Israeli definitions for the political Left and Right are idiosyncratic in the extreme. The world resorts to our characterizations without quite understanding what we mean by them, erroneously dubbing our Right conservative and our Left liberal.
Yet these epithets bear scant connection to the Israeli lexicon. Our peculiar classifications hinge around attitudes to the historic Land of Israel, settlement, territorial concessions and the creation of a Palestinian state.
Going by the local designation, the moderate Right had emerged victorious yet again – especially if we do not count Yair Lapid’s neophyte party, Yesh Atid, as knee-jerk Left-of-center, something that political analysts tend to do without sufficient foundation.
Yet all this is hardly related to the traditional divisions abroad that are contingent on socioeconomic orientations. If we do stick to the criteria common in other countries, though, a similar picture emerges that quite contradicts the superficial conventional view.
It has become trendy to claim that the election results reflect the sentiments of the 2011 social protests. Yet the demonstrations’ slogans were extremely left-wing, unambiguously anti-capitalist, anti-privatization and politically hostile to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Although claiming to speak for the middle class, they were in fact spearheaded by the socialist left-wing.
But last week’s election returns didn’t reflect anything resembling a swing to socialism. The true socialists can be found in Labor, further left in Meretz and in the communist Arab-dominated Hadash.
This entire bloc did un-spectacularly, to say the least. They remain a marginal segment of opinion.
The big surprise of the vote, Yesh Atid, did clearly make a pitch for middle-class votes, with messages hitting hard against bureaucracy, high prices, high taxes, etc. A powerful populist streak is undeniable. Nonetheless, all that Yesh Atid advocates falls unmistakably and unequivocally within the bounds of free-market economics.
It may be argued, and not without some merit, that its appeal may not reflect clear preferences on the Left-Right spectrum, because Yesh Atid constituted an unexpected fad, whose supporters might not have evinced great familiarity with its platform (to resort to understatement). Odds are that not all followers of political fashion truly know what they are voting for.
Yet by economic definition, Lapid’s slogans were not vague or evasive. Moreover, it is interesting to note who voted for Lapid. His greatest popularity was scored in the most prosperous communities. He was least popular in development towns and blue-collar areas.
The relatively well-to-do, grumble and chronically carp as they might, opted for Lapid. He is even more affluent than they are. He is a multi-millionaire and a capitalist par excellence. In this respect, his underlying orientation fits hand-in-glove with Netanyahu’s outlook and with that of his partner, Avigdor Liberman.
This combo will encounter no opposition in the socioeconomic sphere from Bayit Yehudi, which looms as the most rightist component of the hypothetical new coalition – by strictly Israeli Left-Right criteria.
If we see these three lists as the likely mainstays of the shaping coalition, then that coalition will incontrovertibly espouse free-enterprise and growth-generating policies. This tendency would be only underscored if parties like the diminutive Kadima or Tzipi Livni’s list do in the end climb on board.
Moreover, pro-business free market inclinations would not be offset by the possible cooption of haredi (orthodox) parties, including the ultra-populist Shas. The haredi ardor for assorted entitlements, handouts and welfare benefits would have to be considerably restrained in a situation where parties like Shas and United Torah Judaism no longer tip the political balance and consequently do not call the shots.
If the just-ended campaign proves anything, it is that the electorate bothered a whole lot less with what the world is obsessed about – the territories, a Palestinian state and the moribund purported peace process.
It may be that a sizable portion of Jewish Israelis (perhaps with the exception of Livni’s and Meretz’s supporters) have in effect given up on the prospect of successful negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. In contrast to previous campaigns, they focused on very domestic issues. This is the essential mandate they gave their representatives – fix things inside the Jewish state rather than concentrate on a Palestinian state.