Israel went to the polls for the fifth time in four years in November 2022. It’s hard to remember now, but this cycle began back in the fall of 2018 when Avigdor Liberman walked away from the Netanyahu-led Coalition and it appeared snap elections would be called. However Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked agreed to stay in the government. At the time the controversy related to whether Israel would use a tougher hand with Hamas in Gaza. Operation Northern Shield, to neutralize Hezbollah tunnels, began two weeks later.
On November 1 things came full circle when Shaked’s party failed to pass the threshold and appeared to secure less than 100,000 votes. This was part of a larger landslide for the Right and Netanyahu, a major repudiation of the coalition for change that Yair Lapid and Bennett had cobbled together in late May 2021. A lot happened between November 2018 and 2022. Netanyahu’s trial began, there was the pandemic and lockdowns and green passes; there was a war with Gaza that brought chaos to Israel’s streets in May 2021; and there were endless elections.
The instability of the period 2018-2022 is interesting because Israel’s politics appeared broken. The country seemed to be slouching into some kind of chaos like one reads about happening in Italy in the 1980s, or the interwar period or something. The chaos of a country that cannot be governed.
Now the votes are in and it appears Netanyahu has the opportunity to build a large and stable coalition that will rely on the Right and far-Right and ultra-Orthodox parties.
Why the commentators are wrong
After every Israeli election there is a tendency, especially among some center-left media and commentators, to create a meta-narrative and “explanation” of what happened, especially when the center-left fails to perform well.
This time the “explanation” that is being pushed is that the Right and “Left” got the same number of votes…”only a few votes separate the Netanyahu camp from Lapid” the commentators say…and yet Netanyahu got a lot more seats in his apparent coalition. They shout about how this came about. They point fingers and blame “Balad” and “Meretz” as the culprits and also small parties that supposedly “wasted votes”…this is the typical scapegoat method. Instead of saying “well, Lapid didn’t run a strong campaign and we had a year in government to prove ourselves and we weren’t able to convince the public”…and instead of admitting that numerous parts of the Lapid coalition weren’t natural partners, such as Shaked and Sa’ar…that the coalition was too complex and couldn’t sell itself…instead the blame game finds a culprit.
The culprit they say is “Balad”…and they claim that somehow if only Balad had got enough votes to pass the threshold then “Lapid would have equal seats”…but this is just a myth and a lie. Meretz didn’t cause the failure either, except insofar as it should have campaigned better. The failure is more systematic. There ARE NOT enough votes in the Israel Center-Left to create a Coalition.
The lie that people are fed is that the camps are equal. The “Netanyahu Camp” and the Lapid camp. But they are not equal. The Netanyahu camp includes some 2 million voters, in the sense that it includes the religious right, the ultra-orthodox and Likud. These are the Netanyahu camp today. This is an ideologically strong camp. They always vote for the same types. Shas performed a bit better than in the past (it found 50,000 more voters), and the BenGvir/Smotrich pairing did well. But it only did well because the National Religious votes last time went to Bennett and he went over to Lapid and his voters didn’t accept that.
The Center-Left block in Israel is actually much smaller. It has around 1.5 million voters and with Ra’am, which is NOT a center-left party actually, it can get to some 1.75 million or so. But this doesn’t make it “equal” with Netanyahu. The inventive math of the commentators includes adding Balad and Joint List into the Lapid block, which is nonsensical. Balad and Joint List had a chance to back the government last year and they didn’t. They literally had every chance to be part of the anti-Netanyahu block and they DID NOT join.
This is because Balad is a complex party that blends Arab nationalism and other ideologies and it is not a party that will partner with Gantz and Lapid or what it sees as Zionist parties. Imagining it as a partner is just media commentator bad math charlatanism. Another bad math calculation is adding Joint List into the Lapid coalition. Joint List is formed by Hadash, which is ostensibly a far-left Jewish-Arab party led by Ayman Odeh; and Ta’al of Ahmed Tibi. Both of those parties are full of smart people, they had every opportunity to be part of the coalition that formed last year and they had every opportunity to campaign with it this year; and they didn’t. That’s their choice. Ra’am chose the pragmatic path and has been successful at the ballot box.
The problem is after Israeli elections is that people want “answers” and they prefer a simple answer of blame Balad and Meretz for not crossing the threshold and “blocking Bibi”…but that’s not an answer. Blocking Netanyahu from forming a government isn’t the same as forming an alternative government. Israel had electoral chaos from 2018 to 2022, chaos that was driven in part by Netanyahu but also by a balkanized politics. What that proved is that “blocking” isn’t enough, because even when the alternative had leadership like Gantz, they weren’t able to form a stable coalition. This shows that it is not the fault of Balad and Meretz; but of which were in the Knesset for the last five elections; it is the fault of something else…in the end of the day the Center-Left, DOES NOT have enough voters.
This is just a fact. We like facts supposedly, so let’s talk facts. The voters are simply not there. There are no hidden voters…there are no secret voters waiting to be convinced…they aren’t hiding…you can’t “get them out”…turnout was good this election…the fact is that the voters are not there, and it’s unclear if they will be there one day. Israel’s system of politics appeared broken for the last four years because it seemed ungovernable. Now Netanyahu appears to have a strong and more stable coalition and he won’t have many checks and balances apparently on his power, so long as he gives the Orthodox and far-right what they want; but one can’t look over at Balad and Meretz and pretend they are at fault. The fault lies in the center-left and its inability to create a normal government.
Anyone selling the story today that “the Right and Left got the same number of votes, but somehow Netanyahu won” or “wasted voted on Balad and Meretz caused this”…are not being accurate…
The numbers don’t lie.
Also, stop defining the Lapid-led coalition as “left” and stop pretending that every party that doesn’t back Netanyahu is naturally a partner of the Lapid-led coalition for change…because there parties like Balad and Joint List that are NOT partners of the alternative coalition; they simply have their own ideology and reasons and they won’t join a Lapid-Gantz center-left coalition. They had opportunities. Don’t keep pretending that a unicorn will show up.