A View From Israel: Here we go... again

It is likely that this election will bring a similar scenario and a large enough rightwing bloc enabling Netanyahu to put together another government.

Israeli Ballot (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Ballot (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision this week to go to early elections elicited a nationwide groan – and a few excited hurrahs for the extra election day vacation.
On Monday the election process will gain momentum as everyone waits for Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to disperse the parliament for a campaign recess.
With no real contenders in Shelly Yacimovich, Yair Lapid, Shaul Mofaz or Ehud Barak, Netanyahu’s only real potential challenge will come in the form of Ehud Olmert – if he decides to run.
With an Arab Spring, Arab Winter, or whatever you’d like to call it still taking place in countries surrounding Israel; the rise of radical Islamists in those countries; continued threats from Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran and a worldwide economic crisis, it is difficult to see what politicians from other parties can offer to bring to the premiership that Netanyahu hasn’t already.
In terms of foreign policy, Netanyahu probably has the most experience and is best suited to deal with Israel’s security.
In terms of domestic issues, it’s not as clear and other contenders for the premiership may be on equal footing with Netanyahu.
To compare, efforts in the election campaign of 2009 to capture right-wing voters included focusing on the peace process and the war in Gaza.
Mario Sznajder, a researcher at the Department of Political Science of the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem writes, “We know that there is a shift to the right associated with the ongoing problem between Israel and Gaza, and an Iranian link that strengthens existing feelings of an existential menace. The ambivalent attitudes of the left and centre-left wing parties – Meretz and Labor – towards the [2009] military operation in Gaza – initially offering their complete support, and later morally criticising it and demanding the operation be stopped – projected a confused imaged that cost these parties many votes.”
Now, with a stagnant peace process and no official war with Hamas in Gaza, it is possible that parties will attempt to attract voters by focusing on the possibility of a secondterm Obama, a scenario which, to some, indicates trouble for Israel, and a potential strike on Iran which would most likely involve a war with Hamas and Hezbollah.
Social issues will also likely play a prominent role in this year’s elections, and it could be interesting to see what promises the candidates will make to try and woo voters.
BASED ON research conducted after the 2003, 2006 and 2009 elections, it appears that fewer citizens are motivated to go out and vote.
Voter turnout in the 2006 election was 63.2 percent, the lowest in Israel’s history.
In 2009, the number of voters rose to 65.2%.
It is unclear what 2013 will bring, but unless candidates can convince citizens of the importance of voting, and unless candidates can appeal to them by tackling the issues, there won’t be much of an improvement – if any – in turnout.
Voting patterns have changed as well.
According to political scientist Asher Arian, over the years, voters in Israel have felt less connected to a specific party and instead feel more attached to either the right, central or left political blocs. Arian emphasized, “The party system has undergone dealignment... the blocs are alive, well and vigorous... It is no coincidence that we observe the growth in vitality in bloc alignment and the simultaneous weakening of political parties and party ties.”
Israeli voters often communicate with one other in groups and hold lengthy discussions on politics. The average individual also reads newspapers, listens to the radio, watches television and views outdoor advertising.
Thus, a voter will likely act in a predetermined manner on election day based on inner beliefs and outside influences.
Anthony Downs, a scholar in public policy and public administration and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, argues that parties will shift their ideologies to gain more votes and therefore more power. Downs also claims some voters will use irrational judgment in choosing the party they will vote for.
Often, voters do not know the party’s position on any number of issues, but will be influenced by family and friends to vote for the party regardless.
Voters also display individual behavior and collective behavior.
Political events can shape the way a person thinks as an individual. Alternatively, voter reaction can be based upon the reaction of others. This “feeding” or collective behavior also helps shape voters’ political stance at the polls.
Samuel Popkins, author of The Reasoning Voter, says, “year-to-year changes in party identification reflect voter reaction to recent political events and have a clear and direct effect on voting.”
As more people become educated and are aware of other parties’ positions on political issues, and as the Internet assists in informing the individual, voter dealignment becomes more common. People no longer feel loyal to a specific party.
The rightward shift will probably continue in this election as well, though left-wing parties will likely focus heavily on social issues and recruitment of haredim into the army to draw more voters.
In 2009, the right-wing bloc led by Likud and Netanyahu had better possibilities than did Livni and Kadima, since it could count on the support of at least 65 of the 120 members of the Knesset. Although Kadima won the largest number of votes, the left-ofcenter bloc was smaller than the right-ofcenter bloc.
It is likely that this election will bring a similar scenario and a large enough rightwing bloc enabling Netanyahu to put together another government.
And yet, between now and election day, anything can happen on an international level or domestically. We’ll just have to wait and see.