75 years after Israel’s founding, the country is turning increasingly conservative, permanently ending the dominance of the socialist ruling class.
By Patricia Adams and Lawrence Solomon, published by The Epoch Times
Israel’s left-wing opposition triumphed in March by forcing Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing right-wing coalition to suspend its plans to reform the judicial system. The left wing may next succeed in derailing the reform plans altogether, in forcing new elections, and even—its ultimate prize—in banishing Likud-leader Netanyahu altogether from politics.
These successes, if they occur, will merely be last gasps in the decades-long weakening of the left’s grip on power. All trends in the Israeli mosaic—where the right-wing coalition’s 64 seats already represent an 18-seat advantage over the opposition parties’ 46 seats—point to an ever-eroding left, and an ever-enlarging right.
Demographic trends are telling (pdf), with the often-cited Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) birthrate—an average of 6.9 children—but one important factor. Now representing 17 percent of Israeli Jews and 13 percent of all Israelis, in 10 years the Haredis are projected to account for 20 percent of Israeli Jews and 16 percent of all Israelis. Moreover, Haredis are a young population—60 percent of its members are under the age of 20, almost twice the general population’s 31 percent—leading to a disproportionately large Haredi influx into the voting-age pool.
An analysis of the birthrates of the 83 percent of Jews who aren’t Haredi also points to an erosion of the left’s electoral share. As might be expected, the greater the adherence to Judaism’s teachings, the greater the birthrate.
Religious Zionists—represented by the largest party in the coalition after Likud—average 4.3 children, more than twice the 2.1 fertility rate that leads to zero population growth. Tradition-minded religious Jews average three, while tradition-minded non-religious Jews average 2.4. These religious and/or tradition-minded sectors of Israeli society all tend to vote for the parties of the right, and all boost Israel’s population. Secular Jews, the sector that the left most depends upon, average 2.1 children per woman, providing no boost to Israel’s population or to its voting pool.
Migration patterns further doom the left’s chances of regaining its hold on power. Jews from abroad who decide to make Israel their home by making Aliya, i.e., “ascending” to Israel, are predominantly religious and nationalistic, adding to the voting rolls of the right.
Jews who emigrate abroad by making Yerida, a pejorative term meaning “descending” from Israel, tend to be less likely to be nationalistic and religious, diminishing the left’s voter pool. These emigrants, who tended to be well educated and upwardly mobile, left in droves over the decades, chiefly for the economic opportunities in the West. The scorn that often accompanied their departure—former Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin termed them “fall-outs of weaklings”—mattered less than the prospects of a better life. Some 1 million Israelis now live abroad, 800,000 of them in the United States. Had they chosen Israel’s relative hardships over comforts abroad, Israel might well have remained a left-of-center, socialist-led country—1 million rivals the 1.1 million votes received by Likud, the leading party.
According to a recent poll, many of the Israeli leftists who remain have little reason to do so: Just 22 percent of left-wing voters are “very proud” to be an Israeli, and just 8 percent think it’s “very good” to live in Israel. With many on the Israeli left now more fearful than ever of rule by the religious right, their interest in leaving Israel for the West has increased four-fold. Their departure would fuel an inexorable cycle where the more that leftists leave, the more that the Israeli electorate would tilt right, the more that leftists would want out. Those on the right—including Haredis, descendants of immigrants expelled from Arab countries, and immigrants drawn to Israel for religious reasons—are staying put.
Even the left’s single biggest goal—to see Netanyahu exit politics—would only speed the left’s collapse. For one thing, the likeliest successor to Netanyahu should he retire from politics would be Yariv Levin, the deputy prime minister and Minister of Justice who proposed the judicial reforms that have enraged the left.
For another, many in the opposition parties are really of the right, in opposition only out of a personal animus for Netanyahu. This includes Gideon Saar and other former right-wing ministers in Netanyahu’s Likud-led governments, who split off from Likud to form rival parties, and Avigdor Liberman’s nationalistic Yisrael Beytenu party, which has vowed to never join a Netanyahu-led government. Without the benefit of the anyone-but-Netanyahu voter, the left’s current 18-seat Knesset disadvantage might well balloon to 25 or more.
The Israel that was once the darling of the Socialist Internationale is a thing of the past, as is the once-dominant Labor Party, which in the last election barely passed the 3.25 percent vote threshold needed to place members in the Israeli Knesset. The battleground has now shifted to the streets, where the left’s protesters are pitted against those of the right in the fight over judicial reforms.
The outcome of that battle may be in doubt. But the war, for the left, is lost.
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