Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Why Israelis Are Not Excited About Their Upcoming Elections
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still considered, according to the latest public opinion surveys, to be the person most suitable to serve as prime minister in the next government. Yet, Netanyahu's Likud Party is currently trailing in the polls behind the Zionist Camp, a union of the Labor Party and Hatnuah. The Zionist Camp, led by veteran politicians Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, could win more seats in the elections but may have a difficult time forming a coalition government.
Israel's political spectrum is severely fragmented, with strong divisions between right and left. The Likud Party has become more conservative and uncompromising over the years, yet it is outflanked to the right by Naftali Bennett's Bayit HeYehudi (Jewish Home) and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman's corruption-ridden Yisrael Beiteinu party. This strongly entrenched right wing represents religious Israelis and settler residents of the West Bank, as well as citizens who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union.
The Zionist Camp, a socialist alignment identified with workers’ unions and the kibbutz movement, considers itself a centrist party, but most see it as sitting to the left of the spectrum. The party is currently focused on unseating Netanyahu (known by his nickname ‘Bibi’), yet it hasn’t presented voters with a clear alternative vision for the future. Further left is the small Meretz party, and, for the first time ever, a joint United Arab List representing all of Israel's Arab citizens.
The decision whether Israel will go right, or left, after the upcoming elections depends on the parties that represent the center, which possibly represent the viewpoints of a majority of the country's residents. Yesh Atid, the surprise upstart in the 2013 elections, has seen its popularity wane after Yair Lapid failed to lower the cost of living during his service as Finance Minister. The newly formed Kulanu party, led by former Likud member and Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, could play a role as kingmaker in forming the next government.
Religious Israelis have several parties from which to choose. United Torah Judaism represents ultra-Orthodox Jews from Ashkenazi (Eastern European) origins, while Shas represents the ultra-Orthodox from Sephardic (Spanish, north African and Middle Eastern) origins. Former Interior Minister Eli Yishai broke away from Shas to form the splinter Yachad party.
The electoral threshold in the upcoming elections is 3.25%, which will likely mean that marginal parties such as Ale Yarok (Green Leaf), which promotes the legalization of marijuana, will not win seats in the Knesset.
None of Israel's parties are campaigning with slogans suggesting the renewal of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and promises of lowering the cost of living are being taken with a grain of salt. Israelis don't particularly trust their politicians, especially as former President Moshe Katsav is serving seven years in prison on two counts of rape, and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is bound for prison after convictions on charges of breach of trust and bribery. The corruption scandals targeting the Yisrael Beiteinu party and the Netanyahu household’s purported misuse of public funds may be politically motivated and the investigations timed specifically to grab headlines during the election campaign.
After the elections, the parties will bend over backwards and renege on their political convictions in order to form strange bedfellows, all in efforts to serve in the next government. Whether that government is led by the right, or the left, is not yet clear, but the prospect of it being stable enough to last a full four-year term is far from guaranteed.
The future is not comforting for the Israeli public. The only good thing on the horizon is the day’s vacation on March 17, a vacation that will commence the minute one emerges from the voting booth.
Originally published on The Oslo Times.