The big unification of the Israeli left does not cure its fundamental flaw: reliance on Arab votes
Winning an election in Israel is a two-step process. First, a party must win the largest number of Knesset seats so that the president will ask its leader to form a coalition government. Second, that leader must form a coalition that enjoys the confidence of the majority of Knesset members. If he fails to do so, the president is free to ask the second largest party to form the government.
Just published poll by Yediot Aharonoth, one of Israel’s largest newspapers, shows Benny Gantz, the leader of the newly formed leftist block “Kahol Lavan” (Blue and White) easily clearing the first bar with his party gaining 36 seats, well ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud 30.
As to the second bar, forming a ruling coalition, things are a bit murkier. Gantz’s natural allies on the Jewish Israeli left are the remnants of the once great Labor party with 8 seats and the ultra-left and barely Zionist ultra-left Meretz party with 4. That gives the leftist coalition 42 seats, well below the 61 necessary to form a government. The two Arab parties, which oppose the very existence of the state in whose parliament they serve, come in with 12 seats. They are unlikely to join the government, not the least because their members are terrorist sympathizers and thus security risks, but they will vote with it, giving Gantz 54 votes. Next, he has to secure the support of the Kulanu party, which is predicted to win 4 seats and either Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party or the ultra-orthodox Torah Judaism or Shas parties, which together are predicted to win 11 seats.
All of this, however, is highly problematic. Kulanu is a party supported mostly by right and center right Sephardi and Mizrahi voters that split from the Likud because they wanted a bigger slice of the socioeconomic pie. Gantz will no doubt promise them everything they ever wanted and more, but sitting in a government that is held up by Arab votes and in the same coalition as the ultra-Ashkenazi and borderline racist against non-Ashkenazi Jews Meretz, may well be a bridge too far.
Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu has its base of support among Russian Jewish repatriates to Israel, people who are very opposed to the kind of leftist politics promoted by Labor and Meretz in both the security and economics arenas. Finally, the ultra-orthodox parties, the Ashkenazi Torah Judaism and the Sephardi/Mizrahi Shas are very unlikely to be in a coalition with openly hostile to religious Jews Meretz and the Gentile Arabs.
While none of this is impossible, is is, nonetheless, exceedingly unlikely. The left in Israel suffers from the fatal flaw of accepting the support of terrorist, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic Arabs, while allowing the flowering in its ranks of anti Mizrahi and anti Sephardi bigotry and rank hostility towards religious Jews. According to official data, non-religious Jews in Israel are only 43% of the population and most Jews are from the Sephardi and Mizrahi communities. This means that the left in Israel, in every possible embodiment, can only gain a majority by enlisting the support of the Arab population, support that it is quite willing to give, precisely because it knows that the left will weaken Israel and could eventually lead it to its destruction as a Jewish state, an outcome that the Arabs long for.
On the right side of the equation things are looking pretty tough as well, though perhaps not quite as challenging as on the left.The Likud, with 30 seats can count on the support of its natural allies on the right HaYamin HaHadash and the newly combined even further right party called simply “Union Of Right Parties”. These two together bring on board 11 seats, yielding a new total of 41. Adding 11 more from the two ultra-orthodox parties, we get to 52, and with Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu and Moshe Kahalon’s Kulanu, the right-wing bloc has 60 reliable seats. This is a much easier pairing of substantially aligned forces in Israeli politics, one that is much more natural than any leftist coalition and one that does not need any non-Jewish votes. But it’s not enough. A minimally stable government requires a minimum of 61 votes and so something would have to give. What exactly is hard to predict and it would be a fool’s errand to do so based on one poll and more than a month out from the April 9 elections.
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It would be worth noting that in this poll three parties, two belonging to the right bloc and one to the left have only the minimum threshold of four seats, meaning that any change for the worse in their fortunes will cause them to disappear from the political map as far as the next Knesset is concerned.
The major trend, however, is unmistakable: there is no Jewish majority in Israel for the left. Any government formed by Gantz will therefore have to rely on the votes of citizens who wish for nothing better than to see Israel destroyed as the homeland of the Jewish people. While theoretically this is a possible outcome, realistically, it is not. Which is why when asked: ‘regardless of your own political views, who do you think will form the new government?” 59% of respondents answered Netanyahu and only 23% Gantz, a better than two to one majority in favor of Netanyahu.
The poll’s respondents, both Jews and Arabs, are well-versed in the political reality in Israel and no amount of political trickery by power-obsessed ex-generals can change it.