Once again, we find ourselves at the mercy of Israel’s near-radical electoral system, which has us waiting. Perhaps it’s part of the chaos, nuances and intrigue of the system that produced two campaigns and the prospect of a third in a single year that has University of Haifa professor of communications, Dr. Gabriel Weimann feeling as though he had foreseen the deja-vu we are currently experiencing. Dr. Weimann’s research spans the study of media effects, political campaigns, new media technologies and their social impact, persuasion and influence, media and public opinion and modern terrorism. His most recent book, “Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation,” is particularly timely in politics today. I was able to speak with Dr. Weinmann about politics in general, and the state of Israel’s elections.
In the aftermath of Israel’s first election of the year, you analyzed the similarities between recent American and Israeli elections in an article for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Can you please explain what you meant that the day after the United States’ election in 2016 and the first of Israel’s 2019 elections that each country was more divided than before, how do you feel that the campaigns contribute to this?
First of all, that article was written right after the April elections and I must say that I feel more confident about that statement. I think that the United States is one of the most divided societies. Additionally, by simply observing the Israeli divisions it is evident that separation has become a larger issue throughout Netanyahu’s time, especially after the last elections. It is, again, more of the same as the US. It’s the high and low classes. It’s white and blacks in the US. The Ashkenazi and Sefardi and the Jews and Arabs in Israel. The young and old. It’s religious and non-religious. There are several rifts within the Israeli society and most of them were not only bridged by Netanyahu but also deepened. Especially now, with his very aggressive campaign, again, similar to Trump, no gloves, no laws, no rules, and no red lines. Netanyahu goes after that and there are no limits and no referee that can stop him. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that after their elections, both societies are plunged into dismal times of being more divided than before. I do believe that is has become true.
Do you feel that it is repairable?
I certainly hope so. The future will be determined by the results of the second elections. However, since there has yet to be a major change in Israeli politics, I am inclined to believe that we are doomed to result in the same deadlock as we experienced in April.
Additionally, since neither of the two major parties seem prepared to form a coalition, a National Unity Government, what I believe is the most sensible, rational, and best solution, the small parties are given tremendous and disproportionate power. Regardless of whether it is Likud or Kachool Lavan, whoever wins will need the small parties. The small parties are key; this is a problem unique to Israel’s politics. Though forming a National Unity government may be the solution when we find ourselves, once again, in deadlocks, and no one can form a coalition, I am not sure that it will work.
Do you expect Netanyahu’s so to say, diversions, to influence voter turnout and do you think they will show in his favor?
We have conducted many studies about Netanyahu’s success in forming media agenda and public agendas. And he is very good at that. However, these are mere diversions which are unlikely to affect many voters’ votes.
Voter turnout is the key issue. Usually, it is not that critical. Many more Israelis come to vote than in the United States. However, our situation in Israel is very different from in the United States. It is quite crucial in the sense of voters. First, because similar to the last time, the parties are very close to each other. Therefore, they only need 2 percent, 3 percent or 4 percent from the people who don’t intend to vote to vote to pull themselves ahead. The difference between the leading parties is so slim that every vote counts. If the candidates encourage someone to go out and vote, the vote that they cast might turn them into the winner.
The second argument is that we expect the turnout to be lower than in many years. Firstly, because the fact that we have had two campaigns, one after another, that sticks with no change makes people think that they cannot affect the result anyhow. Additionally, many voters lost their parties due to merging parties. Since more often than not, people are not going to look for a new party to vote for, in addition to the one-third of Israelis who did not vote in the last election in April, we expect much more not to vote this time around. And the crucial element that will lead is the Arab voters. The Arab voters make up about 20% of the Israeli voters. If all of them would vote, they could determine Israeli politics in many ways; but they don’t. In April, there were less than 20% who voted in some Arab areas. If the Arabs vote at all, they will most likely vote for the Arab parties. Though these parties make up a minority, the Arab party can play the role of blocking Netanyahu from forming a coalition. If they do indeed manage to get 3 percent or 4 percent more to vote, their likelihood of 10 seats in the parliament will turn into 13 or 14 seats, giving them that much more effluence on Israeli politics. That being said, the parties understand the power that the Arab voters possess.
What forces are at work on election day?
Well actually, two forces are colliding here. One is the eagerness of politicians to get people to go and vote. They are doing everything they possibly can to move people. On the other side, there is quite a lot of apathy coming from the Israelis who believe that since it didn’t work in April there isn’t any reason that it should work now. Therefore, they might as well take their holiday, go to the beach, and not waste their time voting at all. Additionally, some angry people are protesting against the political system. They don’t believe that there is anyone who deserves their vote, so they do not vote at all. With all of the factors colliding, it is simply a matter of whose efforts will prevail, something that we will see with the voter turnout.
Though Israeli citizens have cast their ballots, the second election is not behind us. The issues which we anticipated and occurred will not simply melt away. The election in itself was only part one. Now, as we wait for the fate of the Jewish state’s future to be determined through negotiations (which seemingly change daily), we must reflect. With every election, the Jewish state is pried apart. We are a people of many opinions, but we must remember that we are a nation.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.