Where fools rush in: Predicting the Israeli elections

There was an expensive pre-election in April. Hard numbers resulted. Not theories. Not polls. Not surveys. Not predictions. Not guesses. Hard numbers.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer, | updated: 10:34

OpEds Rabbi Prof. Dov Fisch
Rabbi Prof. Dov Fisch
צילום: PR

One watches in amazement.

1.  The Israeli election system throws out all votes secured by each and every political party that fails to attract enough ballots to comprise at least 3.25 percent of the total voting electorate.  That is not a theory, a philosophy. That is a fact.

2.  As in the United States and the United Kingdom, Israeli voter surveys are notorious for underestimating right-wing turn-out. The under-estimations are not extreme in their errors, but enough to deviate wrongly by 3-6 percent of actual voter results.  Israeli pollsters somewhat alleviate the problem by issuing five or more national surveys every week, with a daily regularity that is dizzying.  The numbers typically are “in the ballpark” but always prove to be somewhat wrong by a few percent.

3. A wonderful replacement mechanism for a questionable polling system would be if a country would go to the trouble, the expense — the sheer insanity — of holding an actual full national election two or three months before the scheduled election.  That way, the polls may be ignored because the actual, demanding, expensive, insane pre-election would present clear and indisputable numbers reflecting how many votes each contender actually truly will get on election day.

4. There was exactly such an insane, expensive pre-election in April. Hard numbers resulted. Not theories. Not polls. Not surveys. Not predictions. Not guesses. Hard numbers.

5. Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut Party did not win twelve seats. Not ten. In the end, Zehut missed the threshold.  All its 118,031 votes (comprising 2.74% of the total vote) went down the drain.

6. The combination of Bayit Yehudi and Ichud Leumi barely made it over the top. Ultimately, they won 3.7 percent of the ballots, comprised of 159,468 votes, and those numbers included votes attracted by including Otzma Yehudit’s candidate, Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose legitimacy and acceptability the Israeli Supreme Court formally weighed and approved. To the degree that two of the United Right Wing Parties (URWP) — Bayit Yehudi and Ichud Leumi — may have lost a seat because of Otzma’s controversial positions, the Likud agreed to compensate Bayit Yehudi by giving it one of its own safe seats, Likud Seat Number 28.

7. The New Right party of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked came razor close, but just missed reaching the 3.25 percent threshold and winning four Knesset seats.  Instead, they garnered 138,598 votes, comrpising 3.22 percent — and all their votes were flushed down the toilet.

All that is fact. It is not opinion, philosophy, theory, survey, prediction, analysis. It is numbers. Facts.

In the end, the coalition of Right Wing and Religious parties came out with exactly 60 seats: Likud 35, Kachlon 4, URWP 5, United Torah Judaism (UTJ – Classic Ashkenazic Orthodox) 8, Shas (Classic Sephardic Orthodox 8). That is 60 without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiyteinu.

Now recall: The New Right’s failure to pass 3.25 percent cost four seats. Feiglin’s failure cost three seats. Of course, some of those lost seven seats — nearly 257,000 votes flushed down the drain — might not have been cast if New Right or Zehut were in a technical bloc with URWP.  Some of Feiglin’s secular libertarians and free-marijuana voters might have stayed away. Likewise, perhaps, some of Bennett-Shaked’s voters.

Moreover, the Knesset seat total is a zero-sum game. So the loss of seven Feiglin and New Right seats does not literally mean that, otherwise, the Religious-Right bloc would have won 67 of 127 Knesset seats. Rather, other parties, some on the right, some on the left, would have shed a seat here, a seat there, if New Right and Feiglin had qualified.  But the election results demonstrated clearly that actual Israeli voters sought to give a Religious-Right coalition without Liberman some 63 seats, give or take a seat.

Thus, it is a plain demonstrated fact that a truly all-combined-united right wing — Bayit Yehudi, Ichud Leumi, Otzma, New Right, and Zehut — are good for some twelve seats (the prior URWP’s five seats, New Right’s four seats, and Zehut’s three seats). And that is separate from the classically Orthodox UTJ and Shas parties together accounting for another 15 or so seats. And Likud getting 34 or so seats.

Of course there would be a bit of reshuffling. 

Some Likud voters of April would move to a URWP that is led by a secular Ayelet Shaked. 

Some Feiglin people would sit it out, while some others would go to Likud, which is less religious.

And the decision to absorb Moshe Kachlon’s social justice party within Likud this time, so that Kachlon does not get excluded for missing the threshold, probably will move some Kachlon voters over to Blue and White.

But in simplest terms, the April election pointed towards a right wing and religious-sensitive government being won in September with 62 or so seats without needing to face any blackmail from dear Avigdor Liberman.

Spacebo!

So what do the right wingers and Religious Zionists end up doing?  One looks in amazement at how the elections deadline passed without Otzma and Feiglin ending up in a broad-based right-wing coalition. If Otzma was acceptable to Bayit Yehudi and Ichud Leumi in April, before the Supreme Court gave a formal certification of kashrut to Attorney Ben-Gvir, how not now?  And if Ben-Gvir wants to see his voters’ voices represented in the Knesset, how can he believe that Otzma will pass the 3.25 percent threshold on its own when the combination of Otzma with two more established parties only netted 3.7 percent? 

And Feiglin — what in the world is he thinking? That marijuana smokers in September will not remember the April election? If he got only a non-qualifying 2.74 percent of the vote when he ran a campaign that had polls predicting he would get in, is he really going to get more votes this time, now that voters know from April that he is not going to get in?  Yes, the libertarian ideology has much to offer in Israel. But 3.25 percent of the voters do not see that as more important now than, say, the future of Area C and extension of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, or the preservation of the religious status quo.

What will happen? One never knows with these things. Netanyahu always pulls last-minute surprises: a visit to Putin, a South American leader coming to open an embassy or an office in Jerusalem. And Israel truly is a land of miracles, where G-d directs results that no human can predict beforehand — or, frankly, can believe even afterwards. But if all proceeds according to the derekh ha-teva — the natural course of events — this may be predicted:

1. The Religious and other Right Wing parties will emerge with 54-58 seats.

2. The Jews of the secular Left will emerge with 45 seats, give or take a seat or two.

3. The Arab parties, who are natural partners of the Jewish secular Left, will end up with 9-12 seats.

4. Avigdor Liberman will end up with 9-12 seats, growing by expanding his base beyond Right Wing Russian and Ukrainian immigrants to steal away some secularist anti-religious votes from the Jewish Left.

5. Liberman will refuse to ally in a strong 65-plus-seat coalition with the Religious and other Right Wing parties unless he gets a ton of things, including the Defense Ministry and complete autonomy over all defense decisions with no Netanyahu interference, some kind of deal on drafting more yeshiva boys from the Haredi community, and some kind of path to remove Netanyahu.

6. That might happen. Probably not. But maybe. But probably not. Oh, who knows?

7. Liberman will not ally solely with the Left and the Arabs.  If he even suggests such a thing, he is finished. His Russian base will build a Gulag for him.

8. Liberman will push for a unity coalition of Likud with Blue-and-White and him. That will not materialize. Netanyahu knows it would be his political death, encircled by Liberman, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, and Moshe Yaalon who all have only one thing that binds them: to take down Netanyahu.

9. Likudniks will not will force Netanyahu into such a “unity” government because the Religious and Right Wing parties have been locked with Likud loyally for years, and they are a natural alliance. They would not sit with Yair Lapid, even before they declared him an anti-Semite. Moreover, Likud has many religious people within their leadership hierarchy. They would hesitate to sell out the religious parties.

10. Almost certainly — though who can predict? — there will result one of two things:

10a.  Either a need for yet another round of elections in December right before Chanukah, since Pesach and Rosh Hashanah will have established the new national minhag (custom) of holding a divisive, expensive, and nationally hurtful election right before each major Jewish holiday. Or . . .

10b. Back up to #5 above: Liberman will find a way to extract much but also will feel pressure to make a deal so that he does not over-play his hand and be perceived as the villain driving the country crazy.

Of course, because none of this really makes any sense, the most logical inference is that this insanity is a brilliant scheme conceived secretly by Netanyahu, Feiglin,and Liberman last spring:  Leave Israel without a government for a year, so that Jared Kushner has no one to whom he can present his father-in-law’s “Deal of the Century.” By the time the third round of Israeli elections are held at Chanukah time, America itself will be enmeshed in its own national elections cycle, with the New Hampshire primaries set for January 2020. The Deal of the Century fades.

As the Chanukah election returns come in — identical to those of April and September — Liberman reveals himself on the Eighth Night of Chanukah 5780 as the secret son of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, joins the Religious-Right coalition, announces that all Israeli embassies throughout the world must serve meat that is hassidishe Shechitah, bans matzo balls all of Passover except the last day, and appropriates funds earmarked for the Batsheva Dance Company instead to build the Third Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) on the Temple Mount but in the style of 770 Eastern Parkway.  He likewise orders all Jerusalem limestone on all buildings to be refaced with 1950’s Brooklyn distressed brick.

Feiglin demonstrates that he could compromise all along, having agreed to the Lubavitch architecture and to declaring the Rebbe King Messiah in return for the agreement to build the Temple in 2020 amid the American Presidential race.

And Netanyahu approves the deal, having secured from the outset Liberman’s and Feiglin’s agreement that he can seek sanctuary from his hand-picked Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit by fleeing there and taking hold of the “horns of the altar.” At which point Jared Kushner reveals: That was the Deal of the Century that Dad wanted to propose.




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