(April 17, 2019 / JNS) On the eve of Israel’s April 9 elections, JNS brought together a cadre of political experts, who provided key insights not readily evident in U.S. coverage of the election. Often, election evening coverage provides little new information, instead merely reinforcing well-known political views. This particular evening was different. It provided unique perspectives. The following are four examples:
1) The actual security-policy differences between former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were not many. In 2015, the left supported land for peace and the right opposed further concessions, while in 2019 all sides recognized that Israel has no peace partner. Further, as Alex Traiman, JNS managing director, and Dan Dyker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs noted, for the first time, post-Oslo scenarios were being discussed openly. Candidates discussed the need for some form of Israeli law to apply in Judea and Samaria.
In addition, as Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum noted, Israel has been remiss in not providing infrastructure and services in eastern Jerusalem, where most of the city’s Arab population resides. She pointed to polling data indicated that given the choice between being part of Israel or a future Palestinian state, two-thirds of eastern Jerusalem residents would choose Israel.
2) The demographics of Israeli voting still reflect significant ties to countries of origin. Approximately 50 percent of Israelis are Sephardic (of Middle Eastern origin). Sephardim, particularly in smaller communities, strongly supported the Likud Party and Netanyahu. Ashkenazim, particularly in larger communities, strongly supported the Blue and White Party and former chief of staff Gantz. Eve Harow, director of tourism for the One Israel Fund, spotlighted this political demographic and noted that it is not well understood by the broader Jewish community.
3) The pre-election polls undercounted the Ashkenazi haredi, Sephardic religious and Yisrael Beiteinu parties by as much as 50 percent. Yisrael Beiteinu’s demographics include many seniors from the former Soviet Union. Rabbi Dov Lipman, a former Yesh Atid Knesset member, shared that this is because Yisrael Beiteinu party members, as well as haredi party members, tend to have fewer smartphones, and are traditionally less responsive to text and Internet-based polling systems.
4) Most interesting is that Israelis, in general, freely talk about voting choices with friends and family members. In America, the political discourse is much more toxic, resulting in a situation where there is little discussion for fear of igniting reactions that could harm family, work and other important relationships. Dan Dyker noted that while Israelis are often passionate, there is still a sense of unity interdependence in this hostile neighborhood. He and other panel members noted that the United States could learn from Israelis that while families often disagree, even sometimes around the Shabbat table, they are still able to hug each other before the night is over.
One other personal observation is the sense of joy one feels in Israel on the street, in the parks and on the beaches on election day, which is a national day off. It is a well-earned holiday, as most Israelis have served in the military and understand the price of their freedom. Being able to vote in their own country for the leadership of our Jewish and democratic nation is something Israelis celebrate.
Gary Schiff is a US-Israel natural resource consultant based in Jerusalem and contributor to JNS.