Today’s election is historic.
Not because of the winner’s identity, where
no one expects surprises, and not because of a new idea, which no candidate has
introduced, and not even because of the many new faces – an unprecedented
one-third of the Knesset – who will now checker the public
Israel’s 19th general election is seminal because it is the first
since 1965 to have been dominated by domestic issues. It is through this prism
that its parties, issues and candidates should be seen.
parties, Labor should take credit for this change of the agenda. Its strategic decision to
focus on the economy and all but ignore foreign affairs has been a success. This
is what most voters wanted discussed, and this is what the campaign ended up
After decades of allowing the Right and the Left to preach and
execute their Greater Israel and land-for-peace visions, swing voters concluded
they were wasting their limited political resources on a conflict that they no
longer believed will be solved in their lifetimes.
electorate that fought the war on suicide bombers, imposed the West Bank
security barrier on thenprime minister Ariel Sharon and then-foreign minister
Shimon Peres and finally backed the retreat from Gaza is the same electorate
that later took to the streets demanding cheaper housing, education and
And so, though an end to the Middle East conflict is nowhere in
sight, Israeli politics have entered the post-conflict era, as voters have come
to see the conflict’s treatment as a matter of management rather than
The politicians who tried to resist this trend, Tzipi Livni
with her focus on the Palestinian front and Shaul Mofaz with his initial focus
on Iran, failed in their quests. The public yawned so impolitely that the two
soon joined everyone else’s domestic discourse – Livni by suddenly recalling her
past as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s privatization czar, which she now
claims to regret, and Mofaz by celebrating his social origins as an immigrant
boy who rose to command the IDF.
Indeed, Kadima, the party that the two
led successively, entered the outgoing Knesset as its largest faction, and
emerges from it a political relic, having been caught off guard by the social
upheaval in the summer of 2011. While Kadima preached peace, it discovered that
the people expected their politicians not to wait with their treatment of
mortgages, tuition and cheese prices until Israel’s enemies are persuaded to
beat swords into plowshares.
The domestic debate itself is largely about
a decade of Bibi-nomics, which began during Netanyahu’s term as Sharon’s finance
minister, was then upheld by the Olmert government, and culminated in
Netanyahu’s second premiership.
More specifically, the vote pits Labor’s
Shelly Yacimovich, who plans to hike social spending and upper-echelon taxation,
against Netanyahu, who plans to rebalance the budget by cutting
Paradoxically, the budget deficit’s growth to 4.2% of GDP was largely
caused by Netanyahu’s accommodation of the social protest by extending free
education to children aged 3 and up from the program’s previous limit set at age
5, among other costly concessions he made to the economic Left. And ironically,
by the time he returned to the driver’s seat, Netanyahu’s reformist zeal had
The land reform he promised could have flooded the markets with
state-owned real estate and thus depressed prices. However, when met by
opposition from his political allies, he backtracked.
promises – that this time around he will not give the Construction and Housing
Ministry to Shas and that he will appoint pro-market Likud MK Moshe Kahlon as
director of the Israel Lands Authority, a promise he has already fulfilled –
indicate how much he regrets having compromised his own convictions.
party that most unequivocally agrees with Netanyahu’s economics is Yair Lapid’s
Yesh Atid, which has also crusaded for the conscription of haredi men into the
army. The combined vote that the two win today will therefore reflect the
popularity of Netanyahu’s economics.
By the same token, a strong combined
showing for Labor, Shas and Meretz will be interpreted as a counter-capitalistic
Beyond economics, this election is also about demographic and
If Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party performs as well
as all polls predict, it will reflect the high birthrates of the
At the same time, it will also prove that a
fresh and charismatic new face can even redeem a political cadaver like the
National Religious Party, whose following has been voting habitually for other
Bennett’s problems will start tomorrow, when his
refashioned party – now a patchwork of rigorously religious, loosely observant
and fully secular people – has to actually do things together. But that’s
tomorrow. Today, thousands of national-religious voters will flock to the polls,
eager to restore the power that the historic NRP wielded throughout the years of
Labor’s hegemony, when it was the loyal, respected and most stable coalition
That is why this election is also about the future of
Twenty-nine years after its entry into the Knesset, the party that
has since become a fixture of the political era is at a crossroads – not because
of a change of minds or hearts, but because of its founding sage’s advanced
Today’s vote will also pass a verdict on the haredi party’s future,
as well as its fielding of Arye Deri despite the jail term he served, and the
social-tarnishing campaign that he led.
If Shas performs well, it will
mean that a critical mass of the public remains alarmingly
However, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s jabs this week at Bayit
Yehudi voters indicate Shas fears that someone may finally be stealing its
If Shas emerges from this vote weakened, it will mean that the
post-Ovadia Yosef-era in religious politics, like the postconflict era in
Israeli politics, has dawned.
The writer is a fellow at the Shalom
Hartman Institute. •