Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu

With a just a few days till the Israeli election, it is time to analyze the impact of the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu on the campaign. The presentation of a joint list was announced in late October. There is no question that this will be the list with the most seats–by far–and thus Binyamin Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister. But can we assess how well the two parties’ merger decision has worked out thus far?

First, to what extent have the two parties campaigned as a unit?

Biberman

Quite a bit. The photo above is from my TV screen during a news broadcast by DW-TV (carried on Link TV) regarding the Israeli campaign’s final week. It shows pamphlets lying on a table at a mall, one of which shows the two leaders, Netanyahu of Likud and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, side by side. Lieberman was the Foreign Minister until he had to step down in mid-December due to legal proceedings. (The legal charges have been pending for some time; there was no great surprise here.) Even the pamphlet that shows only the Prime Minister has both parties’ names at the bottom.

Likud info booth

Here is another that shows an information booth, with a sign above it that has both parties’ names. The parties clearly retain their distinct identity, despite their having presented a joint list; they clearly have a joint campaign as well.

Second, how did they construct their merged list? Likud held a primary, which resulted in a dramatic shift in the list’s overall complexion towards the hard-line, pro-settler elements on the right. (More on this later.)

The Yisrael Beiteinu list is ranked by its leadership–meaning mainly Lieberman himself. Subsequently, the two parties combined their lists. The resulting list has as its top candidates:

1. Netanyahu
2. Lieberman
3. Gideon Saar (Likud)
4. Yair Shamir (Yisrael Beiteinu)
5. Gilad Erdan (L)
6. Silvan Shalom (L)
7. Uzi Landau (YB)
8. Yisrael Katz (L)
9. Danny Danon (L)

Thus, after alternating the top four, the rule appears to be two Likud, then one YB. This matches the rough 2:1 ratio the parties have in the Knesset from the 2009 election (27 Likud, 15 Yisrael Beiteinu). The full list, with the maximum 120 candidates, is available on the Knesset’s Hebrew page. Although I do not know all of the candidates, it appears that the 2:1 pattern most likely holds through the top 40 or so candidates on the list. (The motivated reader is invited to analyze the bottom 80 of the list for conformity to the 2:1 pattern and report to us all.)

**Correction: In comment #1 below, Chris points out that #33 and #34 on the list are both Yisrael Beiteinu.

Finally, how good has the merged list been for the parties? An average of seven polls in October prior to the announced merger showed the two parties combining for 43 seats. (Note that they hold 42 in the Knesset currently.) An average of polls–thirteen in total–taken since 15 January puts the combined ticket at an average 33.6 seats. While this does not prove that it was the merger that has cost the parties 8-10 seats, there certainly is no evidence that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The candidate in position #33 is Alex Miller, a YB incumbent (who happened to be his list’s last winner in 2009). There is at least one Likud incumbent, Ayoob Kara, who may not get back in, being ranked #39. I did not immediately spot any other incumbents of either party in the marginal list ranks (by which I mean 34-42).

The loss of seats for the joint list would seem to be overwhelmingly to the benefit of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), a pro-settler list with many religious-Zionist candidates. Bayit Yehudi was polling at 4 or 5 seats in the last seven public polls before the Likud-YB merger (except one, which had it at 8). In the final week of polling, Bayit Yehudi is at 15-18 seats.

It may well be that the right-wing, religious, and pro-settler activists who essentially took over Likud in the primary have deserted the party for Bayit Yehudi, a party whose leader, Naftali Bennet, is vocally opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and who has called for Israel to apply its sovereign law over much of the West Bank.

A movement of votes from Likud to Bayit Yehudi might have happened even without the former’s union with Yisrael Beiteinu. One of the quirks of the Israeli system is that you can work to push a party–if, like Likud, it holds primaries–in your direction on the intra-party dimension by working to nominate likeminded candidates in electable ranks. Then you can work to push it your way even further on the inter-party dimension, by voting in the general election for a more extreme potential post-election coalition partner. Even if this pattern is inherent to features of the Israeli system, the secular profile of Yisrael Beiteinu might have repelled enough religious-Zionists to explain much of the bleeding of support to Bayit Yehudi.

Polling data referenced here is from Tal Scheider’s Plog site (in Hebrew).

The final polls of the campaign were released Friday (by law). The election is Tuesday, 22 January.

6 thoughts on “Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu

  1. Lieberman has said they’re still going to be separate parties after the election, and while it’s unlikely, it’s theoretically possible that a coalition is formed which includes Likud but not Yisrael Beiteinu.

    They’ve been dropping steadily in the polls and it’s possible they fall below the 32-32 they’ve received in the most recent polls, as their attempts to stop Bennett and Habayit’s rise have been miserable failures.

    The top 28 are almost certainly safe, and that’s 18 Likud and 10 YB. The next 4 are Likud, Likud, YB, and Likud. At 32 seats, it would be 21 Likud (a loss of 6 seats) and 11 YB (a loss of 4 seats).

    After that, 33 and 34 are both Yisrael Beiteinu (the first time two of their candidates are next to each other on the entire list), then two Likudniks at 35 and 36. In the now unlikely scenario they get more than that, the next four are YB, Likud, Likud, and YB.

    Netanyahu is probably really regretting signing a surplus votes agreement with Habayit Hayehudi at this point. It’s quite possible that a significant number of Likud Beiteinu votes go to elect an additional Habayit MK rather than one from Likud Beiteinu.

    I also wonder what will happen if a member of either party leaves the Knesset. Will the seat go to the next candidate on the joint list, or to the next candidate from the same party?

    • Thanks, Chris, I did not catch the consecutive YB candidates right there at what looks like it could be the most marginal positions.

      I can’t imagine YB not being in the government, even with the caveat that many “unimaginable” things happen in Israeli politics.

  2. I’m not quite clear on the logic of the electoral union-was it simply to guarantee that Netenyahu would be leading the largest party? And if YB does as poorly as is suggested by some of these polls, will this encourage them to radicalise (more)-would they perhaps not enter government at all?

  3. DC, to your first question, I think so, though it is hard to say for sure what the motives were.

    To the second, see comment #2.

  4. What voting system is used for each party’s primary? From what I can glean from news reports, it seems to be some form of Limited Vote, modified by gender and regional quotas. There’s a picture on the web of Sarah Netanyahu casting her own vote on a telescreen, apparently by selecting individual candidates (with mugshots shown on the screen).

    Is there any support in Israel for raising the threshold substantially, to something like 5%, but applying it to a pre-election coalition as a whole (ie, three formally allied parties with 2% each would be allowed repesentation), so as to encourage alliance building before the election instead of after?

    While I am not a huge PR-List fan, it does have one advantage over STV that it might allow for recall of representatives in mid-term. The party could hold a re-ballot of its members, if a certain percentage petition or the executive committee resolved, and any sitting MP who doesn’t make the cut gets replaced by a challenger candidate who does. You could build in a turnout quorum so that MPs whose names were on the ballot (or at least, publicly known) at the general election get re-elected by default if the challengers’ absolute number of votes is low.

    It would be imperative that the recall be done by a ballot of party members, and not by the executive committee alone, otherwise Israel would have the South African problem.

  5. In the Likud system, each person was required to vote for 12 candidates for (I believe) the top 20 positions (the computer system used was a fiasco, and did not allow people to vote for fewer than 12), which was followed by regional seats in which only voters in that region could cast ballots. As only 20 Likudniks were elected, I believe none of the reserved regional MK candidates were elected. I do not know if there were any reserved seats for women on the Likud list.

    Yisrael Beiteinu does not use primaries; Avigdor Liberman has dictatorial control over their list. The two were then combined, using the general principle of two Likudniks, followed by one YB candidate.

    There is a widespread trend of “vote aggregators” distributing lists of candidates (essentially, how to vote cards) for the primaries, allegedly for financial incentives from the candidates for the aggregators and/or for the potential voters. These aggregators also work to register party members to vote in the primaries, many of whom are not long-term party supporters. The most notable of these was Moshe Feiglin, a near-Kahanist national-religious figure who has chosen to infiltrate the Likud in order to place his agenda in a more prominent position than in would be in a smaller party. He has failed in two or three Likud leadership bids, but may stand a strong chance of succeeding in a ditch-Bibi effort due to the large number of his supporters who are now registered Likudniks. Feiglin’s supporters were crucial in electing a list far to the right of even Netanyahu’s preferences. Then, many of the right wing Likud primary voters, particularly in settlements in the occupied territories, went on to vote for the even-more right wing Bayit Yehudi and Otzma LeYisrael in the general election.

    The Labor primaries allowed each person to vote for 8-12 people. Certain seats were reserved for women (the 5th and 9th seats), meaning Stav Shaffir, the social justice protest leader who is now the youngest MK ever, rose from 14th to 9th on the list because she is a woman. There were also reserved seats for kibbutz/moshav residents (formerly they had separate reserved seats, but these were combined), ethnic minorities (which I don’t believe includes Sephardim or Mizrahim), and underrepresented regions such as the South of the country. However, as the party did not do as well as expected, I don’t believe any of the reserved seats except for the women seats ended up in the Knesset.

    Meretz and the “Arab” parties (at least, Hadash and Balad) select their lists democratically at party conventions. Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni personally selected their lists, saying they lacked time to hold primaries. The Haredi parties do not have primaries; their spiritual leaders and Torah sages determine their lists.

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