Israeli Election Prediction

Last night I undertook a poll of my own. The sample consisted of four Israelis. Nevertheless, however small the sample, I believe there are insights to be gained and I am going out on a limb to make some predictions if only to once again prove how lousy a prophet I am.

1. Israeli (A), who is normally right of centre, is voting Meretz led by Zahava Galon because A was unhappy with the marriage of Bibi and Lieberman’s party to form Likud Beiteinu, because Bibi had turfed out his moderate right wingers like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor and had given the wild men such as Moshe Feiglin more prominence (he was runner up to Bibi in the Likud party and received 23% of the vote for leadership perhaps because of the low vote turnout among party members an unnoticed prophetic sign about the weakening loyalty of Likud supporters) and because A was most concerned about the growing and very significant financial disparities. Asked why not vote Labour; was A not voting for Labour because Labour was ignoring the peace with the Palestine issue. After all, Labour has made a big thing of the economic divide and could theoretically possibly form a government which Meretz could not. No, was the answer. A thought the peace issue was a non-issue A did not like Shelley Yachimovitch personally but wanted to vote for a party that represented the economic issues and who would NOT form a coalition with Haredi in it. A had passed the tolerance level with the Tal Law allowing Haredi to defer indefinitely national service, especially since the Supreme Court of Israel had declared it illegal, but Bibi still had not resolved the issue. The return of the ex-criminal Aryeh Deri to prominence in Shas as a joint leader with Yishai and Atias was also a turn off (at least for her as an anti-Shas voter). A thought Avigdor Lieberman was a racist and Bennett was too far to the right.

2. B was normally moderately left of centre and the most important issue was an anti-Haredi vote – this person, like A, is Orthodox but is fed up with the corruption on the religious side as well as with a form of blackmail politics. The Palestinian Peace issue was a matter of indifference since there was no prospect of peace with the Palestinians no matter who formed a government. B was voting Meretz as the strongest way to make that preference known.

3. C is a liberal and more left of centre than B and voting for Meretz which sometimes attracted C’s vote in the past, but not the very recent past. [The three did not at all influence one another’s vote.] This was a way of expressing support for the greater justice economic platform but also the pro-peace platform, which Labour had ignored, even though this person also believed there was no prospect of peace with the Palestinians unless Obama put enormous pressures on both sides, which was unlikely given both Obama’s character, his huge agenda and the make-up of Congress. C wanted to vote for a party that would get into the Knesset but NOT be part of a government at this time, thus sending a message, remaining relevant but not compromising C’s integrity.

4. D was part of a growing number of Israelis who stay away from the ballot box on election day and deliberately do not vote because D believed that voting for any party would not make a difference and casting one’s ballot for a party that would not win would not be a strong enough expression of disgust and indifference with the whole political process of repugnant ads, repeated robo-calls and superficial reasons associates gave for voting for one party or another. This was a version of Dow Marmur’s disillusioned voter who says “A Plague on all your houses” but was so cynical and disgruntled with the democratic process altogether that even casting a protest vote was not enough of an expression of cynicism and disillusion. Nevertheless, in spite of this attitude, D acknowledged and A had stressed, that there was far more interest in this election than the last one. (B, in fact, thought that this election was pivotal.)

My general predictions.
1. Meretz will do better than it has for a long time if only because it will have garnered three voters from very different camps, two who have not voted for Meretz before and two of those voters in spite of Meretz opposing Operation Pillar of Defence in Gaza. Zahava Gal-On has established her mettle as a leader by breaking the Israeli pattern of driving competitors out who went on to form new parties; Gal-On co-opted Ilan Gilon, her main competitor for leadership who got 37% of the votes, to stay on board.
2. Though not because of my survey, except insofar as Naftali Bennet of Habayit Heyehudi brought about very strong negative feelings in those I surveyed, Bennet will I believe do even better than the polls predict because people feel very strongly about him both negatively and positively and because he is both religious but anti-Haredi because of Haredi non-military service. Bennet’s strong pro-IDF is very important to his garnering votes, particularly in the currently perceived Israel insecurity while, paradoxically feeling a strong sense that Israelis are strong enough to be self-reliant. In spite of Yisrael Beitenu’s pushing the Equal National Services for All bill, the anti-Haredi vote is largely going to Bennet because Yisrael Beitenu had not retained its virginity but had merged its fortunes with Likud which had not got its act together to pass an anti-Haredi bill.
3. Bibi was not being bothered this time by the anti-vanity and anti-egotistic voter, but he was also not garnering their repellence. Likud was still losing votes and would fall below the previous strength of the two parties he now led, but would, as widely predicted, have the largest bloc in the new Knesset and would lead the new government. The union of Likud and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu lost Likud votes, but those votes did not only go to Bennet. Further, the most important damage to Bibi was not his speech supporting a two state solution based on land transfers but retention of a Greater Jerusalem – a non-starter in the peace process, though he clearly lost supporters to Bennet over the issue. The most important damage he suffered was when he lost the aura of the master-coalition builder when he could not forge a government to pass the anti-Haredi bill and pass a budget so the government could serve its full four year mandate.
4. Bibi’s popularity surge when he had Gilad Shalit released from captivity in Gaza after over five years was undercut when Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, joined Labour. Another reason for the loss of votes was that Bibi was not successful in making security, particularly with respect to Iran, a more prominent issue, but not prominent enough to give Bibi a mandate to launch a pre-emptive attack on Ian’s nuclear facilities or even make that a decisive election issue. In fact, given Morsi’s leadership in Egypt and his anti-semitic views, given Erdogan’s leadership of Turkey, given the politics of the opposition in Syria, the sense that Israel was surrounded only by enemies and could not depend on anyone else to defend Israel, had grown. The surprise to me, given these perceptions, was why Israeli security was not more prominent and why domestic security was more prominent. Israel, with one-quarter of Canada’s population, has a murder and crime rate that is one half of Canada’s. Domestic politics on the security front as well as the economic front loomed larger than had been the pattern in the past. After all, Labour had been given a real boost when Moshe Mizrachi, the very popular head of the International Crime Investigation Commission, joined the party.
5. The electoral process itself turns voters off, particularly the media blitz and the belief that the party leaders are vain glorious, an epithet usually previously attached mostly to Bibi, but NOT this time, but to Bennet, but also Tzipi Livni of Hatenu’ah, Shaul Mofaz of Kadima and Yair Lapid of Yesh Hatid, if only because leaders on the left of centre and the peace process side were not able to put aside their huge egos to form a united left that could possibly lead a government. In fact, Livni formed Hatenu’ah because she lost the leadership of Kadima to Mofaz and took away seven of its Knesset members. Yet Labour and Yesh Hatid did manage to sign an agreement to merge their total votes so that the party with the most votes would, if entitled by extra unused surplus votes entitling an additional seat, be awarded that seat.
6. Shelley Yachimovitch has not had enough time or enough elections under her belt to re-establish Labour as the prominent brand, though she did save the brand from extinction, but will have to develop Bibi’s skills in co-opting other leaders and parties in the centre and on the left to once again re-establish Labour as the party of government, for the most important skill in Israeli politics is how you deal with, use and co-opt other people’s big egos.
7. The Palestinians gaining member non-voting status in the UN was a non-issue except insofar as it made Israelis more cynical about the UN. The peace process is dead for the next four years and will be even deader if Palestinians resort to violence in protest against creeping annexation and the futility of the peace process, but without taking responsibility for their own part in the doldrums in which the peace process finds itself, a main reason the peace process is in the doldrums. In fact efforts at the usual confidence building turn Jewish Israeli voters off more than inspiring them to do something. Further, even many Israeli voters on the moderate left do not believe the building more settlements in Metropolitan Jerusalem has had any negative effect on the peace process even if it has not helped that process. I suspect that the Economics Party formed by the American-born Goldstein brothers on a platform of economic partnerships with the Palestinians as a key step towards peace will make little traction.
8. Not only was the Palestinian peace issue not even on a back burner, so was the situation of the Israeli Arabs.
9. Feminism has not been an issue, not, I believe, because of the reason Dow Marmur suggested that Israel is in the macho Middle East, but because none of those I surveyed (half women) thought it was relevant to this election except insofar as A reacted so negatively to the ultra-Orthodox parties.
10. In my survey, the voters were less concerned with the outcome of the election itself than the effect it would have on the political jockeying afterwards to form a government and, primarily, whether the government formed would be an anti-Haredi coalition or a right wing coalition which included Shas and UTJ. I am very curious, but have no idea, how Rabbi Haim Amsalm, who supported a liberal conversion law and supported greater Haredi integration and was consequently forced out of Shas, will do with his new Am Shalem party and whether or not he will even get a seat or, for that matter, the other splinter Haredi groups Under Shmuel Auerbach (Netzah) or the followers of the Breslov rabbi in Kalanu Chaverim, but I suspect the latter two parties will get nowhere but will give impetus to splitting the Haredi vote.

Helped by Stephen Miller’s polls but without the help of Nathan Silver, and thus necessarily flawed, I suspect the results will be, indeed, a Likud Beiteinu victory but with only 32 seats and not the 35-37 predicted or the combined total of 47 (Likud 27 and Yisrael Biteinu 15) previously held. In reality, this should be considered a defeat. Labour will at least double its representatives and get 17 or 18 seats and be the second largest party and saved from what only two years ago predicted to be its death. The third party will be Habayit Heyehudi with 14 seats though polls predicted Bennet had faltered on the last lap and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Hatid may give Bennet’s party a run for its money for third place. In effect the combined right will have no more seats in this Knesset than in the last, but the shift to the right will be stronger. Meretz will double its seats to 6. Kadima will be virtually wiped out retaining only a couple of seats. The Haredi parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism or UTJ), in spite of splits on their side, will still hold 15-17 seats. Just think, if Hatenu’ah gets 8 seats or so, the centre-left, if effectively combined and led, could have been the largest party with about 40 seats.

So the prospects are:
1. An anti-Haredi coalition of the right-centre-moderate left with the following parties:
Likud Beiteinu (somewhat humbled – not necessarily a good thing) 32
Labour 17
Yesh Hatid 14
Hatenu’ah 8

Total 71

2. A right wing coalition as follows:
Likud Beiteinu 32
Habayit Heyehudi 14
Yesh Hatid 14
Hatenu’ah 8

Total 68

If the remnants of Kadima are added, the anti-Haredi coalition would be even stronger.
Alternatively, Bibi could try to form a coalition with Shas and UTJ and leave out one of the above to retain leverage over his real political rivals. But if he reads the tea leaves and the times correctly, he may form an anti-Haredi coalition and finally pass the needed reforms on conversion, rabbinical monopolies, corruption in the housing ministry. I suspect a turnout rate will run against the downward trend and generally help the anti-Haredi parties and counter somewhat the propensity for the Haredi voting in high numbers.