With the March 23 elections now less than three weeks away, all the talk about the pro-Bibi and anti-Bibi camps – meaning parties that will, or will not join in a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – is obscuring a seismic change that has altered Israel’s political landscape: the dominance of the Right.
If, when looking at the polls, one divides the map into pro- and anti-Bibi coalitions, the race appears to be excruciatingly close – with the anti-Bibi camp garnering in most recent polls about 61 seats, the pro-Bibi camp some 48, and Yamina – which can go either way, winning 11.
But if you look at the polls through the traditional Right-Left lens that was applicable before the April 2019 election when Avigdor Liberman kept his hard-right Yisrael Beytenu Party out of Netanyahu’s coalition, sending the country spiraling into a seemingly endless cycle of elections, the right-wing parties today are winning some 80 of the 120 Knesset seats.
The parties, or the offshoots of the parties that composed Netanyahu’s 67-member coalition in 2015 are set to win, according to Friday’s Maariv/Jerusalem Post poll, 80 seats this time around.
The decline of the Left is even more pronounced when comparing the situation today facing the two Zionist Left-wing parties – Labor and Meretz – with how they fared in the 1992 election when Yitzhak Rabin defeated Yitzhak Shamir. In that election, Labor and Meretz won 56 seats; in the last election those two parties, running together, won six, and the polls are showing that if Meretz does manage to pass the electoral threshold, this time, the two parties running separately may win nine seats.
Many reasons have been given for this precipitous decline of fortune for the Left.
One reason is demographics – the country’s demographics have shifted dramatically, with the country’s population doubling from 4.6 million in 1990 to some 9.3 million today. The greatest increase was in the 1990s, which saw massive immigration from the former Soviet Union. In that decade alone the country’s population ballooned by some 37%, surging to 6.3 million at the start of the new century.
The vast majority of those Russian-speaking new immigrants did not vote for the Left. Likewise, the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist population in the country has also risen as a result of higher birth rates in those communities, and here, too, that change in demographic favors the parties on the Right.
But it is not only demographics that have altered the political map – reality has also intervened. The aftermath of the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005, as well as the second intifada from 2000 to 2005, disabused many Israelis of the notion that – as the Left had been arguing for decades – Israel could trade land for peace. Reality proved otherwise.
But there is yet another reason why so many Israelis have turned their back on the Left: the Left, instead of succeeding to convince Israelis of its positions, is trying to convince the world.
And while the Left might have succeeded in convincing progressives in the US and liberals in Europe of the critical imperative of a two-state solution along the 1967 lines, a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem and the evils of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, they have not convinced the vast majority of Israelis. How do we know: look at those polls showing 80 seats for Right-wing parties.
Moreover, by turning to the world and soliciting pressure from foreign capitals on the Israeli government, the Left is alienating even those Israelis who might have sympathy for their positions, but don’t want the world to dictate to Israel what steps it should take to ensure its own security.
Wonder why so many Israelis are not interested in the Left? Take a look at a letter that a group of 442 parliamentarians from 22 European countries sent this week to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and the EU’s 27 foreign ministers.
“The recent regional normalization agreements with Israel have led to the suspension of plans to formally annex West Bank territory,” the letter read. “However, developments on the ground clearly point to a reality of rapidly progressing de facto annexation, especially through accelerated settlement expansion and demolition of Palestinian structures.”
The letter called on the EU and European countries to work to stop this trend and to make use of the “diplomatic policy tools” at their disposal to do so, a euphemism for placing various forms of pressure on Jerusalem.
And who initiated the letter? Social Democrat parliamentarians from Ireland or Sweden? Green party legislators from Germany or the Netherlands? No, four leading lights of the Israeli left: former Knesset speaker and Jewish Agency chairman Avraham Burg, former Meretz MK and New Israel Fund president Naomi Chazan, former Meretz party head Zahava Gal-On, and Michael Ben-Yair, who was the attorney-general under Rabin.
While those four are perfectly entitled to their efforts, they might want to consider what kind of effect this type of activity has on the average Israeli who may have problems with certain aspects of Israeli diplomatic policy, but definitely does not want to be dictated to by the foreign ministers of Belgium, France, Spain and Luxembourg.
If the Israeli Left wants to increase its political power in Israel, the best way would be to try to convince Israelis themselves, not try to get European parliamentarians – who are already convinced – to get their governments to twist Israel’s arm. That tactic is not going to win many Israeli adherents or help the Israeli Left regain any semblance of the political power it once wielded.