Three ways Netanyahu actually lost last week’s Israeli election

Today Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured backing from the required parliament members to form the next governing coalition. It was an undeniable victory for Bibi, after a nail-biter run up to last week’s legislative election. But Netanyahu’s triumph belies many shifts in Israel’s politics and society that could undermine his future.

For starters, it would be foolhardy to see Netanyahu’s victory as a victory for conservatives, en masse. Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, grew mainly by diminishing its allies on the right, Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu, which saw their seat numbers drop to eight and six, respectively.

And the left didn’t quite lose. The Zionist Union ran a campaign focusing on economic stagnation and the lack of homes for the young and the poor. It worked: the Union got 24 seats, up sharply from the 15 Labor had held before.

In a piece written just before the election, Paul Krugman wrote that “according to Luxembourg Income Study data, the share of Israel’s population living on less than half the country’s median income — a widely accepted definition of relative poverty — more than doubled, to 20.5 percent from 10.2 percent, between 1992 and 2010.” The gap between the ultra rich and the middle class, in a country that had been sternly egalitarian well within living memory, has reached U.S. levels. The left hammered this lesson in — and it worked well.

Support for Netanyahu was spotty among the parliament’s — Knesset’s — center as well. He secured backing from the Kulanu party. But Yesh Atid denied Bibi its support. Yes, Yesh Atid is diminished but still, at 11 seats, it’s substantial in Israeli political terms — there are only 120 seats in the Knesset. The party’s upper-middle class electorate may be restive that Netanyahu is increasingly marginalized by world opinion — a marginalization that prompted the American-Palestinian commentator Yousef Munayyer to write that he was relieved by Netanyahu’s victory, since it would now bring more international pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Naomi Chazan, a former deputy speaker of the Knesset, then a representative for the leftist party Meretz, offered a withering critique: “Jews outside of Israel had look[ed] to the country and supported it. Now, liberal Jews may say: what’s the point of supporting if the government has cast aside a two-state solution?”

As Netanyahu assembles his governing coalition, he faces several challenges: A revived left; a large part of his population dissatisfied with their economic lot; a U.S. president so distant that he could not bring himself to congratulate Netanyahu on his victory on the night; an impatient world community; increasing violence on his borders; and no deal yet to prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon. This is a different Israel.

John Lloyd co-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is Director of Journalism. Lloyd has written several books, including What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics (2004). He is also a contributing editor at FT and the founder of FT Magazine.

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