Netanyahu's "Arab voters are voting!" Facebook video
Netanyahu’s “Arab voters are voting!” Facebook video.

Despite polling predictions that Israeli voters were abandoning him, Binyamin Netanyahu won by far the biggest share of seats in the Knesset last Wednesday. There has since been much despair in my social feeds and the international press that Israel is right-wing and only sliding further in that direction.

In my opinion, for all this talk of Netanyahu as a political magician, he has walked over a cliff this time. You can’t insult the President of the United States by coming to his country behind his back, and then explicitly repudiate US foreign policy in the Middle East, and just expect to get away with it. For all the jubilant talk of Netanyahu sticking it to that lame-ass lame-duck softy-on-security Barack Obama, he’s the President of the United States. One of the only things holding Mahmoud Abbas from filing cases against Israel in the International Criminal Court is a law the US Congress passed automatically cutting off $400m in aid in the event that they did.* One commitment from Barack Obama to fund that $400m from appropriations under the control of the Executive would clear that obstacle in the time it took to hold a press conference. He can withhold the US veto from the UN the next time an Israel-bashing resolution comes up. He could endorse settlement-produce labeling. He could do anything, and because he’s a lame-duck, there’s pretty much no personal consequences to him doing so. It would tear the Jewish diaspora apart, as Israel’s current trajectory is already facilitating.

But anyway. This post is not a caravan of despair. I was reading a piece by Jonathan Freedman, who commented that buried in the numbers of the election, there was left-wing hope. And I’m tired of people talking about number of seats, so I went and looked at actual numbers of votes:

Likud, Jewish Home, Shas, UTJ and Yisrael Beiteinu:

2015: 1,936,634
2013: 1,758,802

Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, and Meretz:

2015: 1,322,217
2013: 1,337,146

The other two major factions, the Joint Arab List (443,837) are made up of four parties that stretch across the political spectrum, and Kulanu (315,202) are kinda where the Lib Dems are but run by a defector from Likud.  If we assume that both of these factions drew significant number of left-wing voters, it’s obvious the country is roughly split down the middle between left and right and that hasn’t much changed in the last 10 years.

In 2009, the “left” (including Kadima led by Ariel Sharon) got 2,089,043 votes and the right 1,767,220 on an identical turnout of roughly 4 million votes. The right has therefore gained only 200,000 votes but the left has lost 700,000. If we assume Kulana, as centrists focussed on economic issues, took a significant proportion of those votes, this permanent “right-wing shift” looks more like ordinary politics – swing voters doing their swing-voting thing.

Left and right doesn’t really work so well in a country where debate over the relationship to Palestine and the religious nature of the state has an influence on people’s political positions in a way that doesn’t exist in much of the rest of the world, but it does seem to me that a lot of people’s general despair at Israel being inherently right-wing is somewhat misplaced.

Better to ask the question that most left-wing movements in most countries should be asking themselves, which is, at a time when living standards are falling and dissatisfaction with neoliberal economics has never been higher, why are they struggling so much to convert support, votes and good-will into the actual levers of power?


* It took me the best part of half an hour to find the exact text rather than just references to its existence, so it’s going somewhere in this post.

   (2) Limitations.--
            (A)(i) None of the funds appropriated under the heading 
        ``Economic Support Fund'' in this Act may be made available for 
        assistance for the Palestinian Authority, if after the date of 
        enactment of this Act--

                    (I) the Palestinians obtain the same standing as 
                member states or full membership as a state in the 
                United Nations or any specialized agency thereof 
                outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the 
                Palestinians; or
                    (II) the Palestinians initiate an International 
                Criminal Court judicially authorized investigation, or 
                actively support such an investigation, that subjects 
                Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged 
                crimes against Palestinians.

Public Law 133-235, Division J, Section 7041(i)(2).