An Israeli Political Earthquake: Election 2013

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I don’t know if you saw this, but there was an electoral earthquake in Israel yesterday. Netanyahu is in trouble, and the election at this time is a 60-60 tie in the Knesset between right and left. Yair Lapid (leader of centrist and economically focused Yesh Atid) is king-maker with 19 seats. Netanyahu may still remain as prime minister, but it will be a much more centrist political landscape than before.

It rarely has happened in recent Israeli history (once under a Sharon government in 2003, but there is a real chance now of a government without the ultra-Orthodox (who only constitute 10% of the total population), if Likud/Yisrael Beteinu, Yesh Atid, Labor, Hatnua, and Kadima (probably not Meretz) join to form a government. (Habayit Yehudi is also a possibility, as they are modern orthodox, but they’re also far-right nationalists). Since everyone hates each other, that may not occur, but the possibility itself is a significant development whatever mess may ensue.

What people in the U.S. don‘t realize is that Israelis do not vote solely (or even primarily) on peace/war issues, but economics and religion-state issues are just as important to them. When it comes to the Middle East, we may only care about foreign policy, but Israelis (like Americans, and Arabs too by the way) are worried about their economic futures and their freedoms. Lapid won because people are sick of the ultra-Orthodox military exemptions and the crushing of the middle class by corporations and government expenditures on the fanatically religious. No one predicted this would happen, but secular voters, increasing numbers of moderately religious, and young people showed up in unexpected quantities (sound familiar). The polls were wrong, because they only used landlines and missed the cell-phone youth vote.

I know I’m surprised–and relieved. A new generation is beginning to assert itself in Israel. We‘ll see if they can help to manage the pandemonium about to ensue.

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