Nir Elias / Courtesy Reuters Tents on a main boulevard in Tel Aviv during a protest for social justice.

Israel's Left in the Dark

Why the Opposition to Netanyahu Is So Fragmented

On a cold Friday afternoon a few weeks ago, several dozen veterans of the Israeli left gathered at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for the premier of On the Left Side, a documentary about the history of progressive Zionism. With the exception of a shouting match between a few guests and a retired politician, the atmosphere was pleasant, if somber. The attendees lamented their imminent loss in the January 22 Knesset elections but generally enjoyed one another's company. "A bit like a funeral," one of them observed.

The Israeli left indeed appears to be on the verge of yet another overwhelming defeat in Tuesday's vote. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bloc -- which includes his own Likud Party; the right-wing Israel Yisrael Beiteinu party, with which Likud recently united; the ultra-Orthodox parties; and the so-called national religious parties -- is projected to win between 64 and 70 of the Knesset's 120 seats, a range that all but guarantees Netanyahu a third term in office.

The right's strength is matched only by the utter fragmentation of the center and the mainstream Zionist left. A recent poll by the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth showed that the Israelis who in the last election voted for Kadima, the largest party in the outgoing Knesset and the main opposition to Netanyahu's government, will split among no less than eight different factions. None of these parties will have enough power to seriously challenge the next coalition. And at least some of them will be tempted to join Netanyahu rather than fight him, as did former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's Labor Party following the 2009 elections.

In part, the left-wing and centrist parties have been unable to come together because each has its own pet agenda. The Labor Party, which split from the government coalition in 2011 and is now led by Shelly Yachimovich, is trying to capitalize on the social justice protests that rocked Israel in 2011. Yachimovich is focusing on criticizing Netanyahu's neoliberal economic policies, which she says have worsened inequality, and is all but ignoring

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