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Israel is sleepwalking to election day

19 January 2013

4:24 PM

19 January 2013

4:24 PM

Maybe it’s the unconscious effect of the Sabbath, but here in Tel Aviv a soporific atmosphere hangs over next week’s Israeli elections. Among the Israelis I have spoken to (mostly secular Tel Avivians), apathy prevails. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to win whatever happens, it seems, and he is going to have to come to some agreement with the hard right-winger Naftali Bennett. ‘The television wants to make it exciting,’ an old Labor voter told me earlier today. ‘But it is not. Everybody knows.’ His wife nodded from behind her sunglasses, and smiled. Another elderly fellow told me that he would only vote for the ‘least bad one – it’s always that way.’

The political story of this election is of a hardening Right and a paralysed Left. The rise of Bennett and his Habayit Hayehudi party – expected to win 14 Knesset seats – is an intriguing phenomenon that has been covered in America and Britain. (See David Remnick’s New Yorker profile of Bennett.)

There’s no doubt Bennett has pushed Bibi to the Religious right. In yesterday’s Jerusalem Post, he waxed about ‘the need to deepen Jewish values’ and stressed the importance of his heritage programme to ‘take the biblical sites and the sites of early Zionism and bring them back to life’.

One might have expected this rightward tilt to have galvanised the Left, but there is little sign. Haaretz – rather breathlessly – reports that, in the last published poll before election day, the centre-left is enjoying a late rally. (The poll also found concern about the rich-poor divide was a key factor – 47 percent cited socioeconomic issues as their main concern; 18 per cent said the Palestinian issue.)

But the mood here is that the election is so predictable as to be hardly worth talking about – at least not to annoying know-nothing western hacks.

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