Israel Elections 2013: Far Right Faces Off Against Weakened Opposition Party

From the time Benjamin Netanyahu called for elections on October 15, 2012, till today, there has been a constant surge of the far-right in Israel. This has coincided with the collapse of the left, with Ehud Barak, Tpizi Livni, and other prominent leaders adding to the disunity, by forming their own parties, after breaking away from the center and left coalitions.  

The coalition of the far-right is likely to win, considering the polls and more importantly, the lack of a unified opposition. I believe this will be the case, not due to the spectacular leadership that they have provided, or a vision to which the country can work towards, but due largely to the failure of the opposition to demonstrate unified leadership on their part.

Haaretz polls showed that Netanyahu would average slightly over 34 seats, and given the nature of coalition politics and the emergence of new players such as ultra right wing former settler leader Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home party, who are likely to win over 14 seats, the situation is hardly in favor of the left leaning parties. These polls also indicate that the Labor Party is expected to have 16 seats, Shas 11, and Hatnuah 7.  

The mood in Israel is one of confusion and insecurity, given the continuing instability in the Middle East. An unstable Egypt, the civil war raging in Syria, and the recent recognition of the Palestine state in the United Nations are all factors which have contributed to this. The perceived nuclear threat from Iran doesn’t help allay the fears of those who want to believe otherwise. Though Iran has not been used as an issue in the elections, Bibi’s visit to the UN and his address fortified his administration’s position on the issue. President Shimon Peres alluded to this and pointed out that this is definitely a priority for his country.

What this means in real terms is that the atmosphere of fear and cynicism has won, rather than one of hope and optimism. As Bernard Avishai points out in this article, the young are not clear on which side they're on. While there is a clear demand for better jobs, safer neighborhoods, as manifested by the social justice riots, fear and many half-truths seem to be the order of the day. He says: "But for half of the electorate, young people — political swingers, as it were — choices reflect a flickering of impressions and half thought-through syllogisms: 'We have no partner; Abbas can’t be trusted; anyway, Hamas is getting stronger; the problem is not our settlements; they always hated us; Olmert offered everything and they said no; it's not theft if they're trying to kill you' — you get the idea.”

The left parties are divided, as this article points out. The key leaders have drifted away and Tzipi Livni has responded to being deposed as head of Kadima by forming another new party, Hatnuah. There was further defection in journalist Yair Lapid deciding to form a new party, Yesh Atid, whose voters will entirely be drawn from other leftist parties.

Between the cynicism of the old guard, a divided left and the threat of Iran, and an unstable Middle East, there is a great likelihood that fear will win over hope. The real question to ask is not why Bibi will win, but rather, why there is no clear opposition and unity to work together on part of the opposition?

This election may be seen as one where the Israelis have chosen “not to elect.” That, in my opinion, is the bigger tragedy. 

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Sabith Khan

Sabith Khan is a social entrepreneur, researcher and founder of MENASA, a think-tank and policy shop engaged in issues related to MENA and South Asia. Sabith has worked for several years in the field of strategic communications, public affairs and nonprofit management, trying to understand and communicate issues pertaining to civil society, development and youth in the US and MENA region. Sabith has worked with several large global public affairs firms, on award-winning campaigns in healthcare, entertainment and government relations. During his stint at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, he ideated and executed a global award-winning campaign for Apollo Hospitals (Abby and Clio Awards). He has also worked in the Middle East managing accounts as diverse as Dubai Film Festival, Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation, Dubai International Film Festival, Dubai School of Government. Most recently, he served as the Executive Director of Muslim Public Service Network in Washington D.C, an NGO that engages and inspires young American Muslims to do public service. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Planning Governance and Globalization at Virginia Tech. He has been involved as a team member and leader in several international development projects including consulting for the Near East Foundation, in helping set up their Monitoring and Evaluation system for their offices across the MENA region. Sabith has a Master of Public administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. In Summer 2013, he conducted research on American Muslim philanthropy at the Lilly School of Philanthropy, Indianapolis, in an attempt to map giving behavior among Muslims over the last ten years i.e., 2002- 2012. Sabith’s research interests include Religion and Philanthropy, Youth issues in USA, Middle East North Africa and South Asia, Governance and Civil Society. Sabith is also the co-editor of Millennials Speak: Essays on the 21st century, a snapshot of the ideas and opinions of the global Millennial Generation. Twenty writers from five continents, a diverse mix of young academics, policy professionals, and future thought and creative leaders, cover topics from the legacy of the Arab Spring, the global food system, the U.S. student loan crisis, youth unemployment, to popular culture. Currently working: Founder and Executive Director, MENASA Publications: 1. Humanitarian Aid and Faith-Based Giving: The Potential of Muslim Charity - Unrest Magazine, George Mason University. May 2013. Accessible at http://www.unrestmag.com/about-unrest/past-issues/#sthash.GEqNfv0U.dpuf 2. Arab American Diaspora and American Muslim Philanthropy: impact of crisis situations on mobilization and formation of a “community.” American University in Cairo Press. Cairo. (NP). Expected Fall 2013. 3. Middle-East Peace Talks 2010: Investigating the Role of Lobbying and Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C. as Spoilers. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Spring 2011. Accessible at : http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/parcc/Research/intrastate/Spoilers_of_Peace_Project/ Blog: www.sabithkhan.wordpress.com

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