Regev Responds

Journalist and political analyst Shahar Ilan breaks it down

Who accounts for Yisrael Beiteinu's increased share of voters?

For years, Hiddush has underscored the political potential of emphasizing the battle to advance religious freedom and equality in the Israeli political arena, as has been proven in practice several times in Israel’s elections history. Analysis of the implications of this issue for the recent Israeli elections is included in an article that was recently published in the Israeli daily business newspaper – the Calcalist.

Avigdor Liberman, source: WikipediaAvigdor Liberman, source: Wikipedia

This recent article (in Hebrew) was written by Shahar Ilan, a senior political commentator and journalist, who previously served as the VP of Hiddush. Below are some sample excerpts from his article. In it, he highlights the political strategy of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which resulted in an increase in its political representation by emphasizing the battle over issues of religion & state. Ilan’s article relies in part on the findings of Hiddush’s annual Israel Religion & State Index:

Pollster Rafi Smith says that a new phenomenon of Israeli politics is the emergence of the secular right-wing vote, which constitutes 10% -15% of the total vote, and many of whose members are immigrants from the former Soviet Union…

The cyber expert Eric Gomenowski analyzed the transfer of votes between parties and concluded that the vast majority of those who transferred their vote came from the disintegration of Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party [who joined the Likud] and Moshe Feiglin's Zehut party. According to the analysis, 42% of Kulanu (64,000) went to Blue & White, 20% to Yisrael Beiteinu (30,000), and only 16% to the Likud. Zehut too, which did not pass the electoral threshold last April and wasted the equivalent of three seats in the Knesset, supported the Likud. However, Gomenowski's analysis shows that only 43% (about 50,000 votes) of the Zehut party’s voters remained in the right bloc. 22% (26,000 votes) went to Yisrael Beiteinu, and 24% (29,000 votes) went to Otzma, which did not pass the electoral threshold, thereby wasting those votes again.

Additional transfers of votes, according to Gomenowski, went from the major parties to Yisrael Beiteinu: the Likud lost 20,000 votes and Blue & White lost 38,000 to Yisrael Beiteinu. That is, an entire Knesset seat. “I don’t think it’s that [more] Russians discovered Lieberman,” Ben Horin [A campaign consultant who led the Blue & White party’s first campaign] says about the source of Yisrael Beiteinu’s additional votes. “Those who discovered Lieberman in the second round were the veteran Israelis. You see transference [of votes] not from the Russian tribe, but from the white tribe [UR: Ashkenazi Veteran Israelis].”

Other experts estimate that in the second round, Lieberman gained only between half to one Knesset seat from the Russian vote. The additional votes Lieberman received from veteran Israelis are exemplified by analysis of the Hod HaSharon (suburb of Tel Aviv) votes provided by Dr. Ofer Koenig of the Israel Democracy Institute . The Likud and Kulanu lost 1,200 votes in that election. Yisrael Beiteinu grew fourfold from 400 to 1,600 votes. In Haifa, home of Finance Minister and Kulanu Chairman Moshe Kahlon, the Likud (including Kulanu) was down by 5%, and Yisrael Beiteinu went up by 5%. …

Secular parties do not question whether affairs of religion & state can influence elections. Obviously they can, and they have done it before. The question is which parties are willing to use them, knowing that later they might have to form a government with the ultra-Orthodox parties. The ultra-Orthodox parties made a strategic mistake in making themselves an integral part of the right-wing bloc and of Netanyahu's bloc. Therefore, they no longer hold the balance of power, nor does anybody compete for their supporters. The left, the center, and Lieberman really have nothing to lose if they escalate the religion & state campaign….

Campaign messages about religion & state are largely aimed at immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but not only. According to Hiddush’s 2019 Israel Religion & State Index, about two-thirds of the public support religious freedom, such as freedom of marriage and equality of civic burden. This includes the secular right, which may decide the election. According to the Index, 83% of immigrants are dissatisfied with government actions in matters of religion & state, compared to 72% of veteran Israelis. ... 75% of the center-right and 57% of right-wingers are dissatisfied with the governmental religion and state policy. 64% of the public supports or greatly supports a government without the Haredi parties. This includes 49% of right-wingers and 71% of the center-right.

Perhaps the most important question in the Index that politicians should consider is regarding the acute tensions in Jewish society.

And perhaps the most important question in the Index that politicians should consider is regarding the acute tensions in Jewish society. During the Netanyahu – Lapid government, the conflict between secular and ultra-Orthodox dropped to second place, after the tension between right and left. However, in recent years it has returned to the lead. In September 2019, 72% of the public thought it was the most serious or the second most serious tension.

The last election campaign was very good for Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. You can see this in localities with a large percentage of immigrants like Carmiel. There, according to the Israeli Democracy Institute, Yisrael Beiteinu rose from 16% to 24% of the votes, and the Likud fell from 37% to 31%. So it is likely that some of the additional votes received by Yisrael Beiteinu came from immigrants who did not vote in April 2019, distinguishing them from veteran Israelis who switched their votes from Likud and Kulanu.

Yisrael Beiteinu went up from 5 to 8 seats and 173,000 to 310,000 votes in the September 2019 elections. It has cemented its status as the party that holds the true balance of power in Israeli politics, a role that for years was attributed to the ultra-Orthodox parties. This is because the ultra-Orthodox parties, and even more so their voters, have actually become part of the right bloc.

Dr. Wachislav Konstantinov, a statistician and demography expert who studied voting patterns in the Russian-speaking public, estimates that 40% to 50% of Russian voters vote for Lieberman, 30% Likud, and 20% Blue & White. Social activist Alex Tanzer, former Chairman of the Monitoring Committee Regarding Fulfillment of Promises to Immigrants, estimates that in the recent elections, Yisrael Beiteinu increased among immigrants from 5 to 6 seats, the Likud received 3.5–4 seats, Blue & White between 1.5–2 seats (according to him, ‘because of mistakes it made’), and Yamina received about half a mandate…

Lieberman's challenge is not just to expand, but also to keep his gains. In April, Russian voter turnout was halved. It is likely that in September it approached 60%. “I think that in the upcoming elections there will be a drop in the percentage of immigrant voters and in Lieberman’s vote,” says Constantinov. “There is a lot of support for Lieberman but also a disappointment with him, because some voters think he caused the extra election. He said he would bring a unity government, but that didn't work out.”

Lieberman's weak point was highlighted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview with Russian Channel 9, in which he said, “Lieberman twice prevented me from forming a right-wing government.” He also added the inevitable warnings about a government with Arabs: “Lieberman goes with Gantz, and Gantz cannot form a government without Ahmed Tibi.” Netanyahu concluded: “If you want a fourth election or a government that depends on Ahmed Tibi, vote for Lieberman.”

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