This first appeared in the Jerusalem Post March 25th 2018
by Jeremy Saltan and Joel Braunold
With the threat of new elections out of the headlines, the non-stop polling of the past month is expected to slow. During that time most analysts focused on the strength of the Likud, averaging at 31 seats over the past seven polls. Some analysts went deeper, looking at the shifts between the religious-right coalition and the center-left-Arab opposition blocs, particularly with both Shas and Yisrael Beitenu hovering around the electoral threshold. However, it is a trend that we have been tracking for some time that could have the biggest impact on the next Knesset – the quiet and rapid growth of the far-right vote.
In the 2013 Elections the Otmza L’Yisrael Party led by the secular Prof. Aryeh Eldad & Kahanist Dr. Michael Ben-Ari received 66,775 votes. The ultra-nationalist list’s 1.75% of the vote missed the then electoral threshold of 2% by about ten thousand votes. In the 2015 Elections the Yachad list led by former Shas leader Eli Yishai, former Bayit Yehudi MK Yoni Chetboun, who represented the more Chardal side of the party, and Kahanist Baruch Marzel received 125,158 votes. The 2.97% showing would have been good enough for three seats and change. Instead it fell underneath the new 3.25% electoral threshold.
There are various rumors and media reports that we might see an expanded far-right list in the next Israeli election that could include other groups such as the late Lithuanian Rabbi Aurbauch’s Etz Party, Moshe Feiglin’s new Zehut Party, and the Chardali Tekuma party that is currently affiliated with Bayit Yehudi. There is also a possibility of a Chabad candidate reaching a realistic spot in such a coalition. What all these parties have in common is that they all fall to the right of Naftali Bennett, who is currently leading what is considered by many as the most right-wing party in the Knesset.
There are data to suggest that a coalition of parties to the right of Bayit Yehudi may go further than just passing the threshold – it might receive a considerable number of seats. By appealing to a younger Sephardi Haredi audience with Yishai and a younger Chardali audience with Chetboun the far-right was able to double their numbers in just two years from 2013 to 2015. Expanding that to include additional groups should be enough to get that coalition over the electoral threshold next time.
Additionally, we are talking about a base that enjoys the fastest growing population in the country. A recent study on the “Fertility rates in Israel by religion and level of religiosity and their effect on public expenditure” was conducted by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center for the Knesset’s Appropriations Committee. Based on its findings, with seven new potential Haredi voters and four new potential national religious voters for every three new potential traditional voters and two new potential secular voters, the trend is quite clear.
The gains between the 2013 and the 2015 elections made by the far-right are quite impressive across the board and can be seen especially in the Haredi settlements. In Beitar Illit support grew from 5% to 14%. In Emanuel it went up from 14% to 32%. In Kochav Yaakov it went from 14% and third place to 32% and first place. In the 2015 Elections Yachad finished first place in settlements with large Chardali populations such as Nahliel, Yitzhar, Bat Ayin and Ma’ale Hever. The number of new voters in each of these settlements will be considerable before the next election.
Support also grew in the top-20 populated cities that also have large religious populations. Jerusalem increased from 3% to 7%. Bnei Brak went up from 1% to 5.5%. Bet Shemesh went from 3% to 7%. Additionally, there were impressive gains in the south such as Netivot where the numbers jumped from 2% to 19%. In Mitzpe Ramon it went up from 3% to 16%, and that is in a city where Shas only had 5% in the 2013 cycle. Other areas where there could be significant gains are in Kfar Chabad where it started at 54% and went up to 75%, Elad where it jumped from 3% to 14%, and Yad Binyamin where it went up from 13% to 40%.
All of the cities above are growing in population at a rapid pace, above the national average, and if additional right-wing splinter groups agree to run on a joint list we could see significant increases.
In our previous two joint installments on these pages we illustrated the trend of young Israeli voters moving to the right side of the map on issues ranging from security to religion and state. With the traditional religious parties of Shas and UTJ losing voting share among their youth, many among the younger religious population ranks are going to the edges of the right side of the map.
These are edges that can include racial hate, bigotry and threats of violence. There are many among this fringe that justify price tags and the impulses behind the work of Torat HaMelech and religiously justify the dehumanization of the other. Within these far-right circles, current Tekuma MK Bezalel Smotrich would be viewed as a moderate. His bemoaning the sharing of maternity wards with Arab citizens and doctors made headlines across the country just two years ago. While you cannot ascribe all of the potential voter bases these views; people’s preference for parties are for varied reasons, their votes may elect to the Knesset those who follow a racist ideology.
The changing demographics of the Jewish community in Israel will give rise to new blocs as the axis of right and left in Israel adapt around the changing demographic nature of the Knesset. It is yet to be seen how a stronger joint list of the far-right would play in the traditional right-religious bloc, but the next election could rewrite coalition politics as we know it. It is difficult to poll first time voters, yet when you look at the election results of the past two national elections, combined with the data of steady birthrates among the past twenty years, you can’t help but conclude that the far-right is coming.
Joel Braunold is the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace. Jeremy Saltan is a municipal politician, Bayit Yehudi’s Anglo Forum chairman and one of Israel’s leading poll analysts.
All views presented are those of the individual authors.