Left & Right in Israeli Election

Left & Right in Israeli Election

Last week Steven Krubiner, J Street’s Chief of Staff, came to Pittsburgh (where I live) to talk about the Israeli election. It is often difficult to explain to the American Jewish public how the Israeli election system works and who is likely to win. Krubiner mapped Israeli parties into two camps, right and left, and noted a few that could go either way. He gave the latest poll numbers on how many seats each party is expected to win and a forecast on what a future coalition might look like.

There was nothing unusual about the presentation. Many of you have attended several of these in your lifetime. But Krubiner oversimplified a very complex political reality and therefore somewhat mislead his audience. The simple maps which position certain parties on the left and others on the right no longer represent the Israeli political scheme. Krubiner’s argument, therefore– that this is the most important election in Israel’s history, where the choice between right and left is clear– is wrong.

Such forecasts have been misrepresentative in the past. In January 2013 election, for example, all political maps positioned Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid on the left. But soon after the election, Lapid befriended Naftali Bennett of Habait Hayehudi, which put him far right of the center on most issues. Tsipi Livni, who two weeks ago decided to run with the Labor Party, was a Likud member until 2005, when she joined Kadima and then in 2012 formed Hatnua. In the past two years, Livni sat in a right wing government with Bennett and Lieberman. And currently the Labor party is still negotiating with Shaul Mofaz, yet another traditional Likud-turned-Kadima leader, whose affiliation with the “left” is questionable at best.
So how can we understand these coming elections if the traditional divisions of right and left no longer apply? I suggest that we consider parties’ positions on central issues instead.

For example, we can say that a party is on the left if it is willing to sit in a coalition with Arabs or at least form a coalition supported by Arab parties. Yitzhak Rabin’s last coalition was on the left according to this standard. It is an important issue because parties unwilling to form coalitions with Arab parties are accepting the political de-legitimatization of twenty percent of Israeli citizens. If this question defines our division of left and right, Meretz is on the left, and Lapid’s Yesh Atid is certainly on the right. And we do not know where Livni, Mofaz and Isaac Herzog of the Labor Party stand on this important issue.
Another question which could define who is left and who is right could be: “What is your solution to the Gaza security problem?” Political leaders who say that if and when Hamas in Gaza attacks again, Israel should use all its military might to make sure this never happens again, should be on the right.

As I argued in a previous post, this method has been proven a failure. Political leaders willing to negotiate and seek a permanent solution should be positioned on the left. Once again, we know where Meretz stands, but we are still uncertain what Lapid, Livni, Herzog and Mofaz think of the subject.

Solutions to the rising cost of living and burden of taxation that crushes Israeli society may also be a way to divide left from right. Those in favor of continuing the policy of regressive taxation, like Israel’s 18% value added tax, should be on the right. Lapid is certainly among them. Those in favor of reforming taxation policy, creating a universal report law and taxing black capital, for example, are on the left. At Partners for Progressive Israel’s Symposium in November, we spoke with Avishay Braverman of the Labor Party, who supported serious reforms. But is the entire Labor party behind him?
The division of right and left is important if we want to understand the trajectory of the county after the March election. Steven Krubiner raised his audience’s hopes that a coalition of the Labor Party, Yesh Atid and Meretz could result in a peace treaty with the Palestinians. But looking at the Labor Party’s new bedfellows raises some suspicion.
If anything, it seems likely that if Hertzog wins the election, he will form yet another pendulum government, which would swing from right to left. Its main achievement would be to provide some relief for those of us who believe in peace and perhaps lessening external pressures on Israel. Following Ehud Barak’s example, this new government would soon discover that there is “no Palestinian partner for peace.” When it declares an election in 2017, Livni, Mofaz and Lapid would defect to the right again and the pendulum would continue swinging.
Like former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, I too support “the extreme”:


If these elections have any value, then the real choice is between the “extreme right,” which doesn’t believe in human rights or the High Court of Justice, and the “extreme left,” which believes in equal rights for all. It’s between a nationalist-religious front promising nothing but a blood feud and a Jewish-Arab front to save our people and theirs. It’s between annexation and staying loyal to Herzl’s [liberal] vision of our homeland.
By | 2014-12-22T20:23:00-05:00 December 22nd, 2014|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Ralph Seliger December 22, 2014 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    Maya’s general point on what is “right” and what is “left” is a good one. But I think she’s being unfair to Herzog, Livni and Mofaz.

    Livni and Mofaz have evolved from the Likud to the center (with Kadima) and then to the center-left, with Labor. As for Herzog, he seems to be on the moderate left. How far “left’ he will go on peace and Arab-inclusion issues remains to be seen.

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