Israel 2013: What happened

A very good overview of the outcome of the Israeli election is provided by The Times of Israel.

I agree completely with two big take-home points here:

(1) All the hand wringing (my term, not the author’s) about divisions on the center-left was misplaced. The separate parties hoovered up more votes than a unified effort at creating an alternative bloc could have;

(2) The more costly divisions were on the right, due to two parties that fell below the threshold: Otzma L’Yisrael and Am Shalem.

I would add that, thanks to proportional representation and parliamentary government, Israelis will get what they appear to have collectively chosen: a continuation of Netanyahu, but balanced by a larger and more assertive centrist wing of the government.

It is stunning that the second largest party turned out to be Yesh Atid. So who are these men and women? Quite an interesting bunch!

It is also noteworthy how badly the Labor Party failed to reestablish itself under Shelly Yachimovich’s leadership. She and the party tried to position themselves as some sort of blend of centrist on security and social democratic on economics. The party was supposedly set to become a viable governing alternative–if not in this election, than after a rebuilding phase as the main opposition. The party will indeed be the main opposition, assuming Yesh Atid’s likely entry into the cabinet, but 15 seats is a very weak position.

Meretz doubled its seat total, probably as a result of otherwise Labor voters disgusted that the “new” Labor seemed to want to pretend the settlements and two-state issues would just go away. At one point, Yachimovich said something like “everyone knows my position” on these issues. That’s not likely good enough for someone calling herself a candidate for PM. I can’t imagine it will be long before there is another leadership change in Labor.

6 thoughts on “Israel 2013: What happened

  1. Originally, I referred to divisions on the “far right”; that probably does not apply to Am Shalem. Religious right, but probably more moderate than Shas.

    Otzma L’Yisrael, on the other hand, is ultra-nationalist.

    At any rate, both led to wasted votes that otherwise might have gone to some combo of Likud, Bayit Yehudi, or Shas.


  2. MSS, I’m starting to think that, considering the necessity of some haredi party for some coalition (I’m making some assumptions on how narrow a coalition can viably be, as well as which parties exclude each other; but let’s, for the sake of the argument, pretend this is more certain), an advantage of a presidential/other assembly-independent executive system would be that for issues such as enlistment of haredim would be that the majority could really have its say – whereas in the current parliamentary system there has to be considerable hand-wringing or compromising despite a large majority being in favour of it. What would you say to this?


  3. The problem is that a large majority of the people are in favor, but not necessarily a majority of MKs for a specific version of a universal draft. You have 28 votes in Hateful and Arab parties against it automatically; many of Shas’ working class Sephardic non-Haredi supporters may favor universal conscription. Even ignoring confidence issues, that means the specific plan needs the support of two thirds of the remaining MKs to pass.

    An independent executive could allow laws like a replacement Tal Law to pass, but you could get issues like in the States the last there years where there’s a deadlock btwn branches and lawmaking virtually shuts down.


  4. I’m highly skeptical. First of all, it is not likely that there is a majority in the public for any specific alternative to the Tal Law. Public opinion does not work that way, given the complexities of policy-making. I am arguing from a “social choice” perspective: any presumed majority among the populace could always be shifted to some other bill by the strategic presentation of amendments by whoever controls the agenda. Of course, in a parliamentary system, that is usually the government, and in a coalition, that means the various parties bargaining inside that coalition.

    If you imagine a single chief executive, not accountable to parliament, and further grant it agenda control (as is often the case, though not in the USA), you potentially could get a somewhat different outcome. But, of course, there is the contrary dynamic: minority parties in the legislature would be further, not less, emboldened when not constrained by a confidence mechanism. In the Israeli context, I fail to see how constitutionally strengthening the executive leads to better, more majority-supported, policy outcomes. The executive’s bargaining power may be strengthened, but so is that of intense minorities whose support is needed to give the executive a majority in support of its bill.


  5. I would be interested to see how people would vote in a semi-presidential system in Israel modeled after the French one, where presidential elections are held just before Knesset elections. I know that the direct-elected PM simply led to more ticket splitting and allowed people to vote for the PM while voting for parties which weren’t guaranteed coalition members or confidence votes (particularly given the 1999 situation, where the vast majority of Arabs voted for Barak, yet Barak was never going to include the Arab parties in the government).

    I think that elections for a president, followed by Knesset elections with a clearly defined “presidential majority” bloc in contention could remove a lot of the instability in Israeli politics; however, I doubt, given the Israeli experience with the popularly-elected PM, that such a proposal would gain much traction.

    I also believe that Yair Lapid has spoken about changing the electoral system, so it will be interesting to see whether electoral reform gains any traction. If it does, I’d be interested to see whether a regional-proportional system, a mixed-member proportional (or supplementary member), or simply adjusting the threshold become the dominant ideas. Given the increasing likelihood that Kadima forms part of the government, I would think a threshold change might be off the table (the possibility of Ehud Olmert being elected Kadima leader and revitalizing the party aside).


  6. Chris: Lapid’s proposals for government and electoral reform are, like most of the ones around in Israeli politics, shallow or at least not thought through. Lapid’s main proposals are raising the threshold to 6% and making non-confidence votes constructive and require a supermajority.


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