Amir Cohen / Reuters A photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen on the floor with Likud party ballots at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 18, 2015.

Israel's Right Turn

Behind Bibi's Victory

After weeks of speculation, Israel’s election has finally ended with the victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party. As the post-election dust settles, it has grown clear how long-standing cultural and political shifts among the Jewish Israeli public shaped this year’s vote. One trend stands out in particular: the continued dominance of the right alongside the soft-right parties that have drifted from the center.

The Israeli party system can be broken down into five broad camps: the right wing (free-marketers and hawks), the religious (ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionists), the center, the left wing (socialists and doves), and the Arabs. Some of the boundaries between these categories are quite firm (such as between the Arab bloc and the cluster of religious parties), whereas others have blurred over time (for example, between the right wing and the religious groups).

Since 2013, the rightist and Arab camps have increased their share of Knesset seats, and the religious and left-wing groups have lost a few. If the left-wing Labor and center Hatnua alliance are cast closer to the center than to the left, it appears that the center has expanded its presence in the Knesset considerably, primarily at the expense of the left. 

The right-wing camp improved its performance in this year’s election mainly thanks to the Likud Party—its ten-seat increase from 2013 to 2015 came largely at the expense of Yisrael Beiteinu, the other right-wing party, and Bayit Yehudi, which straddles the right wing and the religious camp. These gains can be partly attributed to Netanyahu’s effective fear-mongering campaign in the last few days before the vote—during which he darkly warned Jewish Israelis that Arab Israelis were coming out to vote in droves and that “the left” (supported by illicit foreign campaign funds) was on the brink of victory and would drive the country to ruin.

But the strength of Likud, and of the right more broadly, lies to a great extent in their ability

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