by Kevin Nolan
The State of Israel, even prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, was a nation in crisis. Since April 2019, the political deadlock between Benjamin Netanyahu, the incumbent Prime Minister’s centre-right Likud party and Benny Gantz’s centre-left Blue and White alliance has subjugated its citizens to three national elections. The ensuing breakdown of Gantz’s opposition alliance during unity government negotiations in March 2020 enabled short-term electoral gains for leftist politics at the potential expense of its long-term prosperity. However, irrespective of the eventual tenure of the new unity administration, struggles with policy differentiation, fragmented political structures, and growing sectarian politics linked with changing demographics ultimately pose the greatest threat to a revival of leftist governance within Israel for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, until these barriers can be overcome a power-sharing agreement offers the most realistic opportunities for nationwide policy influence and implementation.
Lack of Differentiation
Despite the international perception that Israel’s leftist movement was experiencing a revival under the Blue and White alliance before its implosion, its leadership had aligned many of its policies, barring minor caveats, with the incumbent administration. For instance, despite its controversial coverage over the status of Jerusalem and annexation of large sections of the West Bank, both Netanyahu and Gantz have endorsed the 2020 Trump Peace plan. Even Gantz’s only major point of contention, the inclusion of Palestinian leadership into discussions, has been weakened through subsequent dialogue.
Indeed, whilst it does espouse several leftist policies, since its founding as the de facto anti-Bibi alliance, Blue and White’s core policies were almost entirely focused on ousting the Netanyahu administration from power either through the ballot box or via retrospectively binding legislation. Such initiatives would involve enforcing term limits and preventing indicted politicians from serving as premier, thus disqualifying Netanyahu who currently awaits trial over allegations of corruption. Thus, despite overall having a more leftist platform than Likud, Netanyahu’s removal from office would be one of the only significant measures of differentiation imposed by a Gantz administration. As such, the emphasis on a political rather than ideological platform will likely struggle to attain broader support outside of a single-issue voter base in future elections.
A Fragmented Opposition
Fragmentation among oppositional factions threatens to impede their capability to govern as a genuine alternative to Likud in future electoral contests. Despite the limitations of a single-issue platform, Gantz was capable of attaining a broad array of support from multiple political factions, including the first endorsement of a Jewish politician from an Arab dominated party since 1992 via the Joint List. However, despite possessing a larger backing then Netanyahu to become the newest premier following the latest election, the misinterpreted strength of Gantz’s position made him incapable of translating this into a viable coalition government due to alliance factionalism.
Although the Joint List lent Blue and White their support for the preferred Premier, their anti-Zionist platform and fragile political formation prevents them from participating within any formal coalition government propagating Zionist ideals. Similarly, cultural apprehension among the Jewish factions against coalitions with Arab parties has permeated since the foundation of the state in 1948. Irrespective of the accuracy of their assumptions, questions involving the ultimate loyalty of Arab parties and their lack of support of Zionism has resulted in the leaders of most Jewish factions, including Gantz, from opposing such an arrangement ever occurring. While Arab politicians have never served in any Israeli government, if the Joint List continues to remain the third-largest party in the Knesset, leftist parties will increasingly need to identify methods for overcoming these barriers in order to successfully challenge perpetual right-wing governance.
Additionally, regardless of their intentions behind doing so, the divisions generated among rival Blue and White factions following the initiation of unity government negotiations with Likud have damaged the cohesion of the opposition for the foreseeable future. National unity governments are not unprecedented within Israel, particularly during periods of national crisis. However, given that Blue and White’s platform was primarily based on ousting Netanyahu from power, the initiation of dialogue over any form of power-sharing agreement was enough to result in the formal exit of the Yesh Atid and Telem factions. Whilst Gantz has continued to keep the Blue and White name for his sole remaining political faction, Israel Resilience, the capitulation of the broader alliance may make it increasingly difficult for the opposition to reunify once the tenure of the unity government lapses.
Long-term Demographic Struggles
In addition to these immediate obstacles to securing governance, long-term demographic changes are likely to increasingly marginalise the capability of centre-left parties from beating right-wing blocs in elections within the next half-century. Historically, the vast majority of citizenry have voted for parties which represent their religious or cultural beliefs, irrespective of the benefits, economic or otherwise, which may be better offered by rival factions. For instance, the nation’s fastest-growing Jewish demographic, the religiously hard-line ultra-orthodox sect, are predicted to nearly double from thirteen to twenty-seven percent of the total population by 2059. Within this constituency voting patterns overwhelmingly align with their particular ethnicity, with those of Sephardic origin generally endorsing the Shah party, whilst those of Ashkenazi descent tending to favour United Torah Judaism. These allegiances transcend basis cost-benefit analyses since centre-left policies generally offer better subsidy packages for the ultra-orthodox, among whom nearly forty percent continue to live below the poverty line.
Similarly, nearly ninety percent of Arab-Israeli’s votes go to the Joint-List, despite its four factions, Hadash, Ta’al, United Arab List and Balad representing a large cross-section of differing ideologies, from socialism to Pan-Arabism. Yet while its population is also set to markedly increase from fifteen to twenty percent of the total population, unless the aforementioned tensions between Jewish and Arab political parties can be resolved they will remain outside the corridors of power indefinitely. Consequently, given the sectarian nature of a large part of Israel’s electorate, the rapid growth of the predominately right-wing Haredi threatens to increasingly undermine the long-term prospects of leftist parties securing governance throughout the next half-century, regardless of the policies which they propose.
The centre-left has a long way to go before they will be able to reconcile the variety of challenges standing in its way of wresting control from Likud. Nonetheless, the current unity administration presently offers the greatest opportunity for leftist ideals to influence national policies. Despite the division of influence varying widely in prior scenarios, Gantz has successfully attained control over the influential Defence and Justice ministries, while temporarily delaying annexation plans within the West Bank. Consequently, despite the challenges which the centre-left will face in future elections, so long as the current unity arrangement is maintained in a fair and proportionate manner, leftist politics will remain capable of exercising some form of influence on federal policies within the current Likud administration.
 Kaḥol Lavan. 2019. “Blue And White 2019 Platform”. https://en.idi.org.il/media/12312/%D7%9B%D7%97%D7%95%D7%9C-%D7%9C%D7%91%D7%9F-%D7%9E%D7%A6%D7%A2.pdf.
 Tessler, Mark. 2019. “Israel’S Arabs And The Palestinian Problem (1977)”. Religious Minorities In Non-Secular Middle Eastern And North African States, 325-344. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-19843-5_12.
 Mathie, Nicola. 2016. “‘Jewish Sectarianism’ And The State Of Israel”. Global Discourse 6 (4): 601-629. doi:10.1080/23269995.2016.1259284.
Kevin is a MA student in Conflict, Security and Development within the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. A Series Editor for Strife, his research interests are primarily focused on the Indo-Pacific region, State building within post-conflict zones, and combating technological challenges to regional security concerns. Additionally, serving as King’s mature student officer, he is a strong advocate for exploring the correlation between the psychological impact of mental health degradation on academic well-being. Readers who identify as mature students and experience difficulties relating to any aspect of university life are encouraged to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org