The Election Variables

The Election Variables


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

As the Israeli public goes the polls on Tuesday many analysts are suggesting that the most critical unknown is voter apathy. Over the past 20 years voter turnout in Israeli elections among those 18 years or older who are eligible to vote has been between 62-77%.  Prior to that time the percent of eligible voters casting ballots never was below 77% and in the early years of the State, voter turnout was over 85%, The vote among Israeli Arabs and Druze has been between 53%-75% with their vote dropping to 49% in last Spring’s election. (By comparison, in national presidential elections in the United States over the same period, roughly 55% of eligible voters turned out; although it did reach 60% in 2008, when Barack Obama was on the ticket.)

Voter apathy in Israel today is attributed largely to the public’s frustration with the failure of the parties to form a Government in April. People are annoyed at the time, energy and money that has been spent for a second time this year since the first set of elections were called.  Given the number of domestic and social problems facing the country—as well as security issues–, Israeli voters have pushed backed against the current electoral system. (This is not to suggest that Israel is seriously ready for desperately needed electoral reform.) The Israeli public is also keenly aware that there is no guarantee that a viable Government will emerge after this second round of voting either.

When one cuts through all the political maneuvering and posturing in which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has engaged in the run-up to both elections, one understands how consumed Bibi is for his continuing political life.  He the reality that he may indeed be facing the prospect that he will be prosecuted on corruption charges by the Attorney General and wind up in jail at the end of a trial.

Should Netanyahu not be selected to form the next Government, he probably will be unable to feign off efforts by the next Government to proceed with pending charges against him. This also explains why any discussion of a unity Government without Netanyahu as Prime Minister may interest some of the other parties and their leaders, but it will still leave Bibi open to prosecution.

Another very unusual opportunity exists should the Blue and White Party form the next Government. The size of the Joint Arab Party list which is led by Ayman Odeh could very well become a serious player in the next Government. While Odeh does not speak for all the members of his party, he has suggested in several interviews that he wants to join the Government to find ways to make policy changes within Israel which can help the Arab citizens. Thus, if Benny Gantz and the Blue and White Party were to invite the Arab Party into the Government and agree to certain policy directions, this would constitute a radical shift in Israeli political life as well as a positive statement concerning the future of democracy in Israel.

There is another portion of Israeli life which this election could shift. It could constitute the beginning of a re-consideration of the place of religion in Israeli political life. Specifically, there could be a dramatic reduction in the political power of the ultra-Orthodox, charedi, Parties. Despite the fact that as a united voting bloc they represent approximately 13% of the voting population, the charedi bloc could be left outside the governing coalition. While that has occurred previously, there appears to be a much larger sentiment among the population to institute more significant changes on the role and control that religion places in Israeli life.

It is very curious that while much of the public “noise” in this election run-up has focused on national security issues and as well as the U.S.-Israel relationship, it appears that the Trump-Bibi connection has played a major consideration only among the right-wing parties. The entire country recognizes the importance of security considerations, but those not on the right appear to have more faith in the strength of Israel’s relationship with the West and specifically the U.S., regardless of perceived pressure currently emanating from this White House.



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