Election Surprises

Polls taken just before recent Israeli elections have missed some very important swings in voter sentiment. In 2006, it was the Pensioner’s party that came from nowhere and ended up with 7 seats in the Knesset. In 2013, it was Yesh Atid getting 19 seats while the polls suggested only 12 seats. What surprises might happen in 2015?

Kulanu should be doing much better than it is. Moshe Kahlon, the head of Kulanu, has a record of achievement in lowering phone costs when he served as Communications Minister in the previous Likud administration. He has been campaigning on the issue of greatest concern to the average Israeli – the cost of living. Unfortunately, he is too much of a nice guy and an uncharismatic campaigner. However he has finally gone on the attack, with the Likud and Yesh Atid in his sights.Niv Ellis writes in the Jerusalem Post of March 8, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon on Sunday said that both Likud and Zionist Union are pressuring him to declare support for their parties, but Likud has threatened to go after him personally in the final days of the campaign if he did not publicly support his former party.’ Kahlon states, “I joined the Likud because of socio-economic issues and I left the Likud when I saw that the Likud is already not there. The Likud has abandoned Begin’s way.”

The article goes on to note, ‘He also went after Yesh Atid Leader Yair Lapid, who he said squandered his opportunity as finance minister to make change. Yet in a show of support for Lapid’s positions, Kahlon said he would not support rolling back the equality of burden law, which moves toward integrating ultra-Orthodox Jews into the IDF and work force, and would support core curriculum studies for haredim.’

PM Netanyahu gave a great speech in Washington but failed to present any new facts concerning the status of the Iranian nuclear program. By going behind the backs of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, he weakened the bipartisan US support that is Israel’s most important asset – in the hope of gaining an advantage in the Israeli elections.

Yair Lapid, who heads Yesh Atid, is a very charismatic campaigner but has been a failure in the Knesset as Finance Minister. Hopefully, when centrist Israelis go to the polls and have to decide between Kahlon and Lapid, they will choose competence over charisma. Hopefully, when right wing voters go to the polls they will choose Kahlon and rebuff a Likud that has failed to deal with socio-economic issues and has weakened US support for Israel.

Then there is the attack on the Likud from the right. Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) are attacking Netanyahu for supporting territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Their claims are based on a leaked document that lays out a negotiating framework between Netanyahu and Abbas.

According to a YnetNews article of March 6, ‘The document from August 2013 was obtained by Ynet’s print publication Yedioth Aharonoth and summarized results of the secret talks between Netanyahu’s senior aide, lawyer Itzhak Molcho, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ affiliate, Hussein Agha. Netanyahu’s representative offered what appeared to be drastic concessions to the Palestinian leadership on a number of core issues, including land swaps, a potential deal regarding Jerusalem and even a limited right of return for Palestinians.’

Although PM Netanyahu didn’t sign off on this agreement, that’s not stopping Bennett or Lieberman from trying to attract Likud voters. Turnabout is fair play and Bibi has been trying to poach votes from Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu with strategically timed announcements of construction in the West Bank. According to the article, ‘”The masquerade is over,” said Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett. “The next disengagement is already here, and is again led by Likud and by Tzipi Livni.”‘ As for Lieberman, “If this document had been received by the government, Yisrael Beytenu would have firmly opposed it,” said Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman. “It’s a repetition of the serious mistakes made during disengagement without any lessons being learned “’

Truth to tell, the document doesn’t matter. Abbas will disappear when it comes time to sign any agreement.

What would the Knesset look like if the Israeli Arab vote were proportional to the Israeli Arab population? Arabs constitute 20.7% of of the Israeli population and the Knesset consists of 120 members. That means that almost 25 seats in the Knesset would be determined by Israeli Arabs votes and 95 seats by non-Arabs.

In the last election, the Israeli Arabs cast enough votes to elect 17.5 MK’s. 11 of those seats went to parties that now constitute the Joint Arab List and 6.5 seats went elsewhere. Increasing that voting rate to the non-Arab voting rate could mean 17-18 seats in the Knesset for the Joint Arab List – making it the third largest party in the Knesset. As this increase would come from new voters, it would mean an across the board reduction of roughly 7% for all other parties.

Such an increase in the Arab vote would really shake up the Israeli political system, necessitating either a grand coalition or a coalition that includes the Joint Arab List. Right wing Israelis would quickly see the virtues of a two state solution rather than the one state solution being advocated by some right wing politicians.

My favorite long shot (and it is a very long shot) is a revolt of haredi women, who decide not to vote for any party that bans women from its slate. Such a shift would never show up in opinion polls as haredi leaders are threatening cherem (putting in Coventry) for any haredi woman or man who campaigns for haredi women in the Knesset. As Tova Dvorin reports in Israel National News of last December 8, “Every woman who campaigns against the gedolei haTorah (Torah sages) of Israel will make sure her children will not attend hareidi education institutions, and no one will do business with her or work with her, and all of her descendants will be expelled from our schools,” Rabbi Mordechai Blau threatened’.

A revolt of haredi women would only show up on election day. It would cut the haredi vote (United Torah Judaism, Shas and Yachad) in half. Revolutionary changes in the haredi world would soon follow.

Surprises, by definition, are unexpected events. Nevertheless, let’s all hope for some pleasant surprises on election day.

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.
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