by Anat Shalev
As Israelis will go to the polls on Tuesday, their attitude toward the issues of security and economy may decide whether the ruling Likud party can continue its grip of power.
Observers said if socio-economic issues emerge as the voters’ top concern, it would be a disaster for Netanyahu, who has tried hard to convince voters that security is the top concern for Israelis and only he, a strongman, can protect them in a region plagued by turmoil.
According to a latest poll, the opposition Zionist Union, consisting of the left Labor party and the centrist Hatnua party, would gain four more seats in the new parliament than the right-wing Likud.
The poll showed that the centrist Yesh Atid party would remain a major player in the parliament with 12 to 13 seats and the newly-formed centrist Kulanu party would win nine to 10 seats.
The results of the polls, according to the observers, have showed signs that the center-left and centrist parties’ promises to give top priority to socio-economic woes were striking a chord with more voters than the Likud’s emphasis on meeting security challenges Israel may face.
The center-left and centrist parties have campaigned hard on socio-economic issues, such as the high cost of living, the housing crisis and the slowdown of economic growth.
“I have voted for the Likud party all my life. It was my political home and I felt I could relate to its message and its people,” Tamir Hajaj, a 41-year-old political activist from Beer Sheva, told Xinhua.
He added that “But in the past several years, I realized that the people in the Likud, especially Bibi (nickname of Netanyahu), are only making our economic situation worse while trying to distract us with talk about Iran.”
“Before we talk about the dangers of Iran, we need to talk about the daily lives of people here, who may starve to death before Iran ever gets nuclear weapons,” he added.
Hajaj was referring to Netanyahu’s repeated warnings of the threat posed by Iran, on which the Israeli leader delivered a speech at the U.S. Congress on March 3. But the passionate speech failed to boost the Likud party’s popularity.
Hajaj said he would either vote for the center Kulanu party headed by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon, known for his reforms in the Israeli cellular market, or the center-left Zionist Union party, which focuses on socioeconomic issues on its agenda.
Revital Amiran, a political science expert and analyst, believes that Hajaj’s sentiment is central to this campaign.
“In this election cycle, we see for the first time that socio-economic issues are giving a head-to-head fight to the security and diplomatic issues what were always at the center of Israeli politics,” she noted.
“Since the 2011 social justice protests, there have been processes in the works that didn’t get an immediate political affect,” Amiran said.
“Since then, the agenda has been more and more concerned with socio-economic issues. The discourse on the issues intensified with a growing readership of economic newspapers, as well as due to the dramatic rise of poor people in Israel and very wide gaps between the rich and the poor,” she noted.
“In the past six years of his rule, Netanyahu has led a very harsh neoliberal agenda, and this had greatly affected many people,” she added.
Amotz Asa-El, a commentator of The Jerusalem Post, predicted that the Kulanu party would emerge from the elections as the “kingmaker” and “an dispensable” component in any new ruling coalition.
“Every vote the former Likud minister (Kahlon) gets will be a vote of non-confidence in Netanyahu’s doestic record,” he said in an op-ed piece published Friday.
According to Asa-El, Netanyahu’s attempt to plant Iran at the heart of the elections has failed because “there isn’t really a partisan controversy about this issue’s substance” and “one speech’s circumstances is not what makes Israelis decide how to vote.”
For his part, Netanyahu himself admitted earlier that there is “a real danger” he might lose next week’s closely contested election.
Meanwhile, as more and more voters are moving to the center, analysts said, extremist parties on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum are facing the risk of being blocked outside the new parliament.
Polls have showed that the historic left Meretz party, the ultra-right-wing secular party “Israel Is Our Home” and the ultra-right-wing religious party Yahad are all struggling to win the required 3.25 percent of the votes, a threshold to enter the parliament. Enditem