Israel’s “Red Wave”

What forces and trends influenced Israeli voters to kick out the left and ride a center-right, or red wave into power?

Photo: Flash90

With 90% of the vote counted at this hour, it’s still looking good for Binyamin Netanyahu, who at this moment could form a 65-member coalition with the three religious parties, who all increased their representation in yesterday’s election.

There is still a chance that either Meretz or Balad could pass the threshold when all the votes are counted, but even then, it’s still likely that the Bibi bloc could hang in there with 61 or 62 seats.

What forces and trends influenced Israeli voters to kick out the left and ride a center-right, or red wave into power?

I sat in on a conference call with two pundits today and will share some of their thoughts, as well as mine.

Let’s start with Aviv Bushinsky, a former media advisor to Binyamin Netanyahu. He made three main points:

  • The left’s efforts at character assassination on Itamar Ben Gvir backfired on them and only strengthened him.
  • Ben Gvir had the clearest message of any candidate in this election, even if he won’t be able to implement the more uncompromising elements of his platform.
  • Right-wing voters soured on the “anyone but Bibi” brand, especially since their purveyors, mainly Lieberman, Saar, Bennett, and Shaked had all betrayed the right-wing values that were once their mother’s milk.

Aside from Bushinsky’s take, the chareidi voters are the unsung heroes of this election, at least so far. If the current count holds up, Shas could end up with 12 seats — an increase of four, and UTJ may win the coveted eighth seat that has eluded them for years.

The chareidi parties were maligned as badly as Ben Gvir, with virtually the entire press certain that Ben Gvir would “steal” enough votes from them to cut them down to size.

They were wrong. Again, with just 90% of the vote in, both Shas and UTJ have exceeded their vote totals from the previous election and will be powers that Bibi will have to reckon with in the coalition.

Up next was Gayil Talshir, a Hebrew University political scientist, who is known for her center-left views. The center-left parties won about 40% of the vote and while you don’t have to agree with them, it’s important to understand how they see things.

Talshir argued:

  • The divide between the right and left in Israel is no longer centered on the two-state solution versus sovereignty. It’s based on whether Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state that’s democratic or a democratic state with a Jewish majority. The former idea won the day this time.
  • She contends that Israel is following a trend we’ve seen in Italy, Austria, and Hungary, and even in the US under Trump, where “extremist” parties, as she called them, impose their ideology on the nation. She says that’s a phenomenon that will outlast Netanyahu’s term in office.
  • Finally, Arab voters have also become radicalized. Arabs who voted for Balad – one of three Arab parties running in this election – did so to protest any further integration with the “Zionist” state.

I’ll poke a couple of holes in her last two arguments because I essentially agree with the first.

Let’s put the Israeli election in perspective. The Religious Zionists, led by Smotrich and Ben Gvir, won about 420,000 votes, or about 10%. That’s hardly a whopping majority that will have the power to impose its will on the other 4.4 million who voted yesterday.

And one of the problems the left fails to understand is that there might be countries where the majority is disenchanted with the left and feels it has little or nothing to offer on the economy or national defense, and often doesn’t reflect the moral and family values of the average voter, who feels the right has better positions on these issues.

And finally, as far as the Arab vote is concerned, Israel’s experiment with an Arab party in the coalition is over. I don’t see the new government clawing back the benefits the former government granted the Arab sector, unless they want to face riots, but do you remember the line that the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity?

If at the end of the vote count, Balad does not pass the threshold and Arab clout is diminished, they only have themselves to blame for splitting from the unified Arab list and running on their own.

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