Analysis: The rightward shift that didn’t happen

The new Bayit Yehudi supporters do not back the party because of its hawkish stance, but because its leader is a charismatic, young hi-tech millionaire, who served in the Sayeret Matkal and speaks Hebrew slang.

January 18, 2013 01:53
2 minute read.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)


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Hundreds of members of the media from around the world started coming this week to cover Tuesday’s Israeli election.

Based on what has been reported so far, the foreign press parachuting in will seek interviews with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, and attempt to portray the election in general and the success of Bennett and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu specifically as an indication that Israel is moving rightward.

But a true analysis of the race indicates that such shallow impressions are far from true.

First of all, Bennett’s achievement in building Bayit Yehudi from three seats to the 13 predicted in Friday’s Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll came because he succeeded in attracting votes from the Center and many young, first-time voters.

The new Bayit Yehudi supporters do not back the party because of its hawkish stance on the Palestinians and the fate of Judea and Samaria. Bennett, who received good advice from his strategist, makes a point of avoiding talking about the Palestinians, who were never an issue in this election, or the settlements, which only became an issue when Netanyahu tried to use pronouncements about the West Bank to take votes away from Bennett.

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The new Bennett backers support Bayit Yehudi because its leader is a charismatic, young hi-tech millionaire, who served in the elite Sayeret Matkal General Reconaissance Unit, speaks Hebrew slang, and knows how to relate to Israelis from many different backgrounds.

The things seen as the most consensus issues in the United States are motherhood and apple pie. In Israel, motherhood is championed and apple pie is too often pareve and tasteless, but the equivalent consensus concepts are hi-tech and Sayeret Matkal.

While Netanyahu is expected to win the race by a landslide, his Likud Beytenu has dramatically fallen in the polls. The Right bloc has remained around the same 65 seats it won in the last election, not gaining any support at all from the divided Center- Left.

There was a war in Gaza during the election campaign, which inevitably creates a rally-around-the-flag effect of patriotism that could have moved Israelis rightward.

Before that, there were thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians and four years of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refusing to come to the negotiating table. That also could have understandably made Israelis more hawkish, but polls indicate that it hasn’t.

So the way the foreign media should be summing up the election so far is that Israel has apparently not gone Right, against all odds.

But the true test of which direction Israel will take is the coalition that Netanyahu is expected to form. Unlike last time when he formed a coalition with one Center-Left party and four parties on the Right, Netanyahu is expected to form a government with two Center-Left parties this time: most likely Yesh Atid and Kadima.

The outgoing coalition has five seats from the Left.

The next one is expected to have 15.

If that happens, the foreign press will have to parachute back to Israel to report on how Israel did not end up moving rightward and why their reports before were so wrong.

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