For a while last week it looked like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would call early elections for June, with his coalition partners deadlocked over a bill to exempt haredi Orthodox Israelis from the draft. At the last minute, the crisis was averted.
The winner was Netanyahu, who remains popular even while under investigation for corruption. A symbol of stability — he’s second only to David Ben-Gurion in terms of length of service in the premiership — he again burnished his credentials for his staying power by avoiding an election. Yet polling during the height of election fever showed that if Israel had gone to the polls early, Netanyahu would likely have won then, too.
Two polls released March 12 showed that the prime minister’s Likud party would remain Israel’s largest, with 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset. The opposition Yesh Atid, a centrist party, would be second, with 21 to 24 seats, up from 11 today.
One of the polls, though, had bad news for the two parties at the center of the draft legislation crisis. It showed the secular Israel Beiteinu party of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which opposed the bill, and the haredi Orthodox Shas party, which supported it, barely passing the electoral threshold that would keep them in the Knesset.
The polls also reported the rise of a new, unnamed party led by independent Knesset Member Orly Levy-Abekasis, allotting it five seats. Levy-Abekasis, the daughter of former Foreign Minister David Levy, last week won the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement. Levy-Abekasis has focused on social welfare issues in the Knesset. She wants to break the left-right paradigm, telling the Times of Israel she hopes to create “a new order.”
That movement toward “a new order” may be a symptom of the continuing shrinking of a left. The polls gave the center-left Zionist Union 11 to 13 seats, down from 24 today. Some of those votes may be moving to the Meretz party, expected to win 7 to 9 seats (currently 5).
This isn’t the full roster of parties, and the polls themselves are not considered entirely accurate. But they do give a sense of the electoral mood in Israel and reinforce Netanyahu’s dominant position, even with the baggage he appears to be carrying. One opinion writer suggested that Netanyahu has proved resilient because Israelis like scrappers, not elites, and having a leader whose hands aren’t exactly clean isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As Israel’s 70th anniversary approaches, we can’t help but note that the Jewish state was created with two sometimes contradictory ideals in mind: It would be a light unto the nations and it would be a country like any other. The political jockeying we have seen over the past several months is an example of the latter. We hope that when the next elections are held, the process and the results will reflect the former.