The 2013 Israeli elections resulted in the not so sweeping victory of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra right-wing bloc, the Likud and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. Their alliance garnered 31 mandates to the Knesset (Parliament) down from 42 in the 2009 elections. Many of their votes were lost to Yair Lapid’s newly founded party Yesh Atid that was appointed 19 Members of Knesset. The center right party of Kadima, which received 28 mandates in 2009, fell to two MKs, and it’s offshoot, Tenua, six. However the results of these elections hardly signify a turn left for politics in Israel, quite the contrary.
Israeli elections are party based. Each voter selects a 7party; the parties that have garnered more than 2% of the overall vote are afforded one Member of Knesset per mandate. Each party is then given the opportunity to recommend a prime minister. Based on the number of parties supporting each nomination, the president determines who is best positioned to achieve a government coalition.
By Friday February 1st, President Shimon Peres promises to reach his decision. And given that the Labor Party, Meretz, Hadash, and Tzipi Livni’s Tenua have all announced they will not recommend any candidate, it appears Netanyahu is a shoo-in.
However, though the public may have voted against economic neo-liberal policies, they also voted for Yesh Atid’s thoroughly right winged racist platform. The platform demands that Israel never dismantle the West Bank settlements. Yair Lapid went so far as to state that he would not join a coalition with Arab parties.The rapid ascension of the Yesh Atid party and it’s social platform has by and large been viewed by the Israeli main stream media as a turn away from the war mongering of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. Their platform calls for a change in priorities, to policies focused on civil life, education, housing and health care. As one voter told Haaretz on the day of the elections, “Bibi is prime minister anyway, so let there be someone beside him who is on our side.”
What the election results in Israel have proven consistently over the past decade is that Israeli society has been shifting continuously from center right politics to ultra right. Despite the protest movement of 2011, which was inspired by the Arab Spring, those who consider themselves center left and left are few. Conjoined with Palestinian voters they amount to no more than 25% of the overall vote.
The Palestinian population’s participation rate in the 1960s was as high as 85%, dropping to roughly 70% in the 80s and finally plummeting to 53% in the 2000s (without including the boycott of 2001 when only 18% turned out to vote, in response to the events of September-October 2000). Their low participation can be attributed to the widespread view that they have very little influence on policy making in Israel.
Interestingly, in towns that are primarily comprised of Mizrachi Jews (Jews of Arab and Middle Eastern descent) voter rate is very similar, averaging at 52%. Their votes traditionally have gone to Likud and the Sephardic Orthodox party Shas. This year however many defected to Yesh Atid.
Only three parties that represent Palestinian rights were voted into parliament this year; Ra’am-Ta’al with four mandates, Hadash with four as well and Balad with three mandates. Despite their differences the three are commonly grouped together in Israeli media as “the Arab parties”, even Hadash whose membership is partly Jewish as well.
Ra’am-Ta’al is a coalition of religious and nationalist Arab factions. It’s platform calls for a two state solution, on the basis of the dismantling of all settlements, demands an end to the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem and the promise of the right of return, amongst other things. Hadash, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, is made up of an alliance of constituencies, some more radical than others. Founded by the Israeli Communist Party, today it is comprised of more factions, including Arab nationalists, and is backed by some of the wealthier Palestinian families. It defines itself as anti-Zionist however it calls for a two state solution and its platform focus is mainly social. Balad is the National Democratic Assembly and their platform is the only one that calls for an end to the Jewish nature of the state, as well as Palestinian pan-Arab cooperation.
Each one of these parties at one point or another faced disqualifications from elections or expulsion from the Knesset. Jewish parties do not grapple with such difficulties. Moreover, none of these parties will realistically ever be offered to enter upon a coalition government.
Further more, Israeli elections ignore the voices of 1.5 million people that live in the West Bank under Israeli occupation, as well as the 1.5 million in Gaza. Nor do these elections express the will of 3.5 million Palestinian refugees. On the other hand half a million Israeli Jews no longer living in Israel, continue to vote. And any Jew, from anywhere around the world, who wishes to become a voting citizen in Israel, may do so automatically.
Daphna is an Israeli-born activist residing in the United States. She is active in struggle for Palestinian liberation.