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A Disengaged Nation Goes to the Polls – Early Israel Election News

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Today is a holiday in Israel. Everything will be closed. The supermarkets, drug stores, banks, and shops will all be closed. Only the self-employed, the restaurants, the shopping malls, the reporters, and the bus drivers will be working. Today is election day. So this is a wrap-up.

In my article here at Blog Critics,“All the Trash is Jumping into One Bin”, some months back, I made some specific predictions. One was that Ariel Sharon, for one reason or another, would step down from his post as prime minister in 2006. Another was that he would remain prime minister, whether elections were held or not (until he stepped down).

It appears that Ariel Sharon has remained prime minister, but indeed he has “stepped down” – or should I say been struck down. But he will not remain prime minister, assuming elections are actually held – a strong likelihood given that the polls have already opened at 10:00 this morning. I can hear the jets flying overhead on patrol. If anyone plans an attack to stop the elections, they will have to consider those jets.

If for some unforeseen reason, the elections are cancelled, he will remain prime minister.

There are 31 parties running for the 120 seats in the Knesset. The Israel Project
has summed up in English what all of the 31 political parties running stand for and the home page of this link explains briefly how the government works here.

It used to be that election day was a day that everyone went to the polls to vote. A turnout of nearly 80% was normal, and a turnout of 75% was considered poor. According to many news sources, not all that many people will be voting. This article in Debkafiles says that many young people, who form a large percentage of the population, will be staying home out of disgust with the choices in front of them. According to the article,

“At the last sampling, one-third of the 120 parliamentary seats were undecided. What most rocked campaign managers was the frank admission by 21-28-year olds that they do not intend to turn out at all because they do not regard a single party leader, whether Kadima’s acting prime minister Ehud Olmert or opposition leaders, Binyamin Netanyahu (a former Likud prime minister) and Amir Peretz of Labor, worth the candle.
If they bothered to vote at all, many younger voters said, it would be for fringe parties like Green Leaf (which is campaigning to legalize marijuana), the environmentalist Greens or the Senior Citizens.”

This does not augur well for the large parties running expensive election campaigns. Acting Prime Minister Olmert has made few campaign appearances, opting for the magisterial look of the leader already in power. But he has not been able to stay out of the battle entirely. Gil Hoffman from the Jerusalem Post writes how the battle between Netanyahu and Olmert has gotten personal. One of the Likud ads mentions the fact that both of Olmert’s sons have emigrated from Israel, one living in New York, the other in Paris. Another ad attacks Olmert’s wife, Aliza, and his daughter, Dana, both of whom have left-wing views. On the other hand, Olmert attacked Netanyahu, who lived in Philadelphia for several years and while there, changed his name to Benjamin, which is English for Binyamin.

The group most people refer to as “ultra-Orthodox,” who are properly known as Hareidím, may be preparing a surprise for their rabbis and for the list that has represented them for quite some time, United Torah Judaism. According to this article, from Israel National News,

“A campaign is underway in Hareidi-religious circles not to vote for the party that has traditionally won their support, United Torah Judaism.

A Geocartographic Institute study, quoted in the Hareidi publication Mishpachá (Family), states, ‘Tens of thousands of Hareidi Jews will not vote for UTJ this time. Most of them will vote for Shas, and some for NU/NRP [National Union/National Religious Party] or Marzel, [of the Jewish National Front] and a minority will not vote at all. The main reasons: the fact that the child allowances were cut so drastically, the abuse of the Torah Sage Rabbi Elyashiv, ignoring of the Council of Torah Sages, and the behavior of the party faction during the Disengagement.’”

The party held the balance of power in January, 2005, eight months before the expulsion of Jews from the communities of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria, the infamous “Disengagement,” and had the option of staying out of the government and possibly forcing elections, or joining the coalition and receiving money for its yeshivot. The party chose the money for the yeshivot. Shortly afterwards, the party split and half of it sat in the cabinet the entire time the expulsion of Jews from Gaza was taking place.

According to Aryeh Zelasko, who sent me this article in an e-mail, “the sector of Israeli society that has undergone the greatest and in many ways the most profound changes in the past generation has been the Ashkenazi Hareidim.”

The title of this article in Haaretz: Poll – Kadima down to 35 seats, but right lacks ‘blocking bloc’. In other words, the right wing parties, according to this poll taken at the end of last week, would get 51 seats. Last year, Ariel Sharon was able to turn to the UTJ for votes, but if it is punished at the polls as suggested by the Israel National News article quoted above, the UTJ may not have the seats to save Kadima, the leading party in the poll, in its efforts to make a coalition. Then Kadima would be forced to turn to Arab parties to cement a majority in the Knesset and name a government. Only one of the three Arab parties running actually supports the State of Israel

The falling numbers of Kadima appears to be the continuing thread of many stories as we go into the election here. At this story at IMRA, the final polls of several sources are listed. According to the last pre-election polls: Kadima 34-36, Labor 17-21, Likud 12-14, Yisrael Beiteinu [a Russian immigrants’ party] 7-15, NRP/Nat’l Union 8-12. The key element in these polls is that only the parties that presently have seats in the Knesset are asked about. This means that the Jewish National Front, the Green Party, the Green Leaf Party, the “Gil” (retirees) Party, which have no seats in the Knesset presently, are not usually even asked about. One of the polls did ask about them, and they are listed.

It is a distinct possibility that Kadima, which had been favored in the polls up until now with as many as 40 mandates in the new Knesset, will have difficulty forming a new government.

Even the developing Sanhedrin has weighed in on the elections, calling on the public to vote for only religious parties, defining religious parties as those which will not give up any territory in the Land of Israel and stating that “with the election of an Arab authority, by an Arab public which openly declares their intention to destroy the State of Israel, the halachic [Jewish law] ruling of obligatory warfare comes into force, to save Israel from the hand of danger. There must be a fitting military response, to ‘subdue the enemy and expel him from the land’”. The only political party that appears to fit the requirements of the Sanhedrin as a religious party is the Jewish National Front.

So now we’ll see.

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About Ruvy

Hi!! Thanks for coming to my article! I was raised in Brooklyn, was graduated from the City University of New York in 1978 with a BA in political science and public administration there. I lived in Minnesota for a number of years. There I managed restaurants and wrote stories. We moved with our children family to Israel where we now reside. My work can be found at Ruvy's Roost, Jewish Indy,, and on Facebook under my full name, Reuven Kossover
  • Pat Fish


    Will Ariel Sharon be allowed to die in peace once this election’s over?

    Or will be in a coma forever?

    I’m watching this election with great interest.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    It had been rumored that the plug would be pulled on Sharon a couple of days before the election to allow him to die and provide a huge funeral for Olmert to go to to gain from a sympathy vote.

    This hasn’t happened. I don’t know what will happen. A lot of attention tomorrow will be focused on a full eclipse of the sun…

    I do not know how much people even care about Sharon anymore. I know that my prayers were not answered. I do suspect that he’ll die not too long after the election, and the event will be used by whomever is prime mi9nister to try to draw the people together.

  • Ben613

    The developing Sanhedrin did not define “religious parties as those which will not give up any territory in the Land of Israel”, rather said not to vote for parties that would make such a decision by national referendum.

    The last statement about “There must be a fitting military response” is a recommendation for government policy, not a requirement for election. This leaves about two to four parties that can be voted for, i believe.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Re comments #5 & 6: Ah, an argument. Well, I’m not going to argue the point. One can read a great deal into the comments of the developing Sanhedrin. You’ve read what you chose to read into them. I’ve read what I chose to read into them. The “fitting military response” is, as you state, a recommendation for government policy.

    In this instance, as I mentioned to another fellow elsewhere, it depends on the prism you take to the statement. Your prism differs a bit from mine. There’s plenty of room for the both of us on the planet, though.

    One of the problems of the national religious camp in Israel has been its willingness to split up in arguments over relatively insignificant issues.

    When the national religious camp puts victory amd ideological purity in their proper places, they will be able to go forward united, and perhaps succeed. Until then, we will see what we have in this country heretofore.

    The polls close here in about 40 minutes. So let’s abandon petty squabbles and see what the folks here have had to say about our fate, eh?

  • Christopher Rose

    Any early predictions or exit polls on the results?

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    At 22:00 Channel 1 (Israel Broadcasting), Channel 2 and Channel 10 released released their exit polls. The reason it has taken so long to type this in was attempting to construct a chart that would be relatively clear. I only hope this comes out the way it should

    —————— Ch 1 — Ch 2 —- Ch 10
    Kadima ———- 29 —– 32 ——– 31
    Labor ———— 22 —– 22 ——– 20
    Likud ———— 11 —– 11 ——– 12
    Yirael Beiteinu — 14 —– 13 ——– 12
    Shas ————- 11 —– 10 ——– 11
    NU/NRP ———– 8 ——- 9 ——— 8
    Utd Torah Judaism 6 —— 5 ——— 6
    Meretz ———— 5 ——- 5 ——— 5
    Retirees———– 7 ——- 7 ——— 7
    – Arab Parties –
    Balád ————- 0 ——- 2 ——— 0
    Hadásh ———– 2 ——- 3 ——— 3
    United Arab List — 4 ——- 3 ——— 3

    The Arab parties are counted separately because they have not yet been tqken into a coalition gov’t.

  • Christopher Rose

    Impressive restraint there, Ruvy!

    lol 😉

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Oh well, I tried. That should have been Yisrael Beitenu with about 14 seats. That is a Russian immigrants’ party.

    Based on what I see, the two largest parties, Kadima and Labor would likely try to form the base of a government.

  • Michael J. West

    May we know who (if anyone) you voted for, Ruvy?

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I was going to vote for the Jewish National Front, but I realized that I’d be wasting efforts on an entity I whose sovereignty I can barely recognise anymore.

    I’m part of the 37% of the population that sat this one out. I have the sense that a different Voter has yet to be heard from…

  • Ben613

    Re comment #4, no argument. Actually your point is well taken. It would be good (at least from my point of view) if the religious camp could be more unified, with less argument. Maybe the developing Sanhedrin will be a vehicle to assist in this goal at some time in the future.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I’m listening to and watching Jerusalem on-line, and one of the first phone calls that the commentators believe that Olmert will make tomorrow will be to the Pensioners Party to get them in his pocket as quickly as he can.

    A second strategy was laid forward. One was to go to the right wing parties for a few months, attempt to “negotiate” with Hamas, fail, and then go left to Labor and Meretz.

    The generqal consensus among the “analysts” is that this election has been a back-breaker for the settler enterprise.

    At the time I type this, about 01:00, about 15% of the vote has been counted.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I need my beauty sleep now. I expect a very busy and difficult day tomorrow. Today has been a sad day in the history of this country. At this point, only G-d can set right what we Israelis have set so wrong. Semi-final results of this election for the 17th Knesset should be in tomorrow morning. Official results will be in in a few days.

  • Richard Marcus

    Ruvy: I think your analysis of this election has done more to enlighten me about the size of the divide that faces the state of Israel right now. I can only hope that somehow that a middle ground can be found for all concerned so that the dream of so many does not perish on the rocks of polical expeidancy.

    Richard Marcus

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    This is according to Haaretz, which, no matter what I think of its editorial slant, usually gets in first with the burst.

    With 99.7% of the votes cast yesterday tallied the results are as follows.

    Yisrael Beitenu……………12
    National Union/National Religious Party…9
    Retirees Party………………7
    United Torah Judaism……..6
    Arab Parties (combined totals only) 10

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    The “left-wing” parties, Kadima, Retirees, Labor (55 mandates) can form the base of a coalition that will agree on unilateral withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria. In order to get a majority in the Knesset, this base will need 6 to seven more mandates. Meretz can supply 5, but that will only get 60 mandates in a vote of confidence, one short of a majority.

    Usually, the Hareidi party, United Torah Judaism can be bought off with money for yeshivot (religious schools), but the settlement blocs included in Kadima’s withdrawal plan do not presently include the Hareidi town of Beitar Illit. If Beitar Illit is included within those blocs, it is likely that United Torah Judaism (UTJ) can be brought into the coalition, albeit not willingly. This would create the tight majority needed.

    The other option is somehow seducing Yisrael Beitenu or the National Union/National Religious Bloc (NU/NRP) into the coalition. Of the two, I suspect that Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman might be more willing to swallow the bait of power – the Russian immigrants have less to lose by unilateral withdrawal than do the the NU/NRP but the Labor party head, Amir Peretz had said he will not sit in a coalition with Lieberman.

    The other possibility is that Netanyahu will be thrown out of power in the Likud and that his replacement will be willing to join the government. Netanyahu might e wsilling to sit in a coalition, but Labor’s Peretz again will have to be overcome to accomplish the task.

    From my own point of view, the prospect of watching as the country is torn to bits because of the ambitions of bought out thieves like Olmert is sickening. But others, not realizing that the body being operated on is their own, will call the process interesting.

  • troll

    Ruvy – any news about how the formation of a majority coalition is going – ?


  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Be glad to try to update you. Truth of the matter is that whatever you read in the media, the situation is very fluid. Until it is a done deal with the vote of confidence actually taken in the Knesset, whatever your see in the papers (or on line) is not worth the paper it is written on or the broadband width it takes up. At the very last moment, a deal can fly apart. Dave Nalle can tell you about that, if you already do not have that kind of experience yourself.

    You would do better to go look for reruns of “Mr. Ed” or “Gilligan’s Island” instead. Or maybe “I Love Lucy.”

    The next two comments I post will deal with the issue, thouugh, giving different points of view.

    The first is a criticism of my analysis in comment #16. It comes from a Russian immigrant who lives in Bet Shemesh, a very sharp cookie who I respect, and from whom I’ve learned a great deal. You’ve seen her influence in much that I write, even though she generally disagrees with me, and is a secular Jew herself.

    The second comment comes from a professor in Ben Gurion University, Mordchai ben Menachem. He knows his stuff also, and understands a great deal about politics here. He is what is considered a “right winger” and I’m not sure he could stomach a lot of my ideas, even though he and I come down on the same side most of the time.

    As for the “news”, you can alway click on Haaretz, (, Ynet News, the on-line version of Yediot Ahronot (, Arutz Sheva (, IMRA (, or Debkafiles ( All these resources are in English.

  • troll

    thanks Ruvy – MSM analysis here in the States is pretty poor


  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    This is from my Russian friend from Bet Shemesh.

    I don’t think she wants me to mention her real name, so we’ll call “Larissa”.


    Several critical mistakes (as always :)) ):

    Israel Beiteinu isn’t a Russian party. You simply didn’t bother to check its list. Lieberman himself came here at the age of 8 or something so he has been here since yonger than Ilana Dayan (if you know who I am talking about, hopefully yes) who is virtually an epithomy of
    Israeliness. The difference is that Dayan worked hard on her accent and prefers not to mention her country of origin (Argentina).

    It’s true that Lieberman has been taking on some Russian issues, but not all of them, and in a somewhat different manner than the really Russian parties.

    And as far as the “evacuation” goes, you are also wrong in that Russians have less to lose with it. To some extent, more, despite being spit
    upon by the settlers, because Russians are predominantly right wing, and being more educated, care more about issues than mere slogans, so if Lieberman supports further eviction, his party won’t survive the next

    IMHO he got additional votes at the expense of Likud precisely because Likud was staying in the goverment longer and being less consistent on the Gaza issue. And you can be sure that while
    there were enough Russian votes, it was not only them. My Yemenite lawyer is a staunch supporter of Lieberman, for example, because today it’s basically the only secular right wing party, and in this country there is enough of secular right wing deprived of a voice due to stupidity and arrogance of the settlers and their likes – which
    exactly was what caused the loss of Gaza and keeps causing the loss of the settlers case.

    Also, your analysis of the new goverment is wrong. It will include for sure Kadima, Labor and SHAS, the top levels of the latter being
    actually leftish (like Ovadia Yosef himself [former Sephardi Chief Rabbi and founder of SHAS]) which they proved in due time by signing Oslo in exchange for money, which they would happily do with Gaza (just they were not let in), and which they are absolutely eager to do now because after so many years in opposition they are more than desperate for cash by any means, and their constituency is poor and ignorant enough to care not about real deeds, especially those not right under their nose, and has proven that can forgive any left wing deals over the drumming of correct slogans.

    Meretz (the descendant of the United Workers Party, a socialist party in the early days of th4er country) has no problems joining the same coalition as SHAS, nor SHAS has any problems with Meretz, and the Pensioners have problems with neither, so Olmert doesn’t need Likud or Lieberman at all, and the Ashkenazic Haredi parties can support the coalition from outside
    in exchange for money and some key Knesset committees like finance (their favorite) as they usually did in the past (their actually joining the goverment was a very rare and outstanding behavior).


    Let’s summarize the makeup of the next coalition from Larissa’s point of view. The figures I give here for the parties strengths differ from Comment #15 slightly because of the votes of the soldiers affected the totals just a bit, giving Meretz, Kadima and Labor one more seat each.

    Pensioner’s Party…………………………….7
    United Torah Judaism (without portfolios).6


  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    This is what Prof. Mordechai ben Menachem sent me today in my e-mail. As you can see, he is an old hand at figuring out coalitions. He sent this out to his list.

    Israelis discuss the makeup of coalitions and military strategy when they arent’t yelling at each other or cursing each other’s mother out (tongue in cheek).

    The guys who don’t talk politics here usually talk about “futbol” arguing over which team can beat our Sakhnin (an independent Arab soccer team that is the best in the country, kicking ass all over the place; I’ve watched Arabs play soccer – all the hatred they feel for us goes into kicking that soccer ball, and they kick awful damned hard).


    As you may be aware, the procedure prescribed by our law is that the state president (Mr. Katzav) now begins a process of consulting with all the parties to decide upon whom to assign the task of forming the next government. The media are all assuming that this will be automatically assigned to Olmert as the head of the largest party, but this is far from certain. The president’s task is to assign this to whoever can create the most stable government — that is the entire scope of his assignment.

    There are four scenarios that seem plausible; three with Olmert as the PM and one with Peretz as the PM. My assumption is that Shas, Aguda and the Retirees will join any government. That is a base of 25.

    1. Olmert & Peretz: seemingly the most likely scenario. They end up with 74 but Peretz will demand at least five ministers, leaving Olmert with very little left to give Kadima people. As they have no ideology, all that is left is payouts. This leaves a lot of unhappy Kadima people who will begin to leave (that is their history, lack of loyalty).

    2. Olmert & Lieberman: This leaves Peretz to head the opposition. They have 65 seats and it is cheaper (for Olmert) than Peretz.

    3. Olmert & Likud: Olmert and Bibi don’t like one another but they can work together. They have 66 seats.

    4. Peretz is assigned to form the government. He joins with Liberman and the above and has 61 seats. This may very well be the potentially most stable government. Kadima in the opposition will disintegrate quickly (picture Peres).

    There actually are additional possible scenarios, but they get complex.

    I am not convinced the president has the courage to do something unexpected, even if it may be “cute”.

    best regards,
    Mordechai Ben-Menachem
    Ben-Gurion University

  • gonzo marx

    interesting take on it all, thanks Ruvy for sharing with us…

    i am hoping it all works out for the best, but one hting i am gladdened to notice is the lack of influence arising from this “new Sanhedrin”

    i know Ruvy feels strongly about it, but i view it as a most dangerous thing for various reasons

    let us all Hope for Peace to reign in the lands of the MIddle East, and that this election is a step in that direction


  • troll

    hi gonzo – good to vidy your words…I hope all is well with you

    while I understand your reluctance to turn to ‘organized religion’ for solutions in the ME to date the secularists (humanists with bulldozers and bullets) have done such a poor job how would a religious council make matters worse – ?

    of course – I will not appreciate it when the Sanhedrin starts leaving proselytizing literature in my laundromat


  • Ruvy from Jerusalem

    Gonzo , Troll, et al.,

    I wouldn’t worry about the developing Sanhedrin just yet. They appear to have quite a bit of developing to do, unfortunately.

    In any event, no Sanhedrin will leave proselytizing literature on your doorsteps. That just isn’t how Jews do things.

    Just over the weekend, a member of Kadima talked about splitting up Jerusalem and giving part of it to the Arabs – just as we were warned they would.

    On the Voice of Israel English News this Saturday night, a member of the Yisrael Beitenu talked about giving up territory in Judea and Samaria – this is the secular “right wing” party that Larissa spoke of.

    My next post will contain the comments of a woman who has lived here for over 30 years.

  • Ruvy from Jerusalem

    The lady writing this has lived here for over thirty years after spending some years living in London. She was born in the United States and has three kids. Her son (the other two kids are girls) rose to be a sergeant in the IDF and served in Gaza.


    This election was notable for several things. It took the Israeli populace 33 years to get fed up with Labor’s Tammany Hall politics, and just about 30 years for it to get fed up with the Likud’s Tammany Hall politics. The man in the street feels poorer and economically less secure about his rapidly-approaching old age than ever, while it cannot escape his awareness that the main job of Israel’s politicians seems to be garnering personal perks. I don’t think the low turnout was because of the disengagement, etc. I think it was because the average guy has come to feel that, no matter what government takes over, it’s not going to do him much personal good (as I keep saying, Israel’s proportional representation system guarantees that this is a democracy where not one voter actually voted for the government that will come into being because NO ONE votes FOR a coalition). And ever since the mid-80s, when the gaps between the rich and the poor began to change from cracks to abysses, the “personal good” has come to mean “having food on the table” as much as “the security situation”.

    “Security”, I think, receded because, although it’s been a tough couple of years, we actually withstood not only the intifada pretty well, but can now look the international community in the eye and say “we told you that the ultimate aim of the Arab propaganda ‘we only want peace’ was hogwash”–Hamas’ taking over the Palestinian “government” has justified all our reluctance to accept the PA as our “partner”. We’ve always known, in our heart of hearts, that no matter how positive certain events seemed–Sadat’s visit, for example, which led to an absolute ecstasy of euphoria that a final peace was at hand–the struggle for our national existence was far from over (and of course, we know what happened to Sadat)

    The “internal enemy” is much stronger. A second generation of (lovely dispassionate term) “disadvantaged” is now marrying and replicating their parents’ situation at the bottom of the income and education ladder. Additionally, those born at the time of the War of Independence are reaching retirement age, most with very little beyond Bituach Leumi to support themselves. In a lot of ways, that’s scarier than being blown up by a suicide bomber.

    About the religious/secular divide reams of stuff, a lot of it nonsense, has been written. I see a certain element of the religious public becoming ever more primitive, reverting to “spells” and amulets and trying to dig up ever more esoteric practices, and that makes me uneasy. I have no problem with Judaism being observed intelligently–indeed, I think we should begin to accept that the various ideologies, like socialism, have failed us whereas the tried-and-true basic Jewish values have preserved us. But, when travelling through Meah Shearim yesterday, I see a sign in a jeweller’s window advertising a certain kind of gemstone as a “proven” remedy for childlessness, I feel sad. I think the Messianic tinge of the settler movement has done it, and mainstream Orthodoxy, in Israel a great deal of harm, and has alienated many masortim and chilonim who could do with a little “kiruv” to improve their lives.

    We need politicians who are really interested in contributing to the country–not that I think altruism is really ever a part of a politician’s makeup, no matter what country he comes from. It would help a lot here if any politician who became a Minister automatically lost his Knesset seat. And we need to do a NATIONAL stock-taking–forget about the Arabs for a bit–and decide what kind of country we really want to be. Wasn’t it Lincoln who said something about “binding up the nation’s wounds”? We have been obsessed by the external enemy for so long we have forgotten that the real enemy is us (to paraphrase Pogo).