[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), March 28, 2006 at 10:14pm] Trackbacks
The Return of Israeli Socialism?

I largely agree with co-blogger David Bernstein that today's Israeli elections were a setback for free markets. However, the magnitude of the setback may not be as great as David and others suggest. Yes, the relatively pro-free market Likud lost seats, while various socialistic parties did better than expected. However, much of the former Likud vote went to Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Yisrael Beitenu Party (which won 12 Knesset seats compared to Likud's 11), and Lieberman is a strong supporter of free market "Thatcherism."

Overall, Jewish parties to the economic right of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's centrist Kadima Party (28 seats), won 32 seats (12 YB, 11 Likud, 9 NU/NRP), while those to the left won 31 (20 Labor, 7 Pensioners, 4 Meretz). It is true that the Shas Party's (13 seats) main goal is to increase transfer payments to its constituency (highly religious Sephardic Jews), but they do not usually take strong positions on broader social and economic policy issues, and have in the past joined coalition governments that promoted privatization. Obviously election results do not perfectly reflect voters' policy preferences, and many voters are in fact ignorant of the details of party platforms. But, in and of themselves, I'm not sure these results really do reflect a tidal wave of Israeli sentiment for socialism, though they certainly don't bode well for free markets.

Much will depend on which other parties Olmert decides to invite into his coalition government. He needs 61 seats to form a government, which means that he will have to round up enough coalition partners to add at least 33 seats to Kadima's 28.

UPDATE: I may have been too quick to describe the NU/NRP party as "to the right" of Kadima on economic policy. Their platform, available in English here, places little emphasis on economic issues, but supports mostly statist policies (complete with left-wing code words such as "social justice" and "exploitation") where it does mention them. It's not clear whether NU/NRP's policies on these issues are much different from Kadima's and it is still possible that NU/NRP would support a less statist policy than Kadima would in the highly unlikely event that they get to join a coalition government. But they are certainly not pro-free market in the way that Likud and YB are.

m (mail):
Obviously election results do not perfectly reflect voters' policy preferences, and many voters are in fact ignorant of the details of party platforms."

Is there any evidence for this claim as it regards voter ignorance in the Israeli population? In such a small country, where politics is discussed and deliberated at a local level with much greater intensity and, one could even say, knowledge, it would not be surprising if levels of voter ignorance are far lower than might be expected in larger democracies. At any rate, it'd be nice to see some support for the statement above. It's hardly obvious that the relevant "details" of party platforms are unknown to Israeli voters--even if they don't perfectly track voters' policy preferences.
3.29.2006 12:24am
But what about Shinui?? They tended toward a free market orientation yet seem to have vanished into thin air in this election. Heck, they were the 3rd largest bloc in the prior Knesset. I guess Israeli politics kinda fell off my radar scope of late, but this more than any other aspect of the results has me befuddled.
3.29.2006 12:42am
Bob Smith (mail):
Why does this surprise anyone? Jews as a cultural group have long had strong socialist leanings, if not outright communists. The strong left-liberal tendencies of Jewish voters in the US is little different. A conservative (in the political and economic sense) Jew is practically an outcast.
3.29.2006 1:07am
Adam (mail):
Nation Union/Nation Religious Party is not to the right of Kadima economically. To the degree that they talk about economic issues, their platform is that we need to spend more money on various things, nothing about deregulation, privatization, or reducing the tax burden. It's typical political populism. I think the hope of the economically literate now is that Yisrael Beitenu will get in the coalition and manage to mitigate the damage that Peretz (aka Stalin) and the Penshioners can do, until the next election.

Yankee Mark: Shinui disintigrated because Kadima took all of their votes. There's never room for more than one centrist party, certainly not with Kadima being the largest party. Also, Shinui's leader Tommy Lapid retired, and there was a split over the positions on the party list of the Shinui MKs from the outgoing Knesset, with a bunch forming their own party called Chetz Chiloni (Secular Arrow), which also didn't get in.
3.29.2006 1:13am
Adam (mail):
The other thing we can hope for is that Kadima itself is likely to be moderately free-market oriented, though without a very strong commitment, but it remains to be seen how much of that will survive the coalition negotiations.
3.29.2006 1:29am
Milhouse (www):
Of the factions that make up the NU/NRP, Moledet may be economically right wing, but the NRP and Eitam's faction (which split off the NRP, I forget what it's called) tend toward socialism. I'm not sure where Tekuma stands on economics, but since it too split off the NRP, I assume it's on the left too.

Yisrael Betenu may be the big hope, and indeed if I were an Israeli voter I would have seriously considered voting for it, but I'm afraid that many of the down-list candidates don't agree with Liberman on much, and the party will break up before long. Just wait till VoldemortOlmert starts offering Mitsubishis, as Rabin did before him.
3.29.2006 2:32am
Joseph Hindin (mail) (www):
During this election campaign Likud party and Netaniyahu have abandoned all pretenses to be free market political movement; NRP is primarily concerned with the settlements preservation and imposing religious norm on the population and has never supported free market; Israel Beiteynu run on the platform of official corruption and embezzlement. These parties are to the right of Kadima on the issue of the disputed territories, but, unfortunately, there were no parties in these elections that can be described as free market ones.
3.29.2006 8:22am
larry rothenberg:
It's not accurate to call Shas voters "highly religious." The leadership of the party is haredi (sometimes unfairly called "ultra-orthodox"), but the voters tend to be traditional, ie lots of respect for the rabbinical establishment, following customary practices, etc. but not punctilliously observant of Jewish law. They also tend to have jobs in mainstream Israeli society, in contrast to the haredi Ashkenazim. Shas is thus mainly a patronage- and ethnic pride-based party, not a religiously based on, as, say United Torah Judaism is for the haredi Ashkenazim.
3.29.2006 10:07am
JosephSlater (mail):
On behalf of "the left" everywhere, I'm happy to accept the charge that "social justice" is one of our "code words." I would only add that many, dare I say most of us, actually mean it, and that we have a long history of fighting to achieve it, with some great successes.
3.29.2006 10:22am
hey (mail):
If by social justice you mean creating an immiserated client class, destroying community values, and hobbling the economy by a focus on perceived insults, then yes, you have had "success". Otherwise, it's the same ol tyranny dressed up in slightly nicer clothes and without the beards of Karl, Vladimir, and Uncle Joe.
3.29.2006 10:55am
I think this post and its predecessor misses the most important aspect of Israeli politics: the Arab-Israeli conflict. While most parties have a social/economic platform nearly all parties are defined by their political platform. This also means that "Left" and "Right" mean something completely different than they do in the rest of the world.

I suspect the dominant consideration for voters of Kadima, NU/NRP, Israel Beitenu and Labour was their stance on the future settlement with the Palestinians (or lack thereof). Most votes for the "Pensioner party" are from people who thought that all the other parties will end up at the same settlement and were therefore protesting. It's true that this is an entitlement party but I doubt more than a handful of their voters know anything about their platform and their candidates.

Labour is trying to return to its socialist roots, and don't forget that it is the socialist movement that actually created the state, but I'm not sure that that's why the got their votes.

We do have some true entitlement parties, especially the ultra-orthodox ones. For many years it was the (correct, IMO) policy of both major parties to bribe them with entitlements in return for support in the political arena. In recent years these parties became right-wing and as a consequence have lost their bargaining chip and their entitlments.
3.29.2006 11:18am
Seth Gordon (mail) (www):

It is true that the Shas Party's (13 seats) main goal is to increase transfer payments to its constituency (highly religious Sephardic Jews), but they do not usually take strong positions on broader social and economic policy issues,...

I have trouble seeing how a legislator from any non-Shas party will vote for policies that give special benefits to Shas's constituents and vote for policies that expose his or her own constituents to the risks of the free market.
3.29.2006 12:26pm
Hugh Rice (mail):
To my mind, this whole debate about whether these elections signal a turn toward socialist policies couldn't be more irrelevant. Who cares, after all? Is this the sort of thing that will derail world trade? Aren't there more important objectives to be achieved in Israel anyway? The concern that has been expressed about this issue seems to suggest that some of you are perhaps a little to blinded by your ideological preferences.
3.29.2006 1:09pm
JosephSlater (mail):

Thanks for the helpful response. Actually, I meant causes like the right to organize unions and other workers' rights provisions, women's rights, anti-poverty programs that actually work, gay and lesbian rights today, and many other fine liberal-left causes that have made the world a better place.
3.29.2006 4:05pm
amechad (mail) (www):
Shinui both lost because many formerly Shinui voters went to Kadima but also because their economic platform got ignored (as even Shinui politicians came out against Netanyahu's programs for political gains) in favor of relentless and discriminatory attacks against the foundations of the religion and state status quo. Not to defend many of the policies of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population, but Shinui spent too much time attacking the haredim and offending the religious and traditional sensibilities of the 80-percent of Israel's Jewish population which does not identify as anti-religious. There were other ways for them to support a liberalization in religion and the economy. They chose to let hatred take over their platform instead.
3.31.2006 9:24am