(February 20, 2019 / JNS)
The more steam the Israeli election builds up, the greater the chances that it will be decided by the votes that are lost on parties that fail to pass the minimum electoral threshold.
In the last Knesset election, 190,000 individual votes (approximately 4.5 percent of all valid ballots) were effectively wasted on such parties, on both the right and the left. But unlike 2015, this time it is possible that votes could be lost on a single side of the political map, and that could have a dramatic effect on the final number of seats and the balance of power between the major blocs in the next Knesset.
As the smaller camp, the left was the first to recognize the danger. It’s no secret that most of the people in Israel lean right (and among Jews, around two-thirds are on the right and one-third on the left). The left needs all the votes in its camp to win and it can only hope that the right will waste as many as possible. At least the first part of that formula seems to be succeeding: All sectors of the Israeli left now understand that fringe parties could cause an electoral crash.
This trend began four years ago when the Arab parties united. Despite the battle for prestige between Ayman Odeh of Hadash and Ahmad Tibi of Ta’al—and the possibility that they might want to run separately—it isn’t very likely that one of the two largest Arab parties will fall short of the minimum threshold. Nevertheless, anonymous sources have recently launched a campaign urging the Arab parties to stay together in a clear attempt to increase their combined power. The Palestinian Authority has its finger in the pie as well, and emissaries of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas are openly working to keep the Arab parties united. Abbas wants to increase the number of Arab MKs, thereby increasing the opposition bloc to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A regime of electoral discipline for the sake of achieving a common goal also prevails among the Jewish left. The mergers that have already taken place there, as well as the ones that are expected, hint at a single purpose—to keep votes from being lost on parties that do not make it past the minimum threshold. Benny Gantz’s party, Israel Resilience, isn’t balking at any merger or combination as long as it can bring all the votes from the left into the shared basket rather than the trash can. This attitude is so dominant that even Tzipi Livni, a politician who always put herself before any other considerations, was forced to drop out of the race to keep the left from losing another two or three seats.
In sharp contrast, parts of the Israeli right continue to wage battles for small numbers of votes, thereby putting a victory by the right-wing camp in danger. Small right-wing parties with no chance of making it into the Knesset running in the election is political stupidity and a betrayal of the will of the voters. Those who might vote for the far-right Otzma Yehudit or Eli Yishai’s Yachad Party might want to see representatives of their parties in the Knesset, but they certainly have no desire to watch the right as a whole fall and see the left’s crazy ideas restored to the seat of power and decision-making.
Now is the time to put ego and ideological purity aside. The only consideration that should guide right-wing party heads in assembling their Knesset lists is the obligation to maximize the nationalist camp’s power in the next Knesset.
Ariel Bolstein is the founder of the Israel advocacy organization Faces of Israel.