THE BLOG

Netanyahu Won the Israeli Election by Stealing Conservative Votes, Not Liberal Ones

03/24/2015 02:37 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2015

Conservatives believe that Israel's Likud defeated the liberal Zionist Union. But the evidence shows that's not the case. Benjamin Netanyahu was able to pick up 12 more seats, almost entirely at the expense of other conservative parties, with a shift to the right. As a result, coalitions will be even more tenuous unless there is a grand alliance with the Zionist Union, which actually gives liberals more power than they had before the election.

"Benyamin Netanyahu's Likud party delivered a stinging defeat to the Zionist Union of Labor leader Yitzchak Herzog and Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni," writes the website ConservativeAngle.com. "With 99.5 % of the votes counted, Likud won 30 seats against 24 for the Zionist Union." The article goes on to report how the Israeli leftists would ruin the country, and voters rejected them. "The White House helped Netanyahu, trouncing Herzog in a fateful election." Other conservative reports similarly claimed the right won and the left lost. A Republican pollster even hinted that Obama was the reason voters chose Likud.

A report by Josef Federman from the Associated Press (reprinted by a Fox TV Station) noted that Netanyahu gave some "tough talk" to win the election.

"Trailing in opinion polls, Netanyahu took a sharp turn to the right in the final days of the campaign to shore up support among his core nationalistic constituency. He vowed to increase settlement construction in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' would-be capital, and rejected the idea of a Palestinian state in current conditions - putting him at odds with U.S. and European positions and reversing his own policy of the past six years. In a last-ditch attempt to spur his supporters to the polls Tuesday, he warned that Arab citizens were voting "in droves" and endangering years of rule by his Likud Party. The comments drew accusations of racism from Israeli Arabs and a White House rebuke."

So if the Left lost, how many seats did they lose?

They didn't.

The Zionist Union actually gained three seats in the 2015 election for the 20th Knesset, Israel's parliament. Sure they were six seats behind Likud after the notoriously bad polling in Israel had them leading (and these conservative reports also noted how inaccurate such surveys are in Israel). When you gain seats, it's hard to conclude that the voters "rejected you."

And how did those Arab parties fare? They increased their total by two seats (from 11 to 13). Only one left-leaning party lost: Meretz, which dropped by one seat (from six to five).

So who lost the 2015 election? Israeli hardline parties all lost the seats that Likud gained.

That was the genius of Netanyahu. By shifting to the right, he didn't so much beat the left as he took seats from the far-right. The Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett who battled Netanyahu for the conservative mantle last time, was a big loser. His party lost four seats. So too did Shas, the right-leaning party (they fell by four seats). Avigdor Lieberman's group Yisrael Beiteinu fell seven seats, and the United Torah Judaism lost a seat as well. That's 16 seats lost by the most right-leaning parties.

The Centrist party "Yesh Atid" led by Yair Lapid fell by eight seats, but Kulanu, led by a moderate group that broke away from Netanyahu won ten seats.

If Likud and the remaining conservatives that Netanyahu stole votes from form a coalition, that would give them 57 seats, short of a majority in a 120 member parliament, of course. He could reconcile with Kulanu, perhaps. Or he'll have to bring in the liberal Zionist Union into government. He might have to, because many conservative parties are really angry that Netanyahu has already gone back to suggesting peace and walking back his earlier words about no Palestinian State.

It makes you wonder who really won the Israeli election.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.