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Yoram Peri and Dr. Neil Besner VP Academic and International, University of Winnipeg


Political Analyst Yoram Peri: The Israeli left won the elections if you count the actual votes (1,890,000 to 1,853,000), but not the number of seats

by Rhonda J. Prepes, March 9, 2013

Political analyst Dr. Yoram Peri told a crowd of about 30 people at the University of Winnipeg that “the Israeli left won the [most recent] elections if you count the actual votes (1,890,000 to 1,853,000), but not the number of seats."

[Editor's note: This is why on the eve of the election, Ben-Dror Yemini, Editor of the Hebrew Daily Ma'ariv referred to the results as a "Ma'apach, "turn-over", albeit that Netanyahu will likely remain Prime Minister and form the next coalition.]

Peri, who is currently the Abraham S. and Jack Kay Chair in Israel Studies, and Director of the new Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, at University of Maryland, College Park spoke during Middle East Week at University of Winnipeg on March 5, 2013.

Although prior to the election, "people expected a shift to the right (for it to grow above 70 seats) and a growing religious influence on Israel politics," this in fact "did not occur,” said Peri, who is a former political advisor to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former Editor-in-chief of the Israeli daily, Davar.

“Everyone thought this election would be a reinforcing election – that the tendencies we saw in the last 10-15 years would be reinforced. And that did not occur.”

Before the elections the right wing party (which includes secular and religious) had 64 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. The left wing party which includes the centre had the remaining 56 seats.

“People should have looked at a public opinion poll that was published a few days before the elections which asked from whom would you buy a second hand car. Netanyahu got only 22%. And then he got 22% in the elections despite other forecasts.”

Peri went on to say, “The first conclusion of the election is that the shift to the right did not occur. Israeli society is still deeply divided on the major political issues: the future of the territories and the future of the negotiations.”

Peri noted that only 20% of Israelis listed political issues as a concern for them, while 80% had other primarily socio-economic concerns.

He also pointed out that within the right wing Likud party there was a change. Extreme right wingers took over the Likud party so there was a shift to the right within the Likud party, which resulted in such Knesset Members as Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan (more dovish Likudniks) from being left off the Likud list. Relative to the other Likud Knesset members, Netanyahu is a moderate.

“Seventy per cent of the Israeli population are willing to reach a compromise and give back land for the sake of peace but they feel it (peace) will not occur in their lifetime. So why not try to improve Israeli society from within.”

“What has changed are the priorities of the Israelis. Israelis are concerned with social and economic issues, not political issues,” said Peri.

This was expressed in the major demonstration or youth revolt during the summer of 2011, and many Israelis did not believe that the Netanyahu government adequately responded to these protests and found workable solutions to ease the economic burden on the middle and lower classes.

"Hundreds of thousands went out on the streets to demonstrate against the policies of the government, the cost of living, transportation, [subsidized daycare] for children, and exemption of the men studying in yeshivot from serving in the army,” said Peri

According to Peri, “The Israeli left has several problems. The first problem has to do with policies. The left is deeply divided on a number of political issues. There are those who advocate a two-state solution and those who do not see that as a major issue [because they do not see an agreement to be likely]. Secondly, there is a division on the social- economic topic.”

Peri added that the Labour party has a new leader, journalist Shelley Yacimovich who will be in the opposition.

[Editor's note: Yacimovich was expected by her party to do better than she did, and she has been faulted for saying in advance that she would not sit in a Netanyahu government, which made her unattractive to voters who wanted to vote for a party that would be in the government and make real reforms. This likely helped convince voters to favour Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party over the Labour party. The Labour party was unable to garner as many votes as Lapid even though it had two of the protest movement's leaders running on its Knesset slate.]

One of the major campaign issues that Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party ran on was the need to draft the ultra-orthodox who are attending Yeshivot and exempt from army service.

“When the state was established in 1948 when Ben Gurion started the policy, there were 700 men studying in yeshivot. Today there are 60,000 people who study in the yeshivot and don’t serve in the military. This is a huge number. The problem is not only that they receive a subsidy from the state but, when they study in the yeshivot they don’t study English, mathematics and computers, so they are not prepared for full active economic life and they become a burden on Israeli economy,” said Peri.

Peri noted that the two new parties-Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home highlighted socio-economic issues.

“The two parties that represented new ideas were successful on the right and on the left. In spite of the fact that they do not share the same position on political issues, they share the same position on the other issues therefore they have created a coalition.”

[Editor's note: The real change reflected in the aftermath of the elections is that both Naftali Bennett's far-right Jewish home party, (which is opposed to a two state solution in principle) and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party (which is in favour of a two-state solution in principle) have made common cause together because they firmly believe in the need to "equalize the burden" and get the ultra-orthodox into both military service and the work force.

The two parties unexpectedly formed a tight pact together and have refused to enable Netanyahu to enter a coalition with only one of them, and not the other. Lapid's party will not sit with the ultra-orthodox, and as a result, for the first time in decades, it is expected that the ultra-orthodox parties (Shas, etc.) will not be in the coalition (and they are not happy about that, as it will threaten the many subsidies they have been able to direct their way by being in the coalition.]

For the last month Netanyahu tried to build a narrow coalition with the ultra-orthodox parties and Tzippi Livni's Hatnuah party, and hoped to wrangle either Lapid's party or Bennett's party into the coalition--but these two parties refused to abandon their pact, and as a result it appears they will be Netanyahu's main coalition parties, as he will have to abandon the ultra-orthodox parties. That is a huge shakeup in the Israeli political scene].

“Another interesting phenomenon is that this is the first time we don’t have half a dozen former generals moving from military into politics…This time we have 9 journalists in the Knesset,” said Peri.

Peri concluded by telling the audience, “The ‘Jewish’ element in the collective identity of the Israeli public has become stronger than it used to be.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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