How Israeli Arab Voters Saved Meretz, the Druze Got Payback and Kibbutzniks Broke Tradition

Behind the numbers: A deep dive into how Israelis voted in the election

An Arab Israeli woman casts her vote during Israel's parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019 at a polling station in the northern Israeli town of Taiyiba
Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP

The results of the Israeli election show that the right-wing bloc won a resounding victory on Tuesday. But was this also the case in Israel’s major cities? And where, if anywhere, did left and centrist parties perform well?

In the months leading up to the election, it appeared that certain groups might withdraw their traditional support for the right over their grievances with the outgoing government. Members of Israel’s Druze community, for example, were furious about the nation-state law, passed last summer, which downgraded the status of non-Jews in the country. Russian speakers, who are overwhelmingly nonreligious, were furious about a new law that closed down most shops on Shabbat. Did they take their revenge at the ballot box?

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Most of the support for Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, which tied with Likud as the largest party, came from voters on the left. Was the party as successful in luring away voters in what is considered to be the last stronghold of the left — kibbutzim?

Arab voters cast their ballots overwhelmingly for the two Arab parties — Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-United Arab List. But were there Arab cities and towns where Jewish parties captured a significant share of the vote?

The fate of Hayamin Hehadash, the new right-wing party founded by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, remains in the balance, as it currently sits just below the 3.25 percent electoral threshold with almost all of the votes counted. The party, a breakaway from the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi, was supposed to appeal to the more moderate Orthodox voter. How well did the party do in the West Bank settlements, a key stronghold of the religious Zionist movement?

Diverse city
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And finally, did Rehovot retain its title as Israel’s bellwether city by accurately predicting the national breakdown of votes?

This detailed breakdown of votes by location provides answers to these questions...

Jerusalem v. Tel Aviv

Less than an hour’s drive separates them, but Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are more like two distinct planets demographically, as the election results show.

Two cities
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In Jerusalem, the ruling Likud won 25 percent of the vote (almost identical to its share nationwide, which was 26 percent). But another 37 percent opted for the two big ultra-Orthodox parties: United Torah Judaism and Shas. In the national tally, by contrast, these two parties won only 12 percent of the vote. And while Kahol Lavan picked up 26 percent of the national vote, in Jerusalem it barely captured 12 percent. The Union of Right-Wing Parties, which includes followers of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit, won 7 percent of the vote in Jerusalem — double its share nationwide.

In stark contrast, Kahol Lavan was the big winner in Tel Aviv with nearly 46 percent of the vote. Likud was a distant second with 19 percent, followed by Meretz and Labor, each with about 9 percent. (In Jerusalem, by contrast, Meretz and Labor each got only about 3 percent of the vote.)

Had the election taken place in the so-called State of Tel Aviv, the center-left bloc would have easily been able to form a government. Kahol Lavan also came out ahead in Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, with one-third of the vote, compared to 24 percent for Likud. But in Be’er Sheva, the capital of the Negev, Likud was way ahead with 43 percent, compared with 17 percent for Kahol Lavan.

Russian speakers say 'Da' to Bibi

Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, a nonreligious right-wing party, have traditionally been the biggest vote getters among Israel’s very large Russian-speaking population. Many Russian speakers were threatening to shift their loyalties after the Knesset passed a law last year prohibiting most shops from opening on Shabbat. If the cities with large concentrations of Russian speakers are any indication, they did not follow through with those threats.

Heartland
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Take Ashdod, for example, where for weeks on end last year Russian speakers — who account for about one-third of the local population — would take to the streets every Saturday night to protest the law. But Likud won 34 percent of the vote there and Yisrael Beiteinu another 12 percent (nationally, Yisrael Beiteinu, which mainly targets Russian speakers, took only 4 percent of the vote). Together, these two parties did as well, if not slightly better, than they did here in the 2015 election.

Although Kahol Lavan was expected to move into Likud territory here, it ended up with only 16 percent of the vote. In both Bat Yam and Ashdod, two other Russian-speaking strongholds, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu together captured more than half the local vote.

The Druze revenge

This Arab-speaking minority, whose members in the Galilee traditionally serve in the Israeli military, felt especially hurt and offended by the nation-state law. As the election results show, they got their revenge at the ballot box. In Daliat al-Carmel, the largest Druze city in the country, Kahol Lavan won 55 percent of the vote, with Meretz getting another 9 percent. Likud took 8 percent of the vote in 2015, but less than 3 percent in this election.

Druze
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Meretz’s best results anywhere in the country were in a Druze village in the upper Galilee, Beit Jann, where it captured nearly two-thirds of the vote (65 percent). The big draw for Meretz here was Ali Salalha, a former local school principal, who placed No. 5 on the party slate (ironically, not high enough to get into the Knesset).

Kahol Lavan won another 20 percent of the vote in Beit Jann. In 2015, by contrast, Meretz barely captured 6 percent of the vote in the village, where it trailed far behind the Zionist Union (an alliance between Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah) with 46 percent.

In other Druze towns and villages, Kahol Lavan and Meretz were again the most popular parties — beating out parties like Kulanu and Yisrael Beiteinu, which had been the big vote-getters in the last election.

Arabs voting in their droves ... for Meretz

It now seems clear that Meretz, the left-wing party that was hovering around the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, was saved by Arab voters who heeded last-minute calls to head out to the polling stations. Meretz picked up 39 percent of the vote in Kafr Qasem (more than any other party); 29 percent in Fureidis (also more than any other party); 25 percent in Fassuta; 24 percent in Tira; 22 percent in Mi’ilya; 17 percent in Abu Ghosh; and 13 percent in Jaljulya.

Arab vote
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Among the large Arab cities and towns, Meretz picked up 7 percent of the vote in Nazareth; 8 percent in Shfaram; and 9 percent in Baka al-Garbiyeh. Altogether, these votes are believed to have given the party the equivalent of at least one seat in the Knesset, pushing it over the electoral threshold.

Kibbutzniks forego tradition

Israel’s kibbutzim traditionally vote for Labor and Meretz, albeit not as overwhelmingly as they did in years past. Like many Israelis hoping to see an end to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule, kibbutzniks found themselves in a quandary: To vote for the party that best represented them ideologically or for the party with a better chance of unseating the prime minister?

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Based on the election results in 10 of Israel’s largest kibbutzim — those with a population of over 1,000 — that still adhere to traditional socialist values, it appears that strategy trumped ideology this time around. (This list comprised Shefayim, Sdot Yam, Ein Hamifratz, Mishmar Haemek, Ma’agan Michael, Ma’abarot, Yagur, Gan Shmuel and Hatzerim.)

In all but one of these kibbutzim, Kahol Lavan received more votes than any other party. The only exception was Be’eri, where Labor topped the list. Still, the party that ruled Israel for its first three decades did not fare as well on this Gaza border kibbutz in this election as it did in the last, receiving less than half the total number of votes in comparison to more than two-thirds of the vote in 2015.

Settlers embrace far right

In December, when Bennett and Shaked left Habayit Hayehudi to set up their new party, they explained the move as a desire to free themselves from the clutches of the radical rabbis affiliated with certain factions of their old party. Indeed, Hayamin Hehadash had both religious and nonreligious candidates on its ticket. In retrospect, whether they sneak into the Knesset or not, they made a bad move.

An Israeli man voting at a polling station in Ramat Gan, April 9, 2019.
Oded Balilty,AP

At Netanyahu’s urging, the remnants of Habayit Hayehudi joined forces with Otzma Yehudit, a party founded by followers of the racist Rabbi Meir Kahane. When forced to choose between these two parties, most voters at the large religious West Bank settlements preferred the more extremist version. That would include Beit El — a settlement whose international fundraising arm was once headed by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. At Beit El, 71 percent of the voters cast their ballot for the Kahanist-affiliated party (as opposed to only 9 percent for Bennett’s new party). Other religious settlements throwing their support behind this far-right party were Karnei Shomron, Kedumim, Kiryat Arba and Talmon.

Bennett’s party did relatively well, as might be expected, at some of the more moderate settlements. These included Efrat and Alon Shvut, although in both cases the more radical party also picked up a hefty share of the vote.

The ultra-Orthodox vote religiously

Recent elections have seen growing numbers of Haredi voters cast their ballots for non-Haredi parties. Indeed, in the last election, about 17 percent of ultra-Orthodox voters supported non-Haredi parties. Both Haredi parties — the Ashkenazi-affiliated United Torah Judaism and Mizrahi-affiliated Shas — did far better in this election than had been forecast. Does that mean a reversal of this trend? Based on the latest election results, that would appear to be the case.

Haredi
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In four of the largest ultra-Orthodox cities — Bnei Brak, Elad, Betar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit (the latter two located in the West Bank) — the two big Haredi parties, along with the Union of Right-Wing Parties (which is defined as Haredi-Zionist), picked up more than 90 percent of the vote.

Rehovot backs Gantz

How close did the vote in “Israel’s Ohio” come to mirroring the national vote? Actually, not as close as usual. Kahol Lavan did better than Likud in this central Israel city, while in the national race it was a near-stalemate between the two parties. Were elections held just in Rehovot, Bennett and Shaked’s party would have crossed the electoral threshold, while Meretz would not have.

Likud
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