After Four Elections, Israeli Voters Are Losing Their Party Loyalty

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Gil Goren, 59-year-old artist from Haifa.
Gil Goren, 59-year-old artist from Haifa.Credit: Rami Shllush
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

In the last election Amir Cohen from Moshav Noam in the Lachish region voted for Shas. Cohen, director of the Israel Football Coaches Association, says that soccer players are believers, but this time he’ll be voting for Yesh Atid. How is he making such a leap, which many would see as impossible? One meeting with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid was enough, he said.

“Right now what concerns me is our livelihood from sports. His party represents that in an amazing fashion,” he says, mentioning Yoel Razvozov, a former champion judoka and now a Yesh Atid MK. “Party members who are Olympic sportsmen speak the language and understand us.”

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Still, Cohen says, he did have one problem with Lapid. “You are perceived as a Haredi-hater,” Cohen said to him when they met. Lapid explained the gap between that image and reality, and persuaded him that it was worthwhile voting for someone who would appoint a sportsman to be minister of sports.

What about security? “After the coronavirus we understood that our real war is among us, within,” Cohen said. Shas, meanwhile, had lost him when its members in the coronavirus cabinet voted against reopening soccer fields. Moreover, living in the south, he isn’t giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu high marks in the security realm.

“The facts speak for themselves. During the Likud period, I suffered more as a resident of the south,” he says.

Could Lapid replace Netanyahu?

“Look at Bibi 10 years ago,” he said, referring to Netanyahu. “That Rottweiler exterior developed over the years. No one comes with security, power and connections at the beginning. You have to give someone else a chance.”

Campaign poster in Jerusalem, depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.Credit: Emil Salman

Gil Goren, a 59-year-old artist from Haifa, had always voted for Labor, “in every round,” he stressed. This time, however, he will be voting Meretz. “If there’s no Meretz, the state as I know it will disappear,” he says.

Until now, he says, the party wasn’t even on his radar, “It wasn’t my cup of tea.” He says that he is still “more right-wing” than Meretz, but connects to their values “on the social level.” In any case, the fear that Meretz might not make it into the Knesset was decisive. “That voice has to be there. True, there’s no Yossi Sarid or Shulamit Aloni, but Labor doesn’t have (David) Ben-Gurion or (Yitzhak) Rabin, and also [Menachem] Begin and [Ariel] Sharon are gone. People die and are replaced,” he says.

Michal, a 32-year-old moshav resident who didn’t want her full name used, is going in the opposite direction. Last time she voted Meretz, but this time she thinks she will vote for Labor. “I don’t particularly admire Meretz’s current leadership and I doubt its ability to make a change on the Israeli political map,” she says. She has doubts about Labor’s ability to make a difference, either: “Most of the public today is either very right-wing or at most is prepared to vote for a party of generals.”

Nevertheless, she will vote Labor. “Mostly I want Merav Michaeli as a leader in the Knesset,” she says. “Female representation in the Knesset is important to me, even though we’re talking about ‘the master’s tools’ and I’m a radical feminist.”

“The master’s tools” is phrase used by Black feminist writer Audre Lorde: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” According to Michal, “Lorde was talking about the racism that exists even in the feminist movement, but the point is that when systems themselves are structured to serve a certain class, participating won’t dismantle them.”

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli, last week.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

So why Labor?

“A social democratic party like Labor won’t dismantle the existing distorted power centers. It won’t totally change our fairly pathetic situation. But under the existing suffocating limitations it comes close to being reasonable.”

Attorney Bruria Lekner will also be voting Labor. “I’m coming home,” she says, after a few elections in which she voted Kahol Lavan or Yesh Atid.

“During those years when the Labor party abandoned the vision upon which it was founded and became a marginal appendix to the Netanyahu government, I wandered to other places,” she says, and recalled her childhood, when she went with her parents to vote for Ben-Gurion. “Now, when a woman like Merav took on the leadership with such talent, I also came home.”

You were disappointed by Benny Gantz?

“In the last election it seemed as if I’d found myself a political home that suited my values, and voted for Kahol Lavan and even worked hard for Gantz’s election. I believed that Gantz was – and still is, in certain ways – a figure that reflects the good Israeli, the values of yesteryear, and integrity.”

But?

“But he broke his word and broke my heart.”

She says Michaeli is “a wonderful alternative who passed the most important test; she didn’t enter the Netanyahu government for any temptation.” But beyond that, Michaeli represents other values that Lekner believes in. “Finally there’s a woman, a leader, who is paving the way on an issue very important to me – advancing women and women’s rights.”

Lekner, who serves as chairman of the jurists’ forum in the Israel Women’s Network, and on the equality and gender representation forum of the Israel Bar Association, sees Michaeli as the flag-bearer of a flagship party. “No one is more worthy of getting my vote,” she says.

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