The 2019 Elections – The Rise of the Far-Right

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.

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Forget cutting subsidies to ultra-Orthodox; focus on settlers

Ha’aretz 3/14/13

A few weeks ago, I spent Shabbat with a friend of mine in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The shul he belongs to reminds me more of a yeshiva than the one I normally frequent but, nevertheless, I felt at home among the hats and coats. The rabbi’s speech was of particular interest. Toward the end, he commented on the Israeli election and ongoing coalition talks, warning that his community should be vigilant against those “who would attack the Torah way of life and give in to Arabs who want to destroy us.”

Saving the yeshivot has become synonymous with saving the settlements in the mind of many Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora. This has occurred due to the longstanding coalition partnerships between Likud and the rightwing and ultra-Orthodox parties. Their joint governments have traditionally been a one-stop shop for supporting a conservative social agenda as well as West Bank settlements.

But with the ultra-Orthodox parties cleaving from the political right in Israel’s incoming government, those who support both values find themselves at a crossroad.

The gloves came off when Shas declared it was willing to evacuate settlements, and Moshe Gafni, the ultra-Orthodox chair of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, revealed the true amount that the state has spent on settlements.

This new political environment forces a divide between those who support the conservative parties who have declared war on the settlement enterprise, like Shas, and those who support the alliance between national religious Habayit Hayehudi and centrist Yesh Atid, which aims to challenge the make up of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Particularly, this new political environment forces us to choose between whom we wish to support economically: the ultra-Orthodox, or the settlers.

Both sectors guzzle massive sums of Israeli tax funds, and while in an ideal world both issues would be addressed simultaneously, realistically, the Israeli government will probably have to start with one. If it were up to me, I would start with the settlements. Why?

There is no doubt that the ultra-Orthodox pose grave demographic challenges in Israel. According to The Metzilah Center, by 2028, 33 percentof Jewish children in Israel will be ultra-Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox employment figures lag a good 40 percent behind the rest of the population, according to an OECD report. This situation needs to improve – and quickly.

Unlike the settlements, however, there are signs that the problem has been understood and steps have been taken to addresses it. Between 2009 and 2013, employment went up by 6 percent in the sector, and there has been a huge push through both state and philanthropic endeavors to get the ultra-Orthodox into the workplace.

Importantly, the global Diaspora has a vital role in helping integrate the ultra-Orthodox. Both the American and European Jewish communities have large ultra-Orthodox communities that work and are generally sustainable. There is a unique opportunity to learn the lessons of the global Jewish Diaspora and apply it to Israel. The solutions exist and there are many willing to help out on this problem.

Unlike the problems of the ultra-Orthodox, the settlement challenges are not trending in the right direction. While there are, of course, many issues that stand in the way of a final status agreement with the Palestinians, there are none as self destructive and wasteful as the continued subsidization of the settlements.

The economic and political costs are astronomical and create a long-term strategic threat to the very existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett represents a constituency that receives far more taxpayer support than his own neighbors in central Israel. Between 2011 and 2012, the cost of the settlements was, according to Peace Now, around NIS 2 billion, covering costs ranging from transportation to agriculture and housing.

Official channels of the Israeli government encourage the Diaspora to discuss Jewish challenges, including the problems that the country faces with its ultra-Orthodox community. They put settlements, however under the rubric of security, thereby deeming the topic “off limits” in the official Israel-Diaspora discourse. By doing so they restrict the Jewish world from helping in any way with the settlement problem, urging them instead not to ask questions.

By highlighting a populist issue such as the universal draft, the settler community has managed to morph themselves into the Israeli middle-class while demonstrating the clear “otherness” of the ultra-Orthodox population. By turning the ultra-Orthodox into hated figures, the Yesh Atid-Habayit Hayehudi alliance risks backsliding on the positive trends that the ultra-Orthodox community has made in the past few years, and masks the fact that the settlements are just as dependent on the state as those they attack.

Had he started by addressing the cost of the settlements, Lapid could have found more money for Israel’s middle classes, and helped the ultra-Orthodox integrate into society. Instead, he risks alienating a community he is trying to help while “koshering” a group that not only takes, but decimates Israel’s image in the world.

This election has demonstrated to overseas supporters of both the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers that Israel cannot square the circle at a time of fiscal tightening. Targeting the issues posed by the settlements offers us the best chance at dealing with both important public policy challenges successfully rather than through a populist push that will achieve neither.

With the final polls done – my analysis of the #israeli election

With the final polls my final analysis of the Israeli Election :

15% of sample polls still unsure who to vote for that means 15-17 seats up for grabs – seeing as that there is a 10 seat swing needed to go from right to left to change PM it is unlikely but could dramatically change the coalition.

Bibi might end up as PM but he has lost this election campaign – he ran under the slogan a strong leader and he comes in to the next government as a far weaker man. His coalition (Likud-Beytanu) looks to lose 10 seats, his favorite figures in his own party did not enter high enough on his list and he is shackled by those who have fought against him within.

Biggest winner hands down is Bennett – taking the NRP and settler right and making it fashionable – 50% of his votes are coming from under 30 year olds and by getting so many seats he is an essential coalition partner if the center left would want to block Bibi and not relay on Arab party votes. His biggest challenge if he gets the housing ministry (one of his top priorities and puts him in direct competition with Shas) is to please both the settler right (Tekuma is in his list) and the under 30’s who want more affordable housing within 67 Israel.

Smaller parties are doing better with no obvious challenger to Bibi – Meretz is looking to double in strength and Eretz Hadasha and Am Shalem look to be picking up a seat or two as well. Kadima might survive, but at this point who cares.

The destruction of the center left has been awful to watch as they eat each other. Livni has done worst followed by shelly with Lapid holding his own at 10-12 seats. His big competition is Shas as he has made his campaign about sharing the burden, if he finishes ahead then he will be happy.

Shelly has run a campaign that has allowed even the left to forget about security. This leaving of the diplomatic realm by all parties bar Livni and Meretz has allowed Bennett to go branded as the new face of Israel without dealing with the reality of his positions. Rather then own the failures of Oslo she has ignored them, been silent on the settlers (who will never vote for her anyway) and as a result has lost at least three seats to Meretz and possibly a bunch more to Livni. With Mitzna leaving her, she has no credible defense minister and this makes her not look like a serious challenger.

Lastly we have Shas that has had an awful campaign coupled with the illness of Ovadia Yosef. Though they wanted to do a compassionate campaign to appeal to all of the poor, their racism against Russians and migrant workers was on full show and they will finish having attacked every possible coalition partner. They know they are a fundamental part of the right blocks calculations but have managed to piss off the huge swaths of Israel with their campaign. Despite this they are going to end up between 10-12 seats.

Amongst the Arab sector the big question is will there by a 50% turn out (in 2009 53%) or will there be a democratic deficit that will allow those who boycott Israel to claim their are the real representatives of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Fun story of campaign has been Da’am the joint jewish-arab workers party that has captured the minds of many within the Left.

In terms of coalitions its always hard to say – those who think that Bibi will go with religious and right block think that the government will only last 2 years and then we are back to the polls. To others who can see a Livni, Lapid Bibi, Bennett and possible Shas, UJT coalition the figures on election night will matter and the degree that Bibi has flexibility to offer the ministries he wants to is going to be severely limited.