Eight things to look for on Israel’s election night

1)      Where and when to follow election results and analysis?

 If you are not a Hebrew speaker and are not going to tune in to online broadcasts of Israeli radio (Reshet Bet; Galei Tzahal)  or television (Channel 1; Channel 2; Channel 10), you can start following exit polls and real results as of 10:00 PM Israel time (4:00 PM EST) on Tuesday, March 17 on Israeli English language web sites (Haaretz; The Times of Israel; Ynet; Jerusalem Post; i24)  as well as on APN’s twitter accounts, available through our web site.  Votes are typically counted quickly. A good picture of election results should be available before midnight EST.


2)      What will the balance of power be between the two larger parties?

 Israel has a multi-party system. This time, some twenty parties are running, and ten of them are likely to make it into the Knesset. Still, the competition between the two larger parties, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Yitzhak Herzog’s Zionist Camp is very important. It is very likely to determine who of the two, Netanyahu or Herzog, will be tasked first by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government coalition. Although the President does not have to pick the leader of the larger party, he is likely to do it if the gap between the two parties is sizeable. Likud and the Zionist Camp (a merger of Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah) have been running neck-and-neck in the polls until this week, when the Zionist Camp, according to several polls, opened a significant lead over Likud. Netanyahu is believed to have broader maneuvering room to form a coalition (more members of the future Knesset seem to be ideologically closer to Likud), but (a) he will have less maneuverability with a smaller party, and (b) the first politician tasked with forming a coalition always has a significant advantage in the coalition-building wheeling and dealing process. Experts believe that if Herzog’s party opens a gap of four Knesset seats or more over Likud, Rivlin will have to pick him first to try to form a coalition. A Channel 2 poll published a week before the elections pointed at such a gap. It gave the Zionist Camp 25 seats vs. 21 for Likud. There are 120 seats in the Knesset.

3)      How will the Joint Slate, the mostly-Arab list, perform?

 The Joint Slate is a loose alliance of three Arab parties and one Jewish-Arab party, Hadash. This alliance was formed because the four parties were concerned that they might not cross the threshold for holding seats in the Knesset, which in these elections, for the first time, was set at 3.25% of the overall vote (roughly equal to four Knesset seats). This means that parties with four Knesset seats might or might not make it into the Knesset, and parties with fewer than four will certainly not. Although the loose alliance of the four parties was a matter of survival for them, polls consistently show that it resulted in energizing the Arab electorate. Turnout rates in Israel’s Arab sector have in recent elections been a wild card. Turnout among Israel’s Arab minority is significantly lower than among Israeli Jews. In 2013 it was 57% compared with 67% overall turnout rate. Arab voters, who once used to split their vote between “Arab” parties and Zionist parties (As recently as the 1980s, a third of the Arab vote went to the Labor party), today vote almost exclusively for “Arab” parties and Hadash. A high Arab turnout rate can garner 13 or even 14 Knesset seats to the Joint Slate and make it the Knesset’s third largest party. Although the leaders of the Slate have stated that they will not join any government coalition (none of the Arab parties have ever been in the coalition) they could play a crucial role in stabilizing a center-left coalition headed by Herzog and Livni by providing it a safety net, and voting with the coalition to thwart opposition attempts to topple it. A strong Joint Slate may therefore also assist Herzog in his struggle against Netanyahu over being tasked by the President with trying to form a coalition. 


4)      How will Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party perform?

 Bennett’s party, the Jewish Home, a new-and-improved National Religious Party, has been running very strong in the polls. Because many of its supporters are young and difficult to sample, some speculate that the party is under-represented in polls. In addition, polls show that many of the supporters that Likud has been losing in recent weeks have shifted to the Jewish Home. Pundits therefore speculate that Bennett’s party is likely to boast an even stronger showing at the voting stations than its impressive showing in public opinion polls. Bennett’s party is Likud’s natural ally. Its success could therefore boost Netanyhu’s chances of forming a coalition. As a strong second in a possible future Likud-led coalition, the Jewish Home, which is the party that most strongly represents the ideological West Bank settlers, would be in an even stronger position then they are in the outgoing government to boost settlement construction and deepen the roots of Israel’s West Bank occupation.


5)      Will Meretz cross the threshold and make it into the Knesset?

 Polls show that Meretz, the dovish liberal-Zionist party, has been losing support in recent weeks, as the Zionist Camp’s polling soared. Many speculate that this trend will further intensify as election day approaches, and progressive voters perceive the elections as first and foremost a battle between Netanyahu and Herzog. Meretz has been polling at 4-5 Knesset seats in recent weeks, dangerously close to the threshold.


6)      Will Eli Yishai’s Yachad party make it into the Knesset?

 Yachad is a merger of two parties: Eli Yishai’s Ha’am Itanu (“The People are with Us”), which splintered from the ultra-Orthodox Sepharadi Shas, and the National Jewish Front, a radical national-religious party, which brings together supporters of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the extreme right-wing zealot whose Kach party was banned from running for the Knesset in the past. If Yachad crosses the 3.25% threshold and makes it into the Knesset, Kahane’s chief disciple, Baruch Marzel, will finally make it into the Knesset, after four failed attempts. Marzel is a prominent leader of the most extremists among the West Bank settlers. Polls show Yachad as teetering on the edge of the threshold.


7)      How will Yair Lapid’s party and Moshe Kahlon’s party perform?

 Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid was the big surprise and the big winner of the 2013 general elections. With 19 Knesset seats, it is the second largest party in the outgoing Knesset. Initial polls in this current election season showed Yesh Atid having been cut in half, but more recent polls indicate a major recovery. Channel 2’s poll, published a week before the elections, shows Yesh Atid with 14 seats. Yesh Atid is Herzog and Livni’s natural ally in forming a future center-left coalition. If Yesh Atid indeed recovers to gain more than a dozen Knesset seats, it will greatly improve the Zionist Camp’s chances of putting together a coalition, although such a coalition will almost certainly have to include at least one of the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, which loathe Lapid’s party. Another wild card, who would be an important ally for either Netanyahu or Herzog-Livni in forming a coalition is Moshe Kahlon, the popular former Likud minister of communications. His newly-formed party, Kulanu, has also moderately gained in recent polls, apparently raking votes mainly from Likud and Shas. Kahlon wants to be the next minister of finance, and will go with either Netanyahu or Herzog. A strong performance of Kahlon will also boost Herzog and Livni’s chances of forming a coalition, a scenario that only two months ago seemed fantastical. 


8)      In their election-night speeches, what will Herzog and Netanyahu signal?

 Israel’s next government could be a center-left government, a right-religious government, or a “national unity” government that includes both Netanyahu’s Likud and Herzog’s Zionist Camp. Initial speeches by the two, once the electoral picture becomes clear, could give some insight into their plans and into the extent to which they might strive to form a government together. Although both leaders campaigned under the slogan “It’s either us or them,” and although both spoke dismissively of the possibility of a unity government, many pundits say that this is ultimately the most likely post-election scenario.