As discussed in a previous thread, the new Israeli government is based on an agreement that includes a commitment to raise the electoral threshold from 2% to 4%. What impact might this have?
In a working paper (of which I will become co-author), Taagepera has developed a logical model that suggests the number of parties (of any size) should be about the inverse square root of the threshold (expressed in fractional terms, not percent). The models fits a range of established countries quite well.
At 4%, that means five parties.
The problem is that Israel already has far “too many” parties for its existing threshold. At 2%, the country “should have” seven parties. In the most recent election, twelve parties (or, rather, lists) won seats. That’s about one and two thirds more than expected. So maybe raising the threshold to 4% would reduce the number of parties in the Knesset to about eight. Coincidentally (or maybe not), that would be a reduction by precisely the number of parties that won more than 2%, but less than 4%, of the vote in the most recent election.
Just as the clock was about to run out on PM-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s period for forming a government, he struck deals with Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) and Bayit Yehudi (Naftali Bennet), to go along with one struck weeks earlier with Tnuah (Tzipi Livni).
That this would most likely be the make-up of the ultimate coalition was clear almost as soon as the election results were in–or at least that is what I told our synagogue congregation in a “sermon” (yes, a political-science sermon!) shortly after the election. So I want to thank the Israeli party leaders for making me look good. Nonetheless, as is often the case with such bargaining, it went down to the wire and endured many twists and turns and seeming crises along the way. Of course, one can never be sure how many “crises” and threats are real chances for the process to break down, and how many are posturing for a better deal. I suspect most of them were the latter.
Yesh Atid leader Lapid struck quite a good deal, in insisting on several of his campaign promises or post-election declarations: a smaller cabinet–including legislation to mandate that future cabinets be smaller still–a reduction in the number of deputy ministers, no ministers without portfolio, and–the big one–a commitment for legislation to “equalize the burden” by bringing more Haredi men (ultra-orthodox) into military service. In the last weeks, he made some direct threats to let the process lead to new elections–which some polls suggested would lead to a big increase in seats for his party–if his party did not get the Education ministry for Yesh Atid MK Shay Piron. Likud was insisting that the post stay with its own incumbent, Gideon Saar. Lapid won this showdown, too.
Bayit Yehudi also struck a good deal, with the party claiming some key economic portfolios including the Ministry of Industry and Trade for Bennet and Housing and Construction for Uri Ariel (a leader of the ultra-nationalist National Union, which merged with Bayit Yehudi during the last Knesset term).
As had been previously agreed, Tzipi Livni will be Justice Minister as well as lead negotiator with the Palestinian Authority. Her list’s #3, Amir Peretz, will have the Environmental Protection portfolio. (Livni struck a deal with the Green Movement before the election, and even though Peretz does not represent the Greens, getting the portfolio confirms the support Green voters brought to Livni’s list overall.) The prior agreement for two ministers from Tnuah (6 seats) was another potential source of bargaining breakdown, as when combined with the agreed smaller cabinet, it meant Tnuah would be over-represented. Livni threatened to withdraw her earlier agreement if she were her list’s only minister. Her seats are superfluous for the coalition’s having a majority, but Netanyahu apparently really wanted her (presumably for her international standing), and she got the deal adhered to. The cabinet size was increased from 21 to 22 as part of the agreement to keep Livni’s list at two. (Lapid had campaigned for 18; recent cabinets have had a number of full ministers in the high 20s, with numerous deputies.)1
The biggest deal of all, however, is that the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are going to the opposition. Their combined strength of 18 seats made them almost equivalent to Yesh Atid, and Netanyahu tried to play the card of an alternative coalition in the bargaining. There is little doubt that he would have preferred the continuation of a coalition with the Haredi parties over the one he is about to present to the Knesset. However, as long as Yesh Atid continued to be backed by a de-facto post-electoral, but pre-coalition, alliance with Bayit Yehudi, the alternative was not credible.2 The lack of a credible alternative shows up in the significant concessions Netanyahu had to give to his partners.
Based on the likely composition of the government, we can calculate the degree of over/under-representation of each party. Under “Gamson’s Law” we expect the shares of ministers for each party in the agreement to be proportional to the shares each party contributes to the coalition’s parliamentary basis (i.e. its number of seats).
Click to open a larger image in a new window
The table shows the shares calculated both with Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu as separate parties, and with them treated as one. The latter is done because they ran on a joint list. It is clear that the various concessions Netanyahu was forced to concede on policy and specific portfolios to his two main partners were traded for a significant over-representation to the joint list he led in the election. Likud-Beiteinu will have an absolute majority of the cabinet, despite representing less than half the Knesset seats of the coalition (and exactly half if the technically superfluous Tnuah is removed from the calculation).
We can also see that Yisrael Beiteinu was rewarded for being in pre-election coalition with Likud, as it is over-represented if considered as a separate party, especially relative to Bayit Yehudi, which is actually a slightly larger party.
The deal to preserve the second seat for Livni’s Tnuah results in this list being the one that is represented almost perfectly proportional to its seats. Not bad for a superfluous party!
Ultimately, this coalition reflects quite closely the way Israelis voted: an overall right and pro-settler tilt, but decisively away from Haredi dominance of key posts and policies.
Pardon the lack of links. If time permits, I may add some more at a later time. This is based on numerous Haaretz articles, as well as others in Ynet and Times of Israel, and almost daily news reports heard/see on Kol Yisrael radio and IBA-TV.
During the bargaining, there had been statements that Kadima (2 seats) also had joined the Bayit Yehudi-Yesh Atid alliance and that its leader Shaul Mofaz would get one of Yesh Atid’s ministerial posts. But this did not happen. [↩]
Interestingly, Bennet campaigned as if his list had a formal agreement with Likud and then bargained as if he had a formal agreement with Yesh Atid! [↩]
I just watched an interview on IBA-TV (from Sunday) with new legislator Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid. He said that he intends to hold weekly open office hours where any “constituent” can come with a problem.
The interviewer pointed out that he has no district like a US congress member, so he has seven million constituents. How will he handle it? Lipman said his staff has figured out procedures (e.g. prior email or phone contact) to cope with the logistics, and then he said that this office hours idea is something that has never been done before in the Knesset.
I do not know whether that is true, but if it is, it makes for a nice finding for a single-district national closed-list electoral system!
In another interview (on Arutz Sheva radio), Lipman said he would be always available for any English speakers in the country who need assistance. (See “A self-proclaimed congresmen for English-speaking immigrants” in Haaretz.) He is American-born, having made aliyah only eight years ago (and only renounced his US citizenship upon his election, as required under both country’s laws). He is the first American-born Member of the Knesset since Rabbi Meir Kahane about thirty years ago; their country of birth and rabbinic title would seem to be about all these two MKs have in common.
In the radio interview, he also spoke of wanting to serve as a representative of Beit Shemesh, the city where he lives, and which he said has had no effective representation. He also considers himself Haredi, though he looks and sounds more “Modern Orthodox”. He is one of Yesh Atid’s intended bridges to the ultra-orthodox in its pursuit of drafting more Haredim into the Israeli military. He further wants to take up the cause of obstacles imposed on Ethiopians and Russians by the rabbinic establishment: “I feel I need to take up [the1] cause and be a voice for those who were persecuted in Russia for being Jewish and are now persecuted here for being non-Jews” (from the Haaretz profile).
Lipman was elected at number 17 on the list of Yesh Atid, which won 19 seats.
He refers specifically here to Rav Chaim Amsalem who broke away from the Haredi Sephardic party Shas, but whose Am Shalem list failed to clear the threshold. [↩]
A very good overview of the outcome of the Israeli election is provided by The Times of Israel.
I agree completely with two big take-home points here:
(1) All the hand wringing (my term, not the author’s) about divisions on the center-left was misplaced. The separate parties hoovered up more votes than a unified effort at creating an alternative bloc could have;
(2) The more costly divisions were on the right, due to two parties that fell below the threshold: Otzma L’Yisrael and Am Shalem.
I would add that, thanks to proportional representation and parliamentary government, Israelis will get what they appear to have collectively chosen: a continuation of Netanyahu, but balanced by a larger and more assertive centrist wing of the government.
It is also noteworthy how badly the Labor Party failed to reestablish itself under Shelly Yachimovich’s leadership. She and the party tried to position themselves as some sort of blend of centrist on security and social democratic on economics. The party was supposedly set to become a viable governing alternative–if not in this election, than after a rebuilding phase as the main opposition. The party will indeed be the main opposition, assuming Yesh Atid’s likely entry into the cabinet, but 15 seats is a very weak position.
Meretz doubled its seat total, probably as a result of otherwise Labor voters disgusted that the “new” Labor seemed to want to pretend the settlements and two-state issues would just go away. At one point, Yachimovich said something like “everyone knows my position” on these issues. That’s not likely good enough for someone calling herself a candidate for PM. I can’t imagine it will be long before there is another leadership change in Labor.
With a just a few days till the Israeli election, it is time to analyze the impact of the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu on the campaign. The presentation of a joint list was announced in late October. There is no question that this will be the list with the most seats–by far–and thus Binyamin Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister. But can we assess how well the two parties’ merger decision has worked out thus far?
First, to what extent have the two parties campaigned as a unit?
Quite a bit. The photo above is from my TV screen during a news broadcast by DW-TV (carried on Link TV) regarding the Israeli campaign’s final week. It shows pamphlets lying on a table at a mall, one of which shows the two leaders, Netanyahu of Likud and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, side by side. Lieberman was the Foreign Minister until he had to step down in mid-December due to legal proceedings. (The legal charges have been pending for some time; there was no great surprise here.) Even the pamphlet that shows only the Prime Minister has both parties’ names at the bottom.
Here is another that shows an information booth, with a sign above it that has both parties’ names. The parties clearly retain their distinct identity, despite their having presented a joint list; they clearly have a joint campaign as well.
Second, how did they construct their merged list? Likud held a primary, which resulted in a dramatic shift in the list’s overall complexion towards the hard-line, pro-settler elements on the right. (More on this later.)
The Yisrael Beiteinu list is ranked by its leadership–meaning mainly Lieberman himself. Subsequently, the two parties combined their lists. (more…)
This campaign advertisement by Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) has been ruled a violation of Israel’s campaign laws.
The ad, showing Likud leader and PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennet, says “Strong together, choosing Bennet”. Bayit Yehudi is mainly a Judean/Samarian (West Bank) settlers’ party, and is competing for votes on the Israeli right with Likud. The two are almost certain to go into coalition together after the election.
However, the ad was banned on the grounds that it gives the impression the two parties are cooperating in the campaign and committed to working together after the election. As there is no such mutual declaration, the ad was deemed misleading. (My account and the ad image are based on an IBA news segment from Friday, 18 July.)
Relations between Bennet and Netanyahu are known to be strained. When asked about that recently, Bennet suggested that their tensions are nothing that 15 seats could not overcome.
Bennet has been the sensation of this campaign, with his party originally thought to be likely to win 7-9 seats but polling in the 15-18 range in recent weeks. Some polls have shown it second, after the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance. More likely it will finish third, behind Labor.
The election is Tuesday.
The ad is photographed by me from a news broadcast of Israel Broadcast Authority, carried in the USA by World Harvest Television.
The question of party and voter strategy in PR systems with legal thresholds has received less attention from analysts of electoral systems than it deserves.1 The impact on a party’s fortunes of individual candidates who are too low on a closed list to be elected also receives too little attention.
Here are two examples, which I offer as small correctives to these deficiencies, from the current Israeli campaign. Both are based on interviews I heard on IBA News (broadcast on World Harvest TV).
Kadima, which was the largest party in the 2009 election, but went into opposition rather than make a deal with the ultra-orthodox parties, is fighting for its life in this campaign. In 2012, the party dumped its leader, Tzipi Livni, who then announced her retirement from politics. However, once this election was called, Livni unretired and set up her own party, called Tnua (Movement). My examples come from each of these parties.
This is not a blog about conflict resolution, and I am certainly no expert on the Middle East conflict. Lack of expertise does not stop many other folks from commenting, so why should it stop me? The following is simply based on my close attention to the media from Israel (in English, both print and broadcast) and international sources, as well as my own observations of many of the much-discussed locales when I was in Jerusalem (in what is technically a “settlement”) for over two months in 2010.
There has been much–too much–attention to the Israeli cabinet’s declaration (not really a “decision” as best I can tell) to move ahead with some 3,000 new homes beyond the Green Line (the 1949 armistice lines), including in an area known as “E-1″.
Report after report says that building homes in E-1 is the death knell of a future Palestinian state. It is alleged to make contiguity of such a state impossible, by cutting off access between the Ramallah area (northwest of Jerusalem) and Bethlehem (to the south of the Jerusalem center).
There is no kinder way of putting it than to say this is BS.
The proposed E-1 homes are northeast of Maale Adumim, which is itself some distance east of Jerusalem.
Ramallah and Bethlehem can’t exactly be easily connected even now, due to the incredibly rugged terrain. Homes northeast of Maale Adumim, a city of about 40,000 east of Jerusalem along Highway 1 towards the Jericho and Dead Sea areas, doesn’t change these geographic realities.
As for the other areas in which new homes would be built, these are not new proposals. They are not even new settlements. They are in places like Ramat Shlomo, which I have commented on before. That is, they are homes within the boundaries of existing built-up areas–at least as I understand what is covered by the cabinet’s declaration of intent to proceed. They are in areas that will not conceivably be either evacuated or turned into islands within a sovereign Palestinian sea whenever there actually might be a negotiated solution.
As for contiguity, it might be noted that Gaza–from which Israel did pull out its settlers—is not contiguous with the other regions that are proposed as part of a Palestinian state. So this is actually something of a red herring. If a Palestinian state is ever created, it will not be contiguous, regardless of Mevasseret Adumim (the name of the housing area within “E-1″) and Ramat Shlomo and Ariel and Kiryat Arba (etc.). It will have to involve various road and other corridors, overpasses and underpasses near developed Israeli areas, and tight security guarantees. It will also involve transferring some current territory–and presumably some Arab population–on the pre-1967 Israeli side of the Green Line to the new state. All of this is precisely what makes a negotiated solution so difficult, and nothing that the cabinet has said in recent days changes this difficult reality.
It must be emphasized that all of these development plans, as well as the ideas of territorial swaps and security guarantees, have been on the table for close to two decades now–a key fact lost in the excited rhetoric of recent days. In fact, there are many influential voices in Israel, including within the cabinet itself, disappointed with the slow pace of approvals of long-planned housing developments. Israel is just now in the midst of an election campaign, and we can hardly expect the incumbent government, particularly given its political complexion, to have greeted the UN resolution “upgrading” the status of “Palestine” with anything milder than it has done so far. One does not have to be a supporter of the Likud and its allies and their strategic visions–I certainly am not–to recognize that the bluster from European governments about withdrawing ambassadors and such is not constructive, and probably only plays into the hands of the harder-line elements of the Israeli electoral majority.
In context, the diplomatic and media excitement of this past week is just so much noise.
I imagine a prime minister being “rolled” over foreign policy issues is not common, especially when the issue is nothing more than how to vote on a symbolic United Nations General Assembly resolution. But such is the precariousness of both Julia Gillard’s grip on her party and the Israeli government’s diplomatic strategy that this is exactly what happened earlier this week.
The Australian government had planned to vote against the resolution to upgrade the status of the “nonmember state” of “Palestine” at the UN. However, Gillard’s Labor Party cabinet members forced her to change Australia’s position to abstain.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, who met Ms Gillard before cabinet, drove the push to oppose the Prime Minister…
Ms Gillard had wanted to vote no while the Left faction, which is pro-Palestinian, wanted to vote for the resolution.
The Right faction, which would usually support Ms Gillard, backed an abstention, in part due to the views of its members that the government was too pro-Israel, and also because many MPs in western Sydney, who are already fearful of losing their seats, are coming under pressure from constituents with a Middle East background.
I might note that we Jews, too, have a Middle East background,1 but presumably the SMH means Australian citizens from Arab or other Muslim countries. There just aren’t enough Jews in swing districts, apparently.2
One source said Ms Gillard was told the cabinet would support whatever final decision she took because it was bound to support the leader but the same could not be said of the caucus.
“If you want to do it, the cabinet will back you but the caucus won’t,” a source quoted one minister as telling the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the German government has also announced it will abstain. When you lose Australia and Germany, even only to abstention on something symbolic, it may be a signal that your diplomatic strategy is lacking.
Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has said he would support the Palestinian Authority’s UN gambit.
The “resistance”, so to speak, of the Palestinian organizations and their sympathizers abroad to recognize this basic fact is at the very core of the conflict. [↩]
And I do not know the views of the Australian Jewish population, but I assume its organizations would favor a no vote on the UN resolution. [↩]
The Israeli political party system may be undergoing some sort of realignment since the calling of elections for January, 2013. The biggest news at this point is the union of the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (YB) parties, a move approved with no significant dissent.
According to a radio or TV report I heard,1 the plan is for Likud and YB to divide the list positions in the same ratio of their current Knesset representation (roughly 2:1). Most of the media reports say this is a “merger” but if the parties are retaining their distinct identities–as seems to be the case–it is simply a joint list instead.
Frankly, I do not understand the logic of the joint list (or merger). The two parties would be expected coalition partners again in any case, and Likud is highly unlikely to be displaced as the largest party whether running alone or in this combine. Some analysts have said, and some early polls suggest, that the combined list could get fewer seats than the two parties running independently. This makes sense to me, as some Orthodox voters on the fence between Likud and Shas or another smaller party might be repelled by YB leader Lieberman and his support for civil marriage, among other issues. Some floating voters of the center might be scared off by Lieberman’s perceived extremism and vote for Labor or another party instead. There is already at least one potential formal splinter, to be led by outgoing Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. However, in Israel many more splinters are talked about, or even tried, than ever become relevant.
So why form a joint list? I don’t find it credible that the various parties already existing or being formed (or just talked about) on the center-left would form a joint list, though the Likud Beiteinu, as it is being called, looks like an attempt to preempt just such a threat. Of course, speaking of preemption, there are those who have claimed it makes a post-election raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities more likely. I don’t buy that; if such a raid is going to happen, the two parties don’t need to have run as one. There is no evident daylight between them on this issue, and if there were, it is hard to see how the joint list would fundamentally resolve it.
There will be greater flexibility in the slots on the Labor Party’s Knesset list reserved for specific sectoral interests such as kibbutzniks, female and Arab delegates, it was decided at a party convention Tuesday evening.
These slots will also be voted on by the entire party, not only by the small group of members belonging to the specific sector, it was also agreed.
I suppose this suggests that they are not really sectoral representatives anymore, but maybe that’s precisely the point. Ascriptive representation of these sectors would remain, but without delegating out the nomination process to the sectors that get these slots. The former system and this reform offer two competing models about how parties go about “balancing” their lists.
Throughout the campaign, you can follow polls at the Knesset Poll Tracker. I would observe that it must be hard to track polls–or to poll–when the lineup of parties remains so uncertain. But it seems pollsters ask about just about any imaginable combination.
I forget whether it was IBA TV news or Arutz Sheva radio, both of which I follow. [↩]
There are many problems of the Israeli left and, as reported in Haaretz, a new think tank called Molad is hoping to do something about it.
Comments by Molad officials Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon highlight the longer-term shifts in both Israeli voting behavior and partisan alignments:
The right has increased its strength by a negligible figure of 4 percent in 20 years, but the left has dropped a whopping 20 percent. “The public,” says Assaf Sharon, “hasn’t moved to the right. It simply fled from the left.”
“The right in Israel operates as a united bloc,” says Inbar. “Anyone who votes for Lieberman or Shas knows that he or she is voting for a government to be headed by Netanyahu.”
In contrast, the left does not present a clear agenda, and lacks the structure of a cohesive political camp.
The point about prospective post-electoral alignments being understood by the electorate (and conveyed by the parties themselves) is important in such a fragmented system. The broader “right” camp, which includes the religious parties, is indeed more cohesive than the “left”. But it is less clear to me the extent to which this is a tactical problem–as Inbar seems to be implying–and the extent to which it is more structural. That is, the “left”, even when it was being led by the actually rather right-leaning Kadima, and even when Kadima won the most seats, as in 2009, is just not well positioned to attract coalition partners out of the diverse partisan agents of different Israeli voting blocs–especially with respect to the religious parties.1
Well, the article does say that Molad sees this as a ten-year project…
I would imagine this means the political-reform discussions will end within government for now. As for the Tal Law–which exempts most Haredi Jews from the military draft and which is invalid, per a Supreme Court ruling, as of 1 August–presumably it will be replaced by some modest adjustments bargained between Likud and its other partners, including the Haredi parties.
As we discussed briefly in early May, the agreement in Israel by which the Kadima Party would back the Netanyahu-led coalition government included a provision to pursue electoral and government reform. From what I have heard, it is serious, though the precise parameters are not yet clear.
There is an organization called Israel’s Hope that is pushing for reforms. From their statement of principles:
Israel can no longer be led by a government where indecision, extortion, and ineffectiveness reign. Our country is at a crossroads. It can maintain its democratic character and remain a shared homeland for Jewish people around the world, or it can lose its ability to respond to the existential issues it faces. We must translate the broad consensus into effective action. Israel’s Hope will help develop the proper governmental foundations to handle the unique social, economic and security-related challenges this country faces.
Raising the legal threshold for winning Knesset seats to 3%.
A two-tier system with 2-5 seats in each district in a regional tier and half the seats by national lists (compensatory, I assume).
The head of the largest party would become Prime Minister automatically as long as the party won at least a third of the seats.
A runoff election for PM if no list reaches the one-third threshold, between the top two party leaders.
It would take a vote of 60%+1 members of Knesset to remove a PM, and if such a vote passed, the Knesset itself would be dissolved.
A two-term limit on the PM.
Quite a mixed bag, including some fairly modest reforms (the threshold and districting within a presumably still fully PR system) and some fairly radical (e.g. the changes to the executive-legislative structure).
Again, it is not clear to me that these ideas will be the basis of the government’s eventual proposal, but the NGO has some big names (and I would guess significant funding) behind it.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4