Caught between growing extremism on the right and a battered left, Israelis are flocking to a new crop of centrist politicians who prioritize economic issues over solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Galia Ben Haim discussed her political opinions while driving back from jail. In addition to her day job, she volunteers at a women’s prison. The inmates, she says, committed their crimes after Israel’s social institutions failed them.
In the last two elections the 48-year-old mother of four says she voted for Yesh Atid, the centrist party founded by TV icon Yair Lapid in 2013. She is considering supporting them a third time when Israel holds general elections in April. “I really care about social issues,” she explains. “We need to rehabilitate families, help social workers, welfare agencies, women who are in prison, the poor,” she says.
Over the last two electoral cycles, Israel has experienced the rise of a new kind of political center in an arena generally seen as a battle of left and right, largely due to voters like Ben Haim. There are now two main centrist parties in Knesset, Yesh Atid, and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, which first competed in 2015. Together, they hold 21 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.
This is an important development, given that the Israeli electorate is weighted in favor of another right-wing victory. Only around 20 percent of adults in Israel self-define as left wing — not enough for the left to win an election. Any chance for a real change of government will have to come from the center.
By contrast, the center camp shows potential for growth. In 2015, the two parties won just over 16 percent of the vote (10 seats for Kahlon and 11 for Lapid). Yet in surveys, about one-quarter of Israelis regularly self-define as centrist. In other words, 10 percent of Israelis are potential swing voters for centrist parties. Those numbers could be augmented by moderate right-wingers who are increasingly disenchanted by Netanyahu’s longevity in power, the corruption investigations against him — or simply his rhetoric and style of governing.
Ronen Ashkenazi, 42, runs a kiosk in the heart of Tel Aviv. He considers himself to be centrist and has supported Likud in the past but voted for Yesh Atid in more recent elections. Now he’s not sure which party to vote for, but Netanyahu has to go. “Enough of Bibi already – he’s corrupt, he needs to go home....Read More