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The Rosner-Fuchs Exchange, Part 5: ‘In 21st Century Israel, the Word ‘Left’ has Become Pejorative’

by Shmuel Rosner

March 5, 2013 | 8:34 am

Lapid and Bennet, photo by Flash 90

Professor Camil Fuchs, who has been a valuable contributor to Rosner's Domain for the past year, is a veteran Israeli statistician. He is a Professor of Statistics at Tel Aviv University, where he has also served as head of the Department of Statistics and Operations Research, and as the chairman of the School of Mathematical Sciences. Professor Fuchs, who is the official  pollster of Haaretz daily and channel 10 news, has been one of the leading and most reliable polling experts in Israel for many years.

In the fifth part of this exchange about the results of the Israeli elections (part one, two, three and four can be found here, here, here, and here) we examine the notion of 'political blocs' in Israel.

 

Dear Camil,

There's a lot with which I'd take issue in your last response, but as I'd like to move the dialogue forward I'm going to refrain from trying to get to the bottom of every detail (so as not to bore our readers). But there is a "big picture" issue in your response that demands some more clarification: You write that the votes for Lapid and Meretz were not "Labor votes" but rather "Kadima votes or center-left swinging votes".

As for Kadima, I probably agree: the numbers speak for themselves and one can easily see that the 28 Kadima mandates of 2009 were basically redistributed between Lapid (19), Livni (6), Meretz (plus 3). The math isn't perfect (there are still Kadima's 2 Mandates) but it comes pretty close.

My question is about the middle part of your definition – the "swinging center-left votes". And more to the point: why center-left?

Livni has decided to join Netanyahu's coalition. Lapid went to President Peres and named Netanyahu as his candidate for the PM job and adamantly insisted during the campaign that his party is a centrist party, not a center-left party.; and while supportive of the "two state solution", he opened his campaign with a speech in the settlement town of Ariel.

Nevertheless, we insist on calling his party (and Livni's) center-left. We insist on dividing the electorate into right-religious and center-left. It seems we've been sticking to old habits that might not fit the current reality, have we not?

My question is: what are Israel's main political blocs today?

I'm sure you have the answer.

Best,

Shmuel

 

Dear Shmuel,

I must admit that I enjoyed it more when I was able to start my previous entries with sentences like “I am sorry to tell you, Shmuel that I don’t agree with your theory, and here are my reasons”. This time it's different, though: I have to agree with you.

Yes, we continued to divide the parties into 'right-religious' and 'center-left' blocs, even when this division wasn't fully justified (and that's an understatement). In my defense though, I'll mention that throughout the elections the entire Israeli media constantly referred to these two blocs in its coverage: Right-religious vs. Center-Left. I must admit that at the time these seemed like pretty reasonable labels. After all, the big question during the elections was who will be the Prime Minister and what kind of government are we going to have. The battle between the 'two blocs' managed to illustrate the general nature of the fight over dominance.

Moreover, the current government is clearly comprised of members of a Right-religious bloc. The question was whether this same block will be the backbone of the next government as well. Naturally, the block counter to the 'right-religious' bloc was labeled as 'center-left'.

But in recent years something has happened in Israel, both in the old parties and in the new ones: In Israeli 21-century political jargon the word 'left' has become a pejorative term (not unlike the word 'liberal' in many circles in the US). The right has successfully tried to give the word 'left' an 'unpatriotic' and 'un-Zionist' (or at least 'not sufficiently Zionist') connotation.   

In order to appeal to the masses, the head of the Labor party, which was a classical left party in Israel's early days, suddenly ceased every opportunity to declare that her party is 'not left wing'.

Now while this was the case in the Labor party, it was even more with new parties such as Lapid's 'Yesh Atid'. We insisted on referring to them as 'Center-left', but they are certainly in the center, and even closer to center-right. They probably fit the mold of the Liberal party, whose members eventually co founded the original Likud party. This is, of course, before the Likud made a right turn and before it joined Liberman's Party.

Now, as Lapid is forming a mini-bloc with Bennett's 'Jewish Home' party, the tendency towards the right-center and away from the left is even more noticeable. These days channel 10 has been reporting that the Lapid Bennett pact specifically mentions that in matters of foreign policy they will adhere to 'the decisions of previous governments'. The pundits have been quick to note that the basic tenants of Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech (which speaks of 'two countries for two peoples') were not an accepted 'government decision'.

So Lapid personally accepts the idea of a two-state solution, but Bennett doesn't and yet they are still now a mini-bloc in the coalition negotiations.

So does Yair Lapid belong to a 'center-left bloc'? I hate to say this, but you are right- he probably does not. Let's remember that the center-left bloc we all talked about included the Arab parties...

To answer your question regarding the main political blocs in Israel today, I would say that the bloc-structure has been blurred. We might be able to talk about a 'right-religious bloc' as opposed to all the rest. That may be a bit broad, but it's all we have.

But perhaps that isn't necessarily true as well, since in a certain scenario, if Netanyahu doesn't manage to form a government, one of the religious parties could join the center, and then the blocs will crumble altogether.

And then Lapid will be PM. Surreal? Maybe. Is the probably for this remote? Certainly. But it isn't zero…

Best,

Camil.

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