. Among those who voted for Kulanu, the right-centrist party that is also part of the ruling coalition, fewer than half (42 percent) favored settlement expansion. 

Within the opposition parties, support for settlement expansion did not even approach 10 percent. That includes those who voted for the centrist Yesh Atid party, which in recent polls has emerged as a serious threat to Likud.

In the last monthly “Peace Index” poll, respondents were also asked how they viewed annexation of the West Bank, amid growing support for such a move among right-wing politicians. A majority of Israelis, 57.6 percent, said they opposed annexation of the West Bank, while barely a third were in favor.

In this case as well, IDI did not publish a breakdown by party affiliation. That breakdown, published here for the first time, shows that 74 percent of UTJ voters – more than any other party – supported annexation. Next in line was the settler-aligned Habayit Hayehudi, with 73 percent, followed by Shas with 58 percent and Yisrael Beiteinu with 50 percent. Among Likud voters, less than half (47 percent) favored annexation.  Among the opposition parties, the percentages were again much lower.

Two of the largest West Bank settlements – Modi’in Illit and Beitar Illit – are populated almost exclusively by ultra-Orthodox Israelis. These two settlements have also been the source of much of the Jewish population growth beyond the Green Line in recent years. 

Professor Tamar Hermann, co-editor of the monthly “Peace Index,” said she was not surprised by the findings of the latest “Peace Index,” noting that ultra-Orthodox Israelis are drawn to the West Bank settlements because of the much cheaper price of housing there.

But it is not only socio-economic factors that explain their massive support for the settlement movement, she added. In decades past, the rabbinical leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel tended to embrace dovish views. That is no longer the case, and as Hermann noted, Haredi voters are increasingly positioning themselves on the far right of the Israeli political spectrum. 

This trend became evident in the latest Israel Democracy Index, an annual survey of public opinion published by the IDI. The 2016 report took a deep look, for the first time, at the country's ultra-Orthodox community. It found that 75 percent of ultra-Orthodox Israelis self-identify politically as “right” or “moderate right,” as compared with only 51 percent of non-Haredi Jews.

The ultra-Orthodox are also more prejudiced against Arabs than most other Israeli Jews, or as the report defined them, “most extreme in their desire to close Arabs out of decision-making circles and keep them far removed from their personal lives.”

Thus, for example, the ultra-Orthodox were the only group among Jewish Israelis polled in which a majority was not willing to have Arabs as friends, neighbors or coworkers. The majority of the ultra-Orthodox also said they believed Jews should receive more rights than Arabs (only a minority of non-Haredi Jews held this view), and a majority was also of the opinion that Arabs do not suffer discrimination (as opposed to a minority of non-Haredi Jews).