In His Campaign for the Upcoming Election, Netanyahu Turns against the Hard Right

August 12, 2019 | Haviv Rettig Gur
About the author: Haviv Rettig Gur is the senior analyst for the Times of Israel.

With Israeli elections scheduled for September, writes Haviv Rettig Gur, Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be campaigning not against his major rival—the center-left Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz—but against the smaller right-wing parties expected to join with Likud to form a governing coalition. It was, after all, the stubbornness of these parties that prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition after the last election. To Gur, many observers misread Israeli politics by ignoring these rivalries within the right:

Israeli pundits often think about election arithmetic through the lens of left or right, the supposed “camps” or “blocs” of Israeli political life. Each time a major news outlet posts a new poll, it includes a pie chart or bar graph showing the “total size” of a “right-wing-and-ḥaredi bloc” and a “center-left-and-Arabs bloc.” No single party has ever won a Knesset majority, the thinking goes, so the race isn’t actually won by the largest faction but by such like-minded alliances.

The trouble with this way of thinking is that Israeli politicians do not really behave this way, and Netanyahu least of all. He has shown himself entirely comfortable incorporating the left into his coalitions, and even ceding major agencies and policies to make that happen.

If the collapse of the last coalition talks proves anything, it is that lumping the ultra-Orthodox with the right also doesn’t reflect electoral reality; it is the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu, and not the centrist secularists of Yesh Atid, that torpedoed the formation of that coalition over its demands of the Ḥaredim. Nor does the lumping of the Arab-majority parties with the center or left reflect Israeli political reality. . . . Arab parties are not generally disposed to backing leftist or centrist Jewish-majority parties just for the principle of the thing, and have never joined a ruling parliamentary coalition. Indeed, they have proved as likely to cooperate with the right as with the left, if not in their rhetoric then in their politicking and legislation.

Instead of counting artificial “blocs,” prognosticators would be better served by thinking about possible coalitions, which can and do straddle the political divides and are the real engine of victory in an Israeli election.

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