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Israelis didn’t vote for a national unity government

A myth is being spread that Israelis voted on Sept. 17 for a national unity government under Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. That is apocryphal. In a world where, as per an old American aphorism, “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure,” no data could be more revealing than the true numbers of votes cast. Israelis did not vote on Tuesday for a national unity government.

Some 26% voted for the Blue and White party, which promised to end Benjamin Netanyahu’s record-long premiership. Some 5% voted for a near-defunct socialist Labor party that once was the powerhouse of Israeli politics. A bit more than 4% voted for an even more leftist Democratic Union – Meretz with an expanded troika that includes Labor import Stav Shaffir and perhaps the most incompetent and disastrous prime minister in Israel’s history, Ehud Barak. These three parties, comprising the Zionist Center-Left, are what 35% of Israelis wanted.

Substantially more Jews voted for a decidedly right-wing government. Some 25% voted for a Likud that campaigned unequivocally on a right-wing platform including right-wing and even libertarian economics and promised to extend sovereignty to Jewish communities throughout Judea and Samaria. It was the most right-wing platform that Likud has ever proffered. Just under 6% voted for the more right-wing Yamina, led by Ayelet Shaked. Another 6% voted for United Torah Judaism, the Ashkenazi haredi party that, for the first time in its history, pledged that it would oppose any land concessions. More than 7% voted for the Sephardi haredi equivalent, Shas, which also endorsed the Likud leader for prime minister. Thus, around 44% of voters cast ballots for a Likud-led right-wing government.

Beyond that, Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beytenu, drew 7% of the vote. Lieberman, whose base historically has depended on right-wing older constituents from the former Soviet Union, expanded his core by attracting secularists who support reducing haredi influence in the public sphere. Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former director general who later rose to be his foreign minister and then his defense minister, is decidedly right-wing, despite cynical Likud efforts to portray him otherwise. Indeed, Lieberman just reiterated: “We won’t sit [in a coalition] with the Arabs, that’s absurd.” Lieberman’s voters may oppose Netanyahu but they predominantly affiliate right-wing.

Even the Blue and White vote is more complex than often reported. It is not a party of the Left but an amalgam of centrists, leftists, and right-wingers who recoil from the Left and are temporarily AWOL from Likud, primarily because they want Netanyahu replaced. For example, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, one of that party’s four founding leaders, is a Likudnik with conservative political views; he broke away primarily because he wants Netanyahu out as prime minister. Many of that party’s voters share Ya’alon’s perspective.

When viewed objectively, the chorus of reports that Israelis voted for a national unity government belies the continued strength of right-wing predominance among the electorate. Voters’ opinions differ on whether Netanyahu should continue as prime minister and on the role of ultra-Orthodox influence, but Jewish Israelis remain decidedly right-wing, even discounting the 2% of votes wasted on the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party. As always when that party runs alone, it again failed to secure the 3.25% threshold of votes needed to qualify for the Knesset.

Otzma Yehudit’s self-sabotage of the right-wing cause compares to American third parties that, over the years, have notoriously yet inadvertently sabotaged their own agendas by running hapless extreme campaigns that drew pointless votes away from stronger, less extreme parties near their ideologies, thereby empowering opposing views to take power. Thus, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader almost certainly cost the Democrat Al Gore Florida’s crucial electoral votes in 2000, handing the presidency to Republican George W. Bush. Nader won the votes of 97,488 Floridians, overwhelmingly from the Left; Bush edged out Gore in Florida by a mere 537 votes. And the Green Party’s Jill Stein possibly cost Hillary Clinton victories in critical Midwestern states whose electoral votes proved crucial to Donald Trump in 2016. For example, in Wisconsin, where Clinton trailed Trump by 22,748 votes, Stein won 31,072 votes.

Similarly, Otzma Yehudit’s failure derived from Israel’s legislative effort to stabilize an electoral system that again saw dozens of separate slates contending.

Overall, nearly 3% of votes were wasted on 20 parties that failed to reach the 3.25% electoral threshold.

Recognizing that nearly 11% percent of Israelis voted for the Joint Arab List, which has its own agenda repugnant to a national unity government, the data reflect unequivocally that little really changed in September from the core preferences expressed in April’s election. Five months ago, the right-wing came within a whisker of forming a stable coalition. It amassed 60 seats, one shy of a coalition majority – even without Liberman – and the New Right party drew 3.22% of the ballots cast, just 0.03% under the 3.25% vote threshold needed to enter the Knesset. But for those few votes lacking – 1,454 to be exact, it would have entered with four seats and the right-wing would have comprised an easy majority coalition, even without Lieberman.

Five months later, some externals changed a bit. Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party merged into Likud, as did Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu. The New Right replaced Naftali Bennett with Shaked as its nominal head and aligned this time with Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union, while Otzma Yehudit ran alone. But the end result once again reflected a majority for a conservative, right-wing direction – not for a unity government under Gantz. At its core, the main split was whether Netanyahu or someone else on the Right should be prime minister.

Enormous pressure is now being exerted by the media and President Reuven Rivlin to force a national unity government. It is imperative that right-wing figures unravel the mess produced by the Sept. 17 vote and complicated by the idiosyncrasies of Israel’s fragmented electoral system. But they should not capitulate to the fabrication that Israelis voted for a national unity government under Benny Gantz. The numbers are irrefutable: The Israeli electorate in general, and particularly the 75% who are Jews, voted unequivocally for continuing the country’s abandonment of socialism and alignment with right-wing solutions.

Article by Rabbi Dov Fischer, a law professor and senior rabbinic fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, is a senior contributing editor at The American Spectator.

Originally published in Israel Hayom.