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Israel's Election: Netanyahu Holds On, Center Does Well

As expected, Israel has once again made Benjamin Netanyahu its prime minister. The results were not as positive for him as they might have been but are good enough to reelect him.

While some might find this paradoxical, the results show that Israelis have a basic consensus and yet have very different ways of  expressing their political positions. This isn’t surprising given the fact that 32 parties were on the ballot.

First, though, a myth that has at times become a propaganda campaign should be exposed. There were numerous reports in the Western media that the Israeli electorate was going far to the right, didn’t want peace, and that Israeli democracy was in jeopardy. None of this had any real basis in fact and the election results show these claims to be false.

The main story of the election was supposed to be the rise of the far right Ha-Bayit ha-Yehudi Party. In fact, though, it received only about 10 percent of the vote which is usual for that sector. In comparison, about one-third went to liberal or moderate left parties, and about one-quarter to centrist parties.

According to the final vote count, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitaynu list received 31 of 120 seats. The Labor Party made some comeback with 15 but came in third. Labor’s hope that its showing would make Israel a mainly two-party system clearly failed.

The real news of the election is the vast centrism of Israeli voters. The big winner was Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid with 19; it became the second largest party. Tsipi Livni’s party, Hatnua, obtained 6. The appeal of Lapid and Livni is precisely that nobody really knows what they stand for but it is certainly nothing to either extreme. Kadima received 2, and former army chief of staff Shaul Mufaz will be highly motivated to go into a coalition. 

In other words, 27 seats went to vaguely reformist, somewhat centrist, or mildly liberal parties that don’t have any clear or strong stands except to promise better government.

On the far right, Ha-Bayit ha-Yehudi, led by Naftali Bennett, got 11.

On the far left, Meretz obtained 6, while the Communists got 4, the Islamists 5, and the Arab nationalists 3. The last three parties depend mostly on Arab votes and it was a poor showing for that deeply divided sector.

Finally, in the Jewish religious sector, Shas, representing Mizrahi (Middle East-origin and especially Moroccan-origin) Jews, received 11 and the Askenazic (European-origin Jews) Yahadut ha-Torah party received 7. While socially conservative, these parties do not have strong stances on issues other than gaining government support for their communities.

The bottom line is, then, that the old talk of a left and right camp dominating the scene is no longer meaningful given the large centrist vote. And with the moderate left and center-left so divided, they cannot beat Netanyahu.