An American in Israel’s view on the elections

Our Israel columnist Mylan Tanzer was in the states for a trade show, and a few days after the Israeli elections he stopped by our office to share some of his initial thoughts on the surprising election results. In our May issue, his column will take an in-depth look at the results and the (hopefully by then) resulting coalition, but for now here are a few of his insights.

Mylan says that mistaken pollsters were a big influence on the election. With polls predicting Likud would slip and become the second-largest party behind the Zionist Union, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down to the lowest members of the party “barnstormed the country” with an “us versus them message.” Mylan described Likud’s fearful message of the rise of the left “credible because of the polls,” and when Likud warned that a victory by the left would mean “Hamas overlooking Tel Aviv,” people who might not have voted turned out and voted Likud.

While pollsters assumed that these elections were about social and economic issues, fronts on which Mylan says Likud has failed miserably, security and historic party ties instead held sway. Voters in the lower and lower-middle classes, those who have suffered the most under Likud’s economic policies, nonetheless voted for the party that their parents identified with in the 1970s. Mylan says that religious, paternalistic immigrants from African and Middle Eastern countries in the 1950s and ’60s felt they didn’t fit into Israel’s secular Ashkenazi majority. When Likud came to power for the first time in 1977, Mylan says those lower-class, religious Israelis felt Likud spoke for them in terms of social agenda, respect for religion and security issues.

“The surprise was people on the lower socioeconomic scale, who have suffered the most under Netanyahu, gave him their support,” says Mylan.

Yet Mylan says Likud’s biggest gains were from other parties on the right, including The Jewish Home, which dropped from 13 to eight seats in the Knesset.

With Likud holding 30 seats and the Zionist Union 24 seats, Mylan says he finds comfort that Israel once again has “two major blocks – one center-left and one right wing. Having one in government and one in opposition gives a little bit of clarity.”

Since Netanyahu will need to form a coalition to achieve at least a 61-seat majority in the Knesset (and 65 to 70 is a more viable coalition), minor parties will once again have influence far exceeding their results at the polls. Mylan laments that an ultraorthodox party with just seven seats could gain control of an important Knesset committee.

“I hope whatever government forms can govern and doesn’t repeal some of the good done in the last term, such as military service for the religious and no more than 18 ministers,” says Mylan.

Yet he says he is also pleased there is a clear mandate for one party to form a coalition because, “Government must be able to act and make decisions, even if they are bad decisions.”

“Let them pursue their policies,” says Mylan. “Then if the Israeli electorate is better off, my hat’s off to them. But if not, then voters will vote with their heads and not with their emotions as they did this time.”

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