In the lead-up to recent elections in Israel, TIP identified a negative narrative from detractors that was penetrating the media and being used to alienate Americans from Israel. The claim: Israel’s electorate was veering radically to the right and its coming government would be dominated by ultra-orthodox voices that reject peace.
After establishing a message – that any shifts in polls in Israel were in fact within existing left-right blocks, not to the right – TIP worked with reporters in Israel and the US to convey our perspective and help frame the story. That effort produced stories that pushed back against the notion that Israel was shifting hard to the right. And election results bore that out, reinforcing TIP’s credibility with reporters and diplomats. A senior European diplomat told TIP: “You’re the only folks who got it right.”
For more on the 2013 Israeli Elections, visit the backgrounder for the debate hosted by TIP at Hebrew University on January 8, our 2013 election summary and our comprehensive Introductory Primer.
Voting in the Israeli-Arab town of Jaffa, a mixed city of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013.
The broad contours of Israel’s January 22 election were in line with months of polling predictions, even as the specifics of the race were shaken by the surprising late surge of the centrist party Yesh Atid. As polls projected, the voting was divided roughly evenly between a center-right bloc anchored by a dominant Likud-Beitenu slate and a fractured center-left. Incumbent Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will almost certainly be asked to form Israel’s next coalition government, and the third place Labor party is likely to lead the opposition.
The surprise of the evening was the success of the new, centrist Yesh Atid party, which found itself with enough votes to become Israel’s second-largest party. Only recently created by former journalist Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid’s success has triggered a wave of interest in the group and its positions.
Founded and led by Israeli TV personality Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid embodies a kind of post-ideological pragmatism. It couples an emphasis on tough national security with an explicit endorsement of a two-state solution. It promotes free market policies while insisting on the need to bolster the middle class. And though it is avowedly secular, the Yesh Atid agenda is expressed in terms of the need to integrate Israel’s ultra-orthodox and Arab minorities into the state's civil and military institutions.
The Israel Project has compiled a series of multimedia resources documenting Yesh Atid’s platform and the party’s rise. Two videos from a recent TIP election debate, held days before voting commenced, show top Yesh Atid foreign policy official Yaakov Peri outlining the party’s foreign policy agenda in general and specifically regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Below the videos is a gallery showing the scene at the Yesh Atid party on the night of the elections, as news of the party’s electoral successes began to trickle in.
PHOTO GALLERY (Click here for more photos):
Israeli voters flocked to the polls in near-record numbers on Tuesday to elect the country’s 19th Knesset, registering turnout levels not seen since the country’s hotly contested 1999 election. By 6:00 p.m., 3.1 million Israelis, or 55.5 percent of the electorate, had cast their ballot.
The voting comes after weeks of pundit predictions, both in Israel and abroad, predicting an apathetic Israeli electorate.
Should the numbers hold up, analysts will likely have to reexamine critical assumptions about the ideology and enthusiasm of Israeli voters. Youth voting has in particular stymied efforts to predict turnout and voting. Israeli media outlets prominently featured first-time voters saying that they had opted to vote for newer parties as alternatives to Israel’s traditional center-right and center-left parties, the Likud and Labor parties respectively.
Israeli analysts have largely assumed that a larger turnout favors Israel’s center-left bloc against the center-right bloc that is largely expected to emerge with a majority. Huge majorities of Israelis have consistently favored compromises with the Palestinians in the pursuit of a two-state solution, and Israeli parties with platforms deemphasizing a peace deal would be advantaged by lower-turnout, niche-voter electoral scenarios.
There are 32 party lists competing in the election, with larger parties focusing on broad political and social issues and various smaller parties proposing specific changes to the electoral system, greater separation of religion and state, and the legalization of cannabis.
As Israelis cast their ballots in national elections today, here is a brief summary of what happens election day and some facts and figures.
Election Day Schedule:
January 22, 2013
- 07:00 – Polls open
- 22:00 – Polls close
- 22:00 – All three television stations (1, 2, 10) announce results of their exit polls
- 22:00 – Manual counting of ballots begins
- 23:00 (approximate) – Initial results from first few polling stations are announced as polling stations report their vote counts to the Central Elections Committee (CEC) in Jerusalem. Counting continues all night long.
Jan 23, 2013
- 01:00 (approximate) – Sufficient results should be announced that may indicate how accurate exit polls are.
- 03:00 (approximate) – more than 60% of polls reporting, clearer picture of coalition options.
Unfortunately there is no way of knowing the specific time when the CEC will reach 99 percent of polls so that anybody can definitively say “here are the final results.” The official results are published by the CEC eight days after the election.
How voting works:
- Voters are automatically registered to vote at a polling station nearest their registered place of residence.
- Voters arrives at their polling station with valid photo ID. The list of voters is posted outside each polling station.
- Three scrutineers from different parties check the voters’ ID against the list of eligible voters.
- The voter is given an empty envelope and their name is crossed off the list by all three scrutineers.
- The voter goes behind a partition where nobody else can see them.
- Behind the partition is a box holding small paper ballots with the Hebrew letter symbols of the party and the party name spelled out. The ballots are approximately 5 cm by 10 cm.
- The voter chooses the ballot paper with the symbol of the party they want and places it in an envelope.
- The voter then walks out from behind the partition and places the envelope in the ballot box.
- When polls close at 10pm, the doors are locked, the seal broken on each ballot box, and votes are counted in the presence of the scrutineers and election officials from the CEC.
Facts and Figures:
- Election Day is a national holiday. All schools and non-essential businesses are closed.
- Population of Israel as of December, 2012 = 7.981 million (Israel Central Bureau of Statistics)
- 6.015 million Jewish (75.4% of the population)
- 1.648 million Arabs (20.6%)
- 0.319 million others (4.0%)
- Number of eligible voters = 5,656,705
- Number of polling stations = 10,133 (Knesset)
- Number of polling stations for people with disabilities = 1,555
- Number of polling stations in hospitals = 195
- Number of polling stations at diplomatic representations abroad = 96
- Number of polling stations in prisons and detention centers = 57
It is generally assumed given previous experience that sometime between 3:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. the CEC will have 99 percent of the polls and will release those results. There is no assigned time other than the release of the official results eight days later.
Opinion polls indicate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s list is expected to win the most seats. This means President Shimon Peres will likely ask Netanyahu to form a government. The election results will dictate how the coalition negotiations will likely commence, and which parties Netanyahu will negotiate with first in order to put together a 61+ seat majority in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament. However, the negotiations could take weeks.
Israel's three major news television stations tonight released exit poll results projecting that the country's 19th Knesset will be dominated by parties clustering around the Israeli political center. The announcements come after months during which analysts predicted Israelis were preparing to vote into power the most right-wing government in the country's history.
In contrast, it appears that both the next Israeli government and the Israeli opposition will be led by parties committed to securing a two-state resolution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As polls had predicted since the campaign began three months ago, the final vote was closely divided between a center-right bloc anchored by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu party and a fractured Israeli center-left. The Likud-Beitenu list is expected to receive just over 30 seats, and Netanyahu will almost certainly be asked by Israel's President Shimon Peres to form the next coalition government. Electoral calculations indicate that he will be able to form a slim majority in Israel's 120-seat Knesset.
The surprise of the evening was the strength of Israel's centrist Yesh Atid party, founded and led by TV personality Yair Lapid. If exit polling holds, the party will have received enough votes to secure its place as Israel's second-largest party. Yesh Atid ran on a platform of secularism, governmental reform, and free market-oriented economic policies. Demographically, it draws from Israel's moderate middle class.
There is minimal distance between Likud-Beitenu and Yesh Atid on critical issues. Both parties share a foreign policy emphasizing the need for a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tempered with skepticism regarding Palestinian willingness to make and abide by negotiated agreements. Domestically, both parties are committed to pursuing liberal economic policies.
The next Israeli opposition will likely almost certainly be led by the center-left Labor party, which seems set to take its place as Israel's third most powerful party. Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich has taken her party to the left economically, but Labor shares with Likud-Beitenu and Yesh Atid -- and with huge swaths of the Israeli public -- both a commitment to a two-state solution and a skepticism regarding Palestinian policies.
Israel’s 20-percent Arab minority has been voting today in national elections. Men and women in Arab and mixed Jewish-Arab towns and villages began casting their votes when polling stations opened at 7 a.m.
Four Arab parties are running in the general election, along with one joint Arab-Jewish party (Hadash). Additionally, all the major parties have Arab and/or Druze candidates on their slates – including those on the political right.
Voter turnout among Israeli-Arabs is traditionally lower than that among the Jewish population – although the Jewish vote is also in decline. Voter turnout is generally low in the Arab world. In Kuwait, voter turnout stood at 40.3 percent in the December 2012 elections there. Turnout in Jordan has averaged 51.8 percent since 1949.
The Israeli-Arab parties have been using their share of the government-sponsored TV and radio ad time to urge the 1.6 million strong Arab sector to vote.
Among them is the Daam workers’ party, headed by Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka. She presents herself as a representative of all Israelis. “I have a vision and it wasn’t clear to people—to talk about Jews and Arabs, about socialism, social justice. They thought I was dreaming, that all Arabs hate Jews and all Jews hate Arabs. And I know that’s not true,” she said in a recent interview.
This idea of Arabs and Jews working together in the political arena and beyond is also picked up by Nadia Hilou, a former MP with the Labor party who is running once again on the Labor ticket today.
She has traveled the length and breadth of the country encouraging Arabs to vote, arguing that choosing Labor is the only way to affect change.
“If every one of us would vote it will help to switch the current government and restore hope for a better common future for all of us: between Arabs and Jews, and for the Arab community and the citizens at large,” she said.
With two weeks left until Israelis go to the polls, The Israel Project (TIP), in conjunction with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI), hosted a foreign policy debate on January 8th with representatives from major political parties. Some 300 members of the foreign media, diplomatic community and HUJI student body braved stormy weather conditions to pack the Truman Hall for the first English-language U.S. presidential-style election debate, during which time candidates presented their parties’ positions on foreign policy initiatives, including the threat of a nuclear Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the U.S.-Israel relationship and Israel's role in a changing Middle East. Moderated by TIP’s Israel Director Marcus Sheff, the four senior candidates representing the parties making the headlines were: Yitzhak Herzog (Labor); Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi – Jewish Home); Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud-Beiteinu) and Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid). Only Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) was a casualty of the weather.
View Video Excerpts:
For more information about the substance discussed during the debate:
Tzachi Hanegbi, Likud - Yisrael Beitenu
Leading candidates from Israel’s major parties emphasized Tuesday that Iran’s atomic program, widely thought to have a clandestine weapons component, will constitute a central concern for Israel’s next government.
The politicians’ statements, which came as part of a pre-election debate hosted by The Israel Project at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reflect an Israeli consensus – mirrored by ones which exist in Gulf countries and in the West – that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would grant the Islamic republic unacceptable immunity as it conducts global terror campaigns and pursues regional expansion.
Israeli analysts and politicians have also emphasized that Iran’s atomic program is approaching an inflection point after which sufficiently degrading it will become untenable.
“We are getting closer to the red line,” veteran politician Tzachi Hanegbi of Likud-Beiteinu told the crowd of some 300 diplomats, journalists, and others. Naftali Bennet, the leader of the Jewish Home party, echoed the warning, noting that “the window of opportunity is closing.”
Candidates differed on the degree to which the current geopolitical situation permitted making further territorial concessions in pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Hanegbi, whose Likud-Beiteinu party slate maintains a dominant position as Israel’s January 22 election approaches, emphasized the need to move “forward... [and] go back to the negotiating table.” Hanegbi drew a distinction between Likud-Beiteinu and parties to its right, characterizing the Jewish Home platform as one drawn up by political neophytes who underappreciate the need for pragmatic governance. Hanegbi outlined that Israel accepts the reality of "millions of Palestinians who believe they have a right to independence" but emphasized that the current Palestinian negotiating stance - which involves claims by millions of refugees on territory inside Israel's 1949 armistice lines - is untenable.
Addressing other regional dynamics, candidates expressed hopes that Israel could revive its relationship with Turkey. Jerusalem’s relationship with Ankara has been in crisis and efforts by Israel to restore it have been largely rebuffed. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in November mocked envoys sent by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “weird,” and he subsequently branded Israel a “terrorist state” for launching its Operation Pillar of Defense after months of escalatory rocket fire from the Iran-backed terror group Hamas.
Yesh Atid’s Yaakov Peri, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, noted that an alliance with Turkey was in Israel’s strategic interest and urged that “every effort” be made to restore it. The point was echoed by Labor’s Isaac Herzog, who advocated for “enhance[d] cooperation.”
The debate, which was moderated by Marcus Sheff, the executive director of TIP’s Israel office, involved a series of short presentations followed by a Q&A period. The candidates addressed a range of domestic and foreign policy issues, from the Arab-Israeli peace process through scenarios for disintegration along the Israeli-Syrian border.
A majority of people who said they would vote for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Beiteinu or even further to the right would support a two-state peace deal with the Palestinians, according to two polls published in December.
The surveys suggested 57-58 percent of supporters of Likud Beiteinu favor a demilitarized Palestinian state based on the 1949 armistice lines.
Of those planning on voting for the hawkish Jewish Home/National Union slate, 53 percent said they would back such an agreement.
The polls were conducted for the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington by two public research companies.
Support for the proposed peace deal rose to 67-68 percent among the general public.
Polling since the Camp David peace talks in 2000 have shown a majority of Israelis favor an agreement roughly in line with that included in the Abraham surveys.
Over the past few years Netanyahu has repeatedly called on the Palestinians to resume direct peace talks without pre-conditions.