The Israeli Right’s Worst Nightmare

Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud is currently cruising – albeit on just a quarter of the vote – to victory on April 09th.  The party has topped every opinion poll in the past 12 months and now looks unassailable. Perhaps more important, the “Right-Wing” Block and centrist government allies looks guaranteed to win at least 60 seats in the Knesset (Israeli parliament).

The Centre-Right opposition is both fractured and trailing, what’s left of the Centre-Left (Labor) is imploding. Meretz the only truly “Left-Wing” (Zionist) party is expected to receive just 5 or 6 seats. A “Right-Wing” Government whatever its exact political complexion or composition looks almost certain.

There is one scenario – not entirely farfetched – where the “Right” could be electorally exposed and “denied” electoral victory.

With no parliamentary electoral constituencies, a political party simply needs to secure a minimum of 3.25% of the national vote to enter the Knesset. A party on around 3.5% to 4% of the vote is likely to win 4 Knesset seats. A party that secures anything less than 3.25% will be allocated zero seats.

The problem for the “Right-Wing” Block is that three “Right-Wing” political parties are hovering just above this 3.25% threshold (Shas, Israeli Beitanu and Habait Hayudi) and a further three (Yachad, Oztma Israel and Zehut) are struggling below it.


Photograph – Hatikva Neighbourhood Tel Aviv (Paul Kearns)

Shas – the party of the Sephardic Haredi – received 5.7% of the popular vote and 7 seats in in 2015. The party is expected to fall to just 5 seats in April, but an opinion poll on January 03rd in Yisrael Hayom newspaper had Shas below the threshold.

 The same poll had the radical right parties of Zehut, Otzma Israel and Yachad all falling below the threshold. In the 2015 election Otzma Israel and Yachad formed an alliance securing 2.97% of the vote, narrowly failing to cross the 3.25% threshold. Its votes were therefore simply “lost” when allocating the 120 seats to those parties above the 3.25% threshold. Yachad is polling 2.5% according to the latest Maariv Poll (January 04th)

Israeli Beitanu – the Russian dominated party of ex-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is currently polling just above the threshold and is expected to receive just 4 to 5 seats

Bait Hayudi the now ‘abandoned’ party of its former leaders and outgoing Ministers Naftali Bennet and Ayalet Shaked is also expected to receive just 4 seats. In a poll for Kan Channel on January 02nd the party also fell below the 3.25% electoral threshold.

If just four of these six parties failed to reach the threshold the “Right-Wing” Block could still waste up to 10% to 12% of the vote or 12 to 14 seats. A very unlucky night for the political Right where all six could fall short, and the “Right-Wing” Block could end up ‘loosing’ up to 18 seats. An informal merger of some of the very smaller parties is highly likely in the weeks ahead.

On the “Left” only one party – Ale Yarok (Green Leaf) is likely to waste any significant number of votes. Ale Yarok, a party founded to decriminalize cannabis, secured just 1.1% of the popular vote in 2015. Despite multiple attempts the party has never managed to cross the electoral threshold. It is unlikely to so in 2019.

All these wasted votes and unearned seats are simply distributed proportionately amongst the successful parties. The Likud party of Bibi Netanyahu would probably bag at least 3 of these seats, but the Centre and Centre Left opposition would likely ‘steal’ up to 7. The largely Palestinian alliance “Joint List” could take 2 seats. This may be enough to deny a radical rightwing government from taking power.

The irony of the Palestinian “Joint List” sneaking an extra 2 seats from the failure of the right would not be lost on Israelis.

It was after all Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Israeli Beitanu who championed the law introduced after the 2013 election to raise the electoral threshold from 2% to its current 3.25%. He did so ostensibly to reduce the number of tiny parties entering the Knesset, thereby potentially reducing political instability.

It was however widely accepted at the time that is real political target was the three smaller Palestinian dominated parties, which individually secured just 2.5%, 3% and 3.7% of the popular vote in 2013. With an increased threshold they all risked oblivion in the following election. They instead came together to form the “Joint List” and won 13 seats in the election 2015, becoming the third largest party in the Knesset.

Migron Illegal Setllement Outpost.jpg

Photograph – Migron Settlement Outpost West Bank, now demolished (Paul Kearns)

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