As promised, here is my analysis of the reactions to Tuesday’s national elections held in Israel and of why the parties either succeeded or failed.

I was especially bothered by the comments that many people have made about the Likud’s victory and how Netanyahu brought it about, so I will talk about that first and then deal with the other parties.

As to be expected, people on the left are looking for ways to rationalize their defeat at the polls and are accusing the right once again of having won only due to some sort of fraud or misinformation campaign perpetrated on the Israeli public.

The most egregious and obnoxious by far is how people on the left, both here and abroad, disappointed with the results, have been saying that the Likud’s victory was a sign that somehow fear and hatred won out.

Netanyahu only won because he scared the Israeli electorate.

So, in other words, all of the people who voted for the right on Tuesday were scared, hateful, war mongering racists.

This is always how the left describes the right in Israel and in Europe.

First of all, why is it that the losers in any country after any election always blame the winners for somehow cheating or lying or fooling the public? It’s always, “the people did not understand,” or “we didn’t get the message out” and never an acknowledgement that maybe it was their message that was the problem.

This is true for both the right and the left.

Now Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog has been making accusations against Netanyahu saying that he ran a dirty campaign by portraying Herzog and the Labor as weak. This is actually funny.

His party’s whole campaign was nothing but one big mudsling against Netanyahu. What exactly was their platform anyway? Does anybody know?

First of all the left also used fear in these elections. Their whole campaign was “just not Netanyahu.” They told the Israeli public that a Netanyahu victory would be a disaster because it would further ruin relations with the US. They said that the Europeans would be aghast at yet another right wing victory in Israel.

So was this not also a campaign of fear?

An did not the two parties, Kulanu and Yesh Atid, that campaigned specifically on social welfare issues also use fear? They told the Israeli public to fear economic hardships and growing poverty in the country and they promised to put a stop to it.

They now attack Netanyahu for reversing himself on the issue of a Palestinian state just days before the election. But didn’t Zionist Union do something similar when Tzipy Livni agreed to give up on a promised rotating premiership? I guess their internal polls showed that people just did not want to see Livni become prime minister.

Now some Labor people are going on the news shows trying to rationalize the defeat as a defeat for Netanyahu. They are asking, “Hey why did he take us to the polls again after only two years just to end up with the same total strength for the right again in the Knesset?”

First of all, the Likud increased its numbers by 10 seats, giving it more control over the next coalition government. And now Netanyahu can form a government without either Yair Lapid or Tzipy Livni, both of whom he despises. He will also be able to form a government with the Haredim which he wanted to do last time. (No judgment here on that point, just stating the facts.)

Even if this does not happen and Kahlon forms a 21 seat block with Lapid, Netanyahu still got rid of Livni. And Lapid was taught a lesson as his party lost almost half of its seats.

And even if the breakdown in the new Knesset ended up exactly like the old, it still would have been a victory for the Likud. The opposition was saying before new elections were called that he public was fed up with Netanyahu and tired of being fooled by him. Well they were proven wrong.

The public chose him and the Likud again in spite of everything so no one can make that argument. But they will anyway.

Netanyahu did something done frequently in parliamentary democracies: prove the critics wrong by calling snap elections and wining even if by only the same margin as the last time.

Also, by increasing his party’s strength by 50%, Netanyahu has solidified his hold on the Likud.

What about the smaller right wing parties?

Many are saying that Netanyahu’s previous coalition partners from the right wing Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) and Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) are furious at him for supposedly “stealing” seats from them in the Knesset. Combined the two parties lost 9 seats, all of which went to the Likud.

But this is silly. Let’s look at the facts. First Bayit Yehudi had 12 seats last time and fell to 8. Netanyahu campaigned saying that people needed to vote for the Likud rather than smaller right-wing parties because it was imperative that the Likud win the most seats if it were to lead the government again.

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Benet campaigned telling people not to believe this because what would matter would just be the total numbers of the right wing block verses the left wing.

So Benet really has nothing to complain about. He knows that this is exactly how the game is always played in Israeli elections. The smaller parties at the extremes tell voters to give them more mandates in the Knesset so that they will be able to influence the government and the large ones tell people to vote for them since the bigger they are the stronger their government will be should they win.

By the way, Bayit Yehudi was formed as an amalgam of several small parties. In the election of 2009 they separately won 7 seats in total and gained 5 more in 2013 as a joint list telling voters to support them instead of the Likud so they could influence Netanyahu from the right. Don’t worry, the Likud will still win, they reassured voters.

So what exactly does Benet have to complain about? He is pissed because Netanyahu stole back 4 of the 5 seats that Benet stole from him fair and square 2 years ago.

And why is Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman so angry at Netanyahu? I really don’t know.

In 2009 his party won 15 seats and now it’s down to 6. In 2013 for some reason Netanyahu was advised to make a joint list with YB. He thought that they would be stronger united and instead they lost a total of 11 seats, falling to only 31 from a combined 42 previously.

This was attributed at the time to a scandal and criminal investigation of Lieberman and it was believed that had they run separately the Likud would have won almost 30 seats on its own with YB lucky to get 8.

As a result of the joint list, Likud clearly lost votes to both Tzipy Livni and Yair Lapid’s parties.

So what about Israel’s left?

Meretz is now standing at 5 seats in the next Knesset. That represents a loss of only 1 seat, but still better than its all-time low of 3 after the elections of 2009. The party has never returned to the high of 12 seats which it won in the 1992 elections after it was first formed as an amalgam of three small left wing parties, Ratz, Mapam and Shinui.

So what happened?

First the party split after it decided to become a full party in 1999 and not just what is called a joint list. The Shinui Party chose not to be dissolved and ran separately that year gaining 6 seats. Meretz got 10. But in 2003 it fell to 6, in 2006, 5 and 2013 only 3.

The main reason for this was the failure of the party’s second leader Yosi Sarid to keep his promise that he made before the 1999 elections not to sit in any government with the ultra-orthodox, the Haredim. Actually his exact words were “read my lips, just not Shas” referring specifically to the Sephardic Haredi party and not the Ashkenazic one. He could not explain at the time why he singled out Shas.

But after the elections that year, the second and final one with a separate direct election of the premiere, the Shas Party won 17 seats in the Knesset. Labor leader Ehud Barak could not form a government without them and so Yosi Sarid agreed to join a coalition government with all of the Haredim, breaking his promise.

Just like when the American public punished the first President Bush for breaking his pledge after having said “read my lips, no new taxes!” so too did the Israeli public punish Meretz and it has never recovered. Someone should have told Sarid ahead of time how that kind of pledge worked out for Bush before he made it.

But the biggest problem for the Meretz Party is that it cannot point to anything that it has done in the last twenty years to promote its liberal/secular agenda. Yes it could take credit in part for getting Rabin to agree to the Oslo accords back in 1993. But every time it sat in a government, Rabin/Peres 1992-1996 and Barak 1999-2001 it did so with the Haredim.

The party never affected any change in the country’s religious status quo and never did anything to further the cause of secular marriage and an end to the national rabbinate.

It has only been the Likud Party which has ever agreed to governments without the Haredim. Ariel Sharon did so in 2003 and Netanyahu did so the last time.

Meretz, on the other hand, kept on telling voters that the peace process must come first because it is more important than all of the other issues. Yet it was Sharon who kept the Haredim out of power, appointed an Interior Minister from the secular Shinui who “cleaned” the ministry of all of its Haredi political appointees, and who agreed to a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

In the last Knesset Meretz joined with the Labor Party in a despicably cynical maneuver in which both opposed a new law that ended the yeshiva military deferments for the Haredim (de facto exemptions). This in spite of the fact that Meretz has always opposed those deferments and, even though, the law was guaranteed to pass.

Why did they do it, you might ask. Because it was also a vote of no confidence in Netanyahu. So goodbye to principles. Instead of voting in favor of something they believed in they voted against it just because, well actually I don’t know why they did it.

Meretz has not been in a government for 14 years now and will be in the opposition for at least 2 more.

So what happened to the Labor Party?

Its joint list with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party received only 24 seats in the next Knesset, up 3 seats from their combined 21 seats in the last. It’s still not clear what Hatnua stands for other than Tzipy Livni forming a new party after being ousted as leader of the now defunct Kadima Party before the last elections. She accepted to her list in 2013 two former Labor Party leaders, Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, who only joined her after losing in their bids to return to the leadership of the Labor.

First of all, talk about Cynical. Calling the new joint list the Zionist Union. What did that even mean? Were they saying that somehow they were the true Zionists because theirs was the only party with Zionist in its name?

The Labor Party still has not gotten back to the 19 seats that it won in 2003 and 2006 before falling to only 12 in 2009. It is nowhere near the dominating force it once was that had at least 40 seats in the Knesset in every one of Israel’s elections held from independence to 1992, getting more than 50 several times. The only exception was when it lost to the Likud for the first time in the elections of 1977, falling to 34 seats, but bouncing back to 47 in 1981.

While the Likud has also failed to win more than 40 seats since 1988, it has at least won a few elections in the last 15 years, and 5 of the last 7.

So what happened to Labor? Observers agree that it lost support in the Arab communities. In 1992 the Arab parties had a combined 5 seats in the Knesset. Today their new joint list has 13. All 8 of the seats that they gained clearly came at the expense of Labor.

Imagine 8 more seats for Labor giving it 32 in the next Knesset. They still would have lost with 37 total to the left and 44 to the right, but it would be a stronger party.

So why did the Arabs abandon Labor? Many believe that it was due to the Oslo Accords having increased ethnic pride in the Arab community in Israel.

Also, after his big victory in 1999, Ehud Barak was believed to be planning on including Arabs in his coalition. But because he needed all of the Haredim he could not do so. The Arab community was infuriated, sending many away from the Labor Party’s ranks.

But the biggest problem that the Labor Party has had in the last 15 years has been the Oslo Accords. By 2001, when Ariel Sharon trounced Ehud Barak in a special election, no one really believed anymore the line that “if only Rabin hadn’t been assassinated” or “if only Netanyahu hadn’t won in 1996,” then everything would have been fine.

This is because of what happened when Arafat rejected concessions offered him by Ehud Barak which shocked even many Laborites as giving up too much. Once the so called second intifada commenced, most Israelis stopped believing in Oslo.

Even if today most are willing to dismantle settlements and see a new Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, they are not sure if they can trust the other side.

As for Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid’s Party, I saw one of his people on television talking about how the Likud once fell to only 12 seats and bounced back to win the elections only three years later.

Talk about spin! He was rationalizing his party’s defeat and was being disingenuous. It fell to 11 from 19 seats.

The Likud fell to 12 seats in 2006 when the Kadima Party – a temporary movement made up former Likud people – won the elections. The Likud at the time was a party that had been in parliament in one form or another for 57 years before that and whose roots were in a political movement that was a century old. It was not a new special interest party based around one man’s charisma.

Yesh Atid, in contrast, is basically one man’s party, Yair Lapid, and it has only been in two Knessets now. If Lapid quits or dies it will definitely fall apart.

Binyamin Netanyahu has now been prime minister of Israel for 9 years in total and six years in a row. If his new government can last for the full 4 years then he will break Ben-Gurion’s record of most years in office and the most in a row.

Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Binyamin Netanyahu is the consummate politician.

About the author


Gil Tanenbaum made aliyah from New York after he completed college. He Has lived in Israel for over 20 years. He has an MBA from Bar Ilan University and is a contributor for various blogs.


  • One of the odd things I observed from afar is how none of Netanyahu’s opponents gave the impression that they really wanted the job of prime minister. Kahlon made no bones about the fact he was running to become Finance minister not prime minister. The decision by the Zionist Union to present a two-headed hydra of Herzog and Livni implied that they didn’t think that individually they had enough gravitas. Lapid has never tried to expand beyond his base of secular urbanites and has never seemed to want the headache of being the top dog and the top target of criticism. Polls leading up to the election showed that a strong plurality of Israelis thought that Netanyahu would be or should be prime minister. Once the Likud figured out how to extract voters from Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beitenu, Netanyahu had an advantage over Herzog. Nonetheless, I remain bothered by Netanyahu’s tactics. Like many modern politicians both in Israel and the USA, he is great at electoral politics but bad at governing. I agree with Lapid’s criticism that Netanyahu flip-flops so much that nothing gets done and there is no coherence to any of his policy-making. I surmise that Netanyahu is constantly looking to the next election and doesn’t want to offend some party who he might have to depend on later to form a coalition with. An example is this latest government that was bereft of ultra-Orthodox parties but did little on the religious-secular front. Netanyahu did not want to offend the religious parties and now he wants them to help him form a new coalition. His remark about the Arab voters coming out in droves was ugly, crude, and was designed to play on anti-Arab sentiment. It was morally wrong for him to say what he did. Politically it was strategically wrong despite whatever temporary tactical gain he might have gotten. It sent the wrong message to the Arab world and to Europe and to the USA. At the same time I was appalled by the remarks of MK Haneen Zoabi of the Joint List in the run-up to the election. She was talking about how she “was part of the Palestinian national project.” Her remarks alone are enough to cause fear in Israeli voters.