Emotional Voters vs. Rational Voters

There is no doubt that Yair Lapid profited from the way of thinking of more ‘rational’ voters, who calculated he would join a Netanyahu-led government.

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By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on January 29, 2013.)

Israel’s electoral system of proportional representation is suitable for people who vote with their emotions. Among the many parties, voters can choose the one closest to their hearts, with no need to compromise. Some more sophisticated voters might prefer to vote with their heads, rather than their hearts. These citizens, who were exposed to opinion polls that repeatedly prophesied that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would form the next coalition decided not to support the candidate they actually preferred, but rather to give their vote to the party that would join a coalition headed by Netanyahu and influence it from within.

There is no doubt that Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid profited from this way of thinking by more “rational” voters, who calculated that he would join a Netanyahu-led coalition and are expecting him to influence the coalition in the direction they would like to see it go. Some of Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett’s supporters certainly chose not their “preferred” slate, Likud-Beiteinu, but rather a party that would influence the coalition according to their worldview. The merger of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu’s slates made this easier for them. This could explain the fact that in some settlements the number of card-carrying Likud members was larger than the number of Likud-Beiteinu voters.

It may be assumed that after Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich declared she would not join a coalition headed by Netanyahu, her party lost many “rational” voters, who decided to choose a ticket that would influence the coalition from inside. We cannot expect foreign “experts” like Arthur Finkelstein to understand this phenomenon, which is so very Israeli.

And what about Arab voters? Did they not have a party that could influence the next coalition from within and promote issues of importance to them? Meretz and Labor had Arab candidates placed high enough on the ticket to have a reasonable chance of securing a Knesset seat. However, it was clear that neither of those parties would take part in the next government. For most Arab voters, the choice was a protest vote only. We can only hope that the other parties will learn this lesson before the next election.

Lapid has already dictated the issues that will top the agenda of the coalition Netanyahu will lead: equal bearing of the burden, a change in the system of government and negotiations with the Palestinians. The issue of equal bearing of the burden is a complex one. Two important groups, the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs, conduct their lives apart from mainstream Israeli society. Not only do they not share the burden of service to the state, they are not an integral part of Israeli society in the full sense of the term.

In fact, there is nothing more important on the Israeli agenda than reducing the isolation of these two groups. Service in the Israel Defense Forces is not the only means of attaining this goal, but it is the most efficient way of moving toward it. It can be done, as long as it is clear to everyone that it must be done gradually. There is no need for new laws; these might do more harm than good. The defense minister, who has the authority to decide who reports for military service, has a key role in this process. He will have to set annual quotas; the government should not set these quotas for him. He then must meet these quotas.

As far as changing the system of government is concerned, most proposals made will probably boomerang at those who suggested them, just like the law for direct election of the prime minister did at the time. A slight increase in the electoral threshold – the minimum proportion of votes a party needs to get into the Knesset – would be a positive step, on condition that it is accompanied by legislation that would prevent factions from splitting after the election. Any Knesset member who changes his or her mind after being elected would be asked to resign from his or her faction as well as from the Knesset, so as not to hold on to a seat that does not belong to him or her. Tasking the head of the largest faction with forming the coalition is right and proper, as long as it is clear that he or she will be given first crack at it, but if unsuccessful, others will be asked.

We must avoid political deadlock. As for negotiations with the Palestinians, that, as we know, depends first and foremost on them.

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