Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Israeli Elections II: Bibi's Last Rabbit?

Benjamin Netanyahu used to be known in Israel as "The Magician," and there did seem to be something paranormal about how he saved himself in last month's election. Trailing by four seats in the polls four days before the election, his Likud party ended up on top by six seats, for a big increase over the previous election. Here's that chart from Wikipedia again:

Zionist Union786,31318.6724+3
Joint List446,58310.6113+2
Yesh Atid371,6028.8211–8
The Jewish Home283,9106.748–4
Yisrael Beiteinu214,9065.106–7
United Torah Judaism210,1434.996–1

So how did he do it? Did Israel suddenly shift to the right?

Not noticeably. Here's the above chart, as recalculated by me:

Votes %
Right 1,484,224 35.2% 44 +1
Center 686,962 16.3% 21 +2
Left 1,150,937 27.3% 29 +2
Ultra-Orth. 451,756 10.7% 13 -5
Arab 446,583 10.6% 13 +2

Looked at this way, there's been almost no change. What Netanyahu apparently managed to do was scare people enough that they deserted the other right-wing parties and voted for Likud. That made Likud the biggest party, giving them the first chance to put together a coalition. But overall, there wasn't much change in the proportion voting for each group.*

If not for the shift to Likud from other right-wing parties, the Zionist Union would have won; then it can easily put together a center-left coalition that, with passive support from the Arabs, could get a majority of more than 60.**  But Bibi pulls out the win!

The question now is what the cost will be to Netanyahu in the long run. Certainly his Election Day appearance on Facebook, warning that Arabs were coming out to vote "in droves," and were being bused in by leftist organizations, did not make a favorable impression among Americans, who quickly translate it to: "Come out and vote, because liberals are driving busloads of blacks to the polls!"  Polarized though American politics has become, that hasn't been a conceivable statement by an American  politician in at least forty years. (Netanyahu later apologized, but I don't think anyone was mollified.)

More problematic still was Netanyahu's statement that there wouldn't be a Palestinian state on his watch, followed after the election with a "Ha, ha, just kidding!" This was about the last straw for the Obama administration, which seems to feel liberated now that it is no longer obliged to believe that Netanyahu is sincere. I think it's possible that Bibi's bag of tricks is now empty.

* In fact, probably less than appears-- one of the ultra-Orthodox parties didn't make the new higher cutoff and so is not counted above, resulting in a small gain in seats for everyone else.

** You can't get over 60 with the ultra-Orthodox parties instead, because then you lose one of the centrist parties.

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