Studying the Vote
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
A plurality of Israeli voters, voted Tuesday for Netanyahu or for parties on the right giving his core supporters 54 seats in the Knesset. Bibi’s Likud Party will receive 30 seats; Naphtali Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi Party 8 seats; Moshe Kahalon’s Kulanu Party 10 seats; and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitanu Party 6 seats. At the same time it is clear that a majority of 66 seats in the new Knesset belong to representatives who did not for the right-wing parties.
The Zionist Union received 24 Knesset seats; Yesh Atid received 11 seats; and Meretz received 5 seats. In addition to this total of 40 seats, the Joint Arab List received 13 seats and the two charedi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism received 7 and 6 seats respectively. Without any of the bargaining involved in forming a new coalition government, the new Knesset has 45% on the right and 33% on the left with 22% in the swing middle. (Perhaps the only thing upon which everyone ought to be able to agree —but will not– would be on the need for further electoral reform.)
What needs now to be understood is that are essentially three distinct alternative voices in Israeli politics which are much more clearly defined today than ever before. The largest group—precisely not party–remains within the leading Opposition group on the left of center. It is composed largely of former Labor supporters; secularists; former military brass; senior citizens; socialists; and the last vestiges of the Mapai/Mapam kibbutz world.
The second distinct bloc is a group of charedi supporters whose agenda is very narrowly constructed to ally itself with any Government willing to support extended services needed by this community. These include subsidies for housing, food, education, and welfare services with limited or no other demands being made on this community for military service, national service, and jobs (to provide both income to the community and taxes to the Treasury.)
The third voice–which Bibi dismisses, berates, and stigmatizes–is that of the Joint Arab List. While the Arab Party leaders indicated no interest before the election in joining any Zionist Government, it just might have been possible to move them to participate in a Government that was pledged to respond explicitly to the needs of the Israeli-Arab community for improved benefits for education, housing, and social services.
Having now reached almost 20% of the population and more than 10% of the Knesset seats, Arabs’ needs ought to be a priority for any democratic government. Had Bibi been farsighted and politically courageous and had he not alienated so many people by his racist verbal attacks on the potential “danger” of a sizeable Arab voter turnout, this election could have brought about a true revolution within in Israel and maybe within the Arab world; if Jews and Arabs could have found the modalities to join together in a self-serving democratic government.