Post-Israeli Election Thread
The results are in and Netanyahu won. For a while it looked like Likud and the center-Left Zionist Union were going to be neck and neck with the number of Knesset seats won but Likud ended up winning 29 seats and the Zionist Union won 24 seats.
This is not quite the end though. Israel’s electoral system is complicated and coalition governments are the norm rather than the rule. No party has ever won an outright majority in the Knesset. All governments have been coalition governments and this has created some very strange political bedfellows and some relatively unstable governments.
The early coalitions were formed by a combination of various center-left and socialist parties. Menachem Begin’s center-right and more free-market (which became Likud in 1973) parties stayed in the opposition until the 1977 election. The 1980s saw a series of National Unity governments between the major left and right wing parties. The center-left won again in 1992 and Netanyahu won his first Prime Ministership in 1996. The aughts have been mainly filled with the collapse of the Israeli left and a series of coalitions between center-right, secular far-right, and ultra-Orthodox religious parties. The secular far-right and the Orthodox parties do not always get along.
What happens next?
Netanyahu will be invited by the Israeli President to form a coalition government because his Likud Party won the most seats. The interesting thing here is the rise of a new center party called Kulanu.
Kulanu won 10-seats in the Knesset and is headed by a formed Likud Minister named Moshe Kahlon. Kahlon and Netanuyahu really dislike each other and Kulanu is closer to the economic left than the free-market Likud right.
There is still a small chance that the Zionist Union can rule if Kulanu decides not to play nice with Likud but this is slim. The Israeli President wants a Unity government between Likud and Zionist Union and Kulanu but this involves a lot of people who hate each other and disagree on substantive issues. It would be like asking Obama to pick Scott Walker as his Vice-President or asking Ted Cruz to nominate Elizabeth Warren to the Supreme Court.
Zionist Union would also need to make a coalition with Kulanu, some smaller left-wing parties, and the Ultra-Orthodox parties and this would create another strange bedfellows situation.
Why did people think Zionist Union had a chance?
Income inequality. The early Zionist leaders and Israeli governments were firmly socialist in their politics. It would not be too much to call Israel, America’s favorite Marxist country back in the mid-20th century. Even the free-market Menachem Begin knew he needed to swerve a bit to the left economically and rail against the exploiters and monopolists. The last two decades have seen a scaling back of the old socialist policies and a rise in unregulated free market capitalism. This has led to more poverty in Israel.
Polls showed that most of the anger and dislike over Netanyahu were about economic issues. The American-Jewish center-left probably hoped that economic issues would help the Zionist Union have a more firm showing.
The Israeli center-left has a similar perception issue as the Democratic Party in the United States. They are seen as being the party of the original Israelis and the old Ashkenazi elite. Many recent immigrants to Israel come from Muslim-majority countries or the former Eastern Bloc and feel alienated from the old guard. There is a bit of seeing Zionist Union/Labor as being the Park Sloppers or San Franciscans of Israel.
Why do American Jews care about who controls Israel?
The majority of American Jews still vote overwhelmingly Democratic and I don’t see this changing in the immediate future but there are more rifts showing in American Jewish politics. Newer Jewish immigrants to the United States tend to be more religious than their older counterparts and/or come from former Eastern Bloc countries and have little patience or liking of even the vaguest welfare state policies.
Israel also seems to be dividing American Jews apart. Center-Left American Jewish political commentators like John Chait, Peter Beinart, Ezra Klein, and others are not becoming anti-Zionist but they are increasingly despondent with the right-ward tilt of Israeli politics.
John Chait is worried that Netanyahu is all too willing to turn Israel into an partisan issue in the United States. I am not sure this is going to happen anytime soon. Most Americans seem to support Israel over Palestine and this is true in all age groups and political parties. Pro-Palestinian politics tend to stay on the university campus in the United States but tensions can grow there. My alma mater felt the need to send out a series of emergency e-mails to alums because of tensions over Israel and Palestine during the Fall 2014 semester.
Post-election discussions always tend to bring out hyperbole especially in the side that lost and feels dejected. I doubt this is the end of the Israeli left and the end of Israel as a democratic country. The internal tensions in Israel make me a bit hopeful that any Likud-led coalition will not last long.